Seeking to be transformed into the image of Jesus

Life is Hard

As the New Year begins, I’ve been reflecting on the whole concept of dying to self and what it means to truly love Jesus. (You can read some of my reflections at here.) One of the first lessons we learn, if our parents and teachers are honest with us, is that life is not fair and it is very often hard. At least that used to be one of the first lessons we would learn. Today many parents and adults generally want to shield children from the struggles and pain that often come in life. They want to help young people avoid the pain and the suffering they faced. They want their children to have a better life than they had.

Good intentions, but perhaps with disastrous results. The reality is that life is hard. There is pain and there will be suffering. If you don’t have any in your life, you either aren’t alive or are in some serious denial. Carl Jung and others have said that the unwillingness to accept “legitimate suffering” that comes from being human brings “unnecessary suffering”. Perhaps we aren’t doing our children any favors if we try to protect them from all pain, from all suffering.

We affirm this truth in athletics, in business, in the great success stories of life. Things worth having, prizes worth winning, goals worth accomplishing –  they take effort. They require sacrifice. They involve self-denial and often pain. British broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge once said toward the end of his life, “Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.”

One writer says that creation itself confirms this in the patterns and cycles in the natural world: the daily “dying” of the sun so all things can live, the changes in seasons, the seeming death of plants and trees to be reborn in the spring. There is a pattern of suffering, of pain, of death and rebirth inherent in the world we live in.

Jesus words and life affirms this. He said, 24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:24-26).” Jesus spoke these words just days from his crucifixion knowing the cross had to come before there could be resurrection.

Life is hard. It has suffering. There is pain and difficulty. But it’s supposed to be that way. It’s necessary. There is a cross before the crown. We must die to truly live. We don’t like this most of the time, but the sooner we learn it and accept it and live it, the sooner our lives will bear fruit and we will be transformed and will experience life that is truly life.

There is a lot of pain and suffering that is thrust upon us. A lot of it we have no choice. But like an athlete in training or an artist working on her craft or a medical student trying to grasp the intricacies of anatomy and physiology, there is a pain, a suffering we must choose. We must willingly deny our fleshly desires for comfort and ease; our desire to coast and have things come to us. We must choose to say no to things that distract and yes to things that bless. 

This is a pattern I’ve seen in my own life too. Times when dreams and desires have had to be put on the “altar” and in my heart sacrificed because I sensed (or plain knew) God was inviting me to something else. Sometimes those things were given back and in a way that was so much better. Other times they truly died and usually my heart was able to release them because what I received was, in fact, exactly what I needed. But those lessons often come in looking back; rarely do I understand them in the moment.

So, in these days, I’m asking myself:

Where have I known pain or suffering in the past year? Was it “necessary” or brought on by an unwillingness to accept what God had for me?

What did I learn this past year? What should I have learned?

Where are there areas I need to die to self? Where I need to offer a dream or a desire to God?

What are my dreams and desires for the coming year? What if they aren’t God’s dreams or desires for me? What do I sense He says/thinks about them?

Life is hard. But I don’t face it alone. I have a heavenly Father who walks with me and who loves me and who wants only the best for me. As trite as it may sound, that makes all the difference in the world.

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