How do you respond in times of hardship?
Trials and difficulties are a part of this life. Right now most of the world is struggling through the same hardship – the coronavirus pandemic – but how individuals are responding varies greatly. There is no one normal or natural response to this or any other hardship. Whether it is sickness, death, financial strain, divorce, parenting struggles, or personal temptation – we all tend to respond differently.
In a time of great suffering, some people have one dominant feeling; others might bounce around like a ping pong ball between various feelings and emotions. As Christians, we might oscillate between a fleshly response (such as fear) and a godly response (such as faith). And these responses are not either-or – sometimes we find that fear and faith can overlap and live together in our heart. All of this is pretty normal.
Given the wide range of responses, we need to give grace to those around us and be sympathetic when someone responds in a different way. But additionally, we need to learn how to push past the initial reaction of our flesh and press into the Holy Spirit, to seek the faith from him to stand in hope.
The Psalms wrestle with every human emotion; as they do, they push us into self-reflection. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5). We need to ask ourselves how we are doing, and remind ourselves to find hope in God.
So, let’s explore some common emotions our flesh can have to hardship and how our faith in Christ moves us toward a godly response.
Fear or Faith? When facing a trial or hardship in life – whether personal or global – fear is a common response. It can be very scary to experience loss, sorrow, hurt, or discomfort. Even the possibility of this kind of pain can make us afraid. While this is a normal initial reaction, we can’t stay in this place without it leading to anxiety. We need to seek God for the faith to trust in him in the midst of our hardships. Fear looks only at the pain, but faith looks beyond. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Criticism or Humility? Particularly when we don’t think we are the direct cause of the hardship we experience, it can be very easy to become critical of those around us. Whether it is a spouse, parent, boss, or government leader, it is easy to blame others. We arrogantly assume we would handle the situation so much better. But instead, we need to respond with humility. We need to take responsibility for our shortcomings in the situation – even if we are not the main culprit. And rather than being critical and judgmental of those around us, we need to assume the best of them and pray for them. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5).
Worry or Gratitude? Worry focuses on all the things we don’t have or all the things we could lose. We get anxious about getting sick, or our kids being hurt, or losing our job. But a thankful heart rests in all the wonderful things God has already given us. Even in the midst of hardship, there are countless ways God has blessed us – both eternally and temporally. And so, we need to seek the Spirit for the gratitude to say, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1).
Frustration or Peace? Pain, loss, and hardship can cause us to become very frustrated, even angry. “Why is this happening?! I’m being wronged!” We get upset and frustrated because we want control. In our anger, we question the perfect wisdom of God. But if we can learn to let go and trust in God’s plan, we can find peace. That doesn’t mean the trouble goes away; it means that we rest in God’s sovereignty and love. Then we find a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Apathy or Action? Dealing with sorrow and pain is exhausting. And so sometimes, we cope by withdrawing from the mental, emotional, and spiritual process of dealing with it all. Instead, we might just check out, or we run from the problem and sink ourselves in work or entertainment. But while God is ultimately in control, we need to stay engaged. We are called to action. We need to fight against the collateral damage that the devil wants to stir-up in our hardship. We are called to put on the armor of God and stand firm (Ephesians 6:13).
Isolation or Connection? Often when we face a significant hardship, we feel like we’re all alone. The devil tries to convince us that no one else knows what it’s like. Even if our minds know that thousands of other people have gone through something similar – sickness, divorce, failure – our hearts still think no one can relate to our experience. But isolating ourselves only makes things worse. We were made for relationship and community, so we have to choose to connect, share, confess, and seek help from others. We need to believe that, given the chance, others will bear the burden with us (Galatians 6:2). Don’t believe the devil when he tries to make you feel alone. “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9).
So how will you respond when you face hardship? Don’t let your initial reaction be the place your heart stays. Seek the Spirit. Let his grace transform the state of your heart.