“A lot of what is most beautiful about the world arises from struggle.” – Malcolm Gladwell
“Read this passage.”
“Go see this therapist.”
“It’s all in your head.”
“It’s just a phase.”
“Just get over it.”
The voices of instruction, criticism, and advice swarm your head like bees attacking an intruder at the hive. They see the problem, and that problem must be eradicated. You swat the bees away before you are stung again. Their words are good, but their help is no better than taking sugar pills hoping the disease will go away.
You’ve tried everything. Your mental medicine cabinet is stocked with empty prescription written by another friend, another counselor, another pastor. You fake a smile out of gratitude, but deep inside you know the infection is still there. The struggle is real. You can’t take anymore pills. You are annoyed with the next person offering you a “magical cure” as one would be with an essential oils salesperson.
Do I just give in? Do I give up? How long can I hang on?
When the loneliness of night finds you surrounded by your empty prescription bottles, your mind and heart tearing you apart, where do you turn?
When no prescription is available, what do you do?
We’ve all been there. Hopelessly spent. Our wallets empty, our minds deleting all the spam advice messages, and our hearts sick of all the prescriptions we’ve taken.
We find ourselves in Chapter 5 of Mark and John. (John 5:1-15; Mark 5:24-34)
A woman invisible in the crowd. A man with no one. They all had a disease no one could cure. The woman ran out of money. The man ran out of hope.
The woman couldn’t stop the bleeding. She went broke searching. The man had been lame for thirty-eight years. The healing pool in arms reach, yet he had no one to place him in when the waters stirred. Everyone else seemed to be healed or living the dream, but them.
How spent am I with my struggles? I have mentally spent everything fighting. I’ve spent everything emotionally working through things. I have physically spent too much searching for that one thing. I can look through Barnes and Nobles’ thousands of titles and come up empty. I can pray and pray and spiritually I feel like I am on the Titanic with no help around; only to be met by the icy cold touch of the ominous ocean.
Yet, the stories do not leave that man and woman without hope. Each of them met someone when all else failed. They met Jesus.
The woman heard of Jesus. Her hope rested on touching just a thread of Jesus’ garment. The man wanted someone to put him into the healing pool, yet he heard something said to him. Jesus saw both of them. The woman he sought, after he felt power leave him. The man was offered a chance to be healed in that moment. Jesus saw them.
He sees me. He sees you. In the darkest struggle where no pathway or solution is clear, Jesus sees you. His heart breaks for us as our hope begins to break. He isn’t so high that he can’t relate to us. He, also, isn’t so low that he can’t do anything about our struggles.
Jesus never followed the “correct path” for healing. The woman was healed by touching his garment. The man healed by the word of Jesus. Jesus always takes the unexpected route in order to show how loving he is.
In my darkest hour, Jesus sees me. He has the perfect path. I am not just an invisible ghost attempting to get his attention. He sees the battle. He sees my whole self being torn apart.
So many times we want to be fixed and healed now. We hate the struggle. I know I do. I hate when my mind and heart are at war. I hate when nothing seems to work. I hate myself so much that I just wish I would die. I wish an end would come rather than feeling like my struggle is choking every last breath out of me.
Yet, maybe the salvation isn’t in a silver bullet or in a prescription. Maybe it is in the struggle. Maybe what shines a light in our struggle is knowing it is ok to struggle. God never used perfect people. They were people who struggled each step of the way. Yet, we read their stories over and over in the Bible. We miss the mark when we romanticize these people. They were sinners redeemed by God like you and me. They struggled deeply like you and I.
A man who is pursuing God’s heart isn’t one who has it all together. It is a man who can’t breathe without God. That’s what it means to shine. The power isn’t in the perfection. It is in the persistance.
My good doesn’t come from beating my struggle. It comes from Jesus. My perfection doesn’t come from my image or reputation. My perfection comes from Jesus.
Too often we think we will shine if we have a certain image. That thinking only reduces the Gospel to clothing, outward looks, and the daily masks we choose from. Shining comes from the dawn of Christ breaking through our darkness. Shining is Christ working through us. The mess is what makes his light shine brighter; not our self-righteousness.
Too often I focus on how often I fall or how others will see my struggle. I feel like a beast meant to crawl on my belly. But, whether or not I fall, Jesus makes me stand.
Jesus made the woman with the issue of blood and the lame man stand in confidence. They had none, but he gave them all. He gives us the same hope, the same confidence, and the same feet grounded in the Gospel of peace soothing our souls.
We can stand despite what we struggle with. We are grounded in the Gospel. Jesus isn’t going anywhere. When the Gospel becomes our ground, we can stand with confidence, because it is not of ourselves but of Jesus.
Not only am I seen, shining, and standing, but I am surrounded. God purposefully places people in our lives to show us himself.
He never leaves us alone. We think we are alone, because we do not look from God’s perspective. It is like playing chess. We look at the board from one end thinking we are losing, but if we switch to God’s side, we will see all the pieces surrounding us to keep us safe.
I remember, two weeks ago, experiencing something awful. I couldn’t do anything to fix a situation. Yet, when I breathed and prayed for help. God didn’t relieve the situation. He opened my eyes to see who was near me. It was overwhelming.
We need to see the same in our struggles. Sure, there may not be a prescription to fix it, but we are never alone. We just need to raise our eyes and voice our struggle. We have a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and eyes to look into telling us to keep going.
I must no longer look for the next prescription, I need to look for help from the body of Christ. It is in the body where we find the perfect anti-bodies to stand up to the infection which plagues us.
How many times have I asked God to take away my struggle? Too many times. Too many wasted prayers. Wasted? Yes. Because, it isn’t about me being cured. It isn’t about the miracle.
It is about being seen, shining in the dark, standing on the Gospel, and being surrounded by the body of Christ. The testimony doesn’t rely on what I once was. It is a story of what I am becoming. It is the story of my strides not my sins, shames, and slips.
Yes, there are days I feel like I cannot get up. But, I can still stride down the foggy path. My story becomes like messages in a bottle thrown to those coming behind me in these uncharted waters.
I do not have answers. I do not have the magical pill. I can only give my struggle to Jesus each day. It is a burden too much for me that he alone can carry. When he carries it, I can stride. When he carries my burden, I can be who I am created to be – his image bearer.
What is stronger? A story of a perceived perfect person? Or a story of a stumbling, yet striving saint?
These are the thoughts of someone who struggles with same-sex attraction. A battle I never chose. Something I have prayed over and over about. It is not easy to live with. There is no quick answer. All I can say is realize you are seen by Jesus. You were created to shine. You can stand despite what people say. You are surrounded by more than you realize. And, you can be striding each step of the way by following the Spirit. It is one day at a time. One step at a time. Follow the Spirit. It is not easy revealing my struggle. I have lost family and friends over it. I can only accept it and give it to Jesus each day. I have no answers expect Jesus has to take control of it. I have to be led by the Spirit to stride. I am imperfect. I am broken. I am not the example to follow. But, I can leave notes in a bottle to give some sort of map through these uncharted waters.