Through tears of frustration, helplessness, and great distress, a patient’s husband cries out in a plaintive voice that reverberates off the hospital walls: “Why does it have to be so hard to be a human being?”
That question has been asked many times throughout the ages. We humans struggle with the vicissitudes of life on earth. So often our joys and delights are knocked aside by suffering and hardship. No matter how hard we try to avoid the painful aspects of life, they pop up when we least expect them. They challenge us as we try to cope with and conquer them. Sometimes our efforts are successful, and we find a way to ease, repair, or remove the hardships. At other times they claim the upper hand, and we struggle to find a way to live with them and to ameliorate their effects and the suffering and pain they bring to our lives.
Such suffering can emerge from physical, emotional, or interpersonal problems. There seems to be no end to their variety and composition. We all come up against hard times, even in our younger years. We search for ways to avoid problems, or we search for solutions or resolutions to keep them at bay. We often hold on to the fantasy that we could—or even should—go through life without them.
As we grow in wisdom, however, we realize that we will never be totally without hard times. Such experiences are simply part of being human. We would not know light without knowing darkness. Sometimes chaos threatens us, and then, before we know it, we find order and peace again. We grow and develop in the course of the cycles of life, through the many “little deaths” we endure and the “new life” that comes out of them. Eventually, we face diminishment and physical death, but always in the hope that we will experience everlasting life in Christ.
Each of our experiences gives us choices to make. While many of our struggles arise through no fault of our own, we also sometimes bring about our own distress and trouble by what we say or do. We need to be aware of those instances when we create or contribute to the suffering we experience. We also need to know that in the challenges we face are hidden gifts that we can look for and find if we choose to do so.
Above all, we must always remember that God is holding us and carrying us close to his heart, sustaining our every breath. Without that support, we would not exist. Deep down, we know that God lives and loves us. It is that awareness that sends us to God in our distress. We somehow know that the help we can find to support us through our struggles comes from our God.
Yet sometimes when we are going through tough times, we find it difficult to pray. My hope is . . . [to] help those who are struggling to connect with God. Each reflection begins with a verse or two from the Scriptures, moves into a short meditation, and ends with a prayer. The prayer is meant to launch readers into their own conversation with the Lord. Through our decision to quiet ourselves and come into the presence of God, we can find the strength and courage we need to endure our trials. The Lord will truly comfort our hearts and sustain our spirits. He is our refuge in times of trouble, and he will not abandon us!
[May] the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. —Numbers 6:25
When times are tough and when our path is dark and unclear, we forget that God is still close to us. None of our hard and painful times can chase God away. In fact, more than ever, this s when God is very near to us. We just need to ask him to shine his face upon us and on all who are experiencing hard times. God’s radiance will warm us, and we will feel his love and care. Then the peace that only God can give will replace the great distress we feel.
Great God of peace, who loves all that you have made, I come to you and ask your blessing on me and on all who are suffering. May the radiance of your face, the sign of your love, permeate me. I trust that you have a lesson for me in this difficult situation. If I’ve contributed to these trials in any way, show me how. Give me the wisdom to find my way through them. And then, my dear God, help me find peace.
PURSUING THE LORD
The Lord is good to those who look to him, to anyone who seeks him. —Lamentations 3:25 (REB)
We seek many things in life—happiness, fun, health, good relationships, money. We may even judge our success by the amount of things we accrue, and often we cannot get enough of them. What might our lives be like if we actively pursued God, if we made that a conscious endeavor? As we journey through the ups and downs that are part of life, how different would we be if we sought God? What would our troubles and our delights be like if we purposefully sought God in them?
Creator God, what would my life look like if I chose to actively seek you? I know I could expect to share in the same experiences as others—all the joys as well as all the struggles, illnesses, and losses—but I would do it all with more of an awareness of your presence. Just as I put effort into looking for other things, help me to consciously look for you in all the circumstances of my life. When I find myself in a difficult place, I might say, “God, help me to find you here. Help me to see you in my struggles, in the person who is upset with me or dislikes me, and in all of my hard times.” May I also find you in everything delightful and enjoyable.
Read more of Joan Guntzelman’s inspiring reflections and prayers in Turning to God in Tough Times (The Word Among Us Press, 2011). Available at wau.org/books