I’ve had a really good life.
I don’t mean that arrogantly; I mean it gratefully. The more people I meet, relationships I build, and experiences I navigate, my awareness of God’s rich, abundant blessings deepens.
Life hasn’t been without its bumps, though.
The Lord has used particular seasons of hardship and uncertainty to draw me closer to himself. I learned more about the Lord and myself in those experiences than perhaps any other time of my life.
Looking back, I’m thankful for the humbling, tearful, uncertain circumstances. Without them, I wouldn’t know a deeper trust in the Lord, the depth of my own sin, and the power of God’s grace.
Obstacles are inevitable. While we seldom invite them into our lives, we always have the opportunity to learn in the face of hardship.
In previous blog posts, I explored why obstacles don’t define us, and I looked at biblical ways to respond to them. Instead of living in dreadful anticipation of them, what value can we take away from the hard times in our lives?
When we look back at the hard times (and the good), we know we’re different because of them. We grow, we live, we learn. The hardships and trials in life are often the most effective catalysts for change.
So, with a spirit of thanksgiving instead of bitterness, what can we learn from our obstacles in life?
When things get hard, I am not my best self. That has become even more evident in marriage! Obstacles force us to make difficult decisions, and we don’t always make the right ones. We’re faced with a large dose of humility and an opportunity to see our sin and admit we don’t get everything right all the time. (James 4:10; Luke 14:11; Rom. 12:3)
Trust the Lord
In the midst of a humbling trial, we quickly, albeit painfully, realize that we can’t face the hardest moments of life alone. Trials present opportunities to trust that the Lord knows what he is doing, is in control, and is working all things for our good. Looking for the hand of God in hardship is hard. The truth of Scripture and a strong supportive community help point us to the Lord. (Ps. 18:2; Prov. 3:5-6; Phil. 4:6)
We Need Community
Just as we learn to trust the Lord, obstacles push us to lean on others, dive into our communities, and ask for help. Humbling as it can be, by inviting others into our mess, we foster vulnerability, connection, trust, and deep relationship. That is the Body of Christ. (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 12:25-27)
A wise man once told me, never lose your sense of humor. Being able to laugh brings a life-giving levity to any situation. It’s also a way we connect with one another. Brené Brown, a well-known scholar, researcher, and speaker, talks about knowing laughter as “a spiritual form of communing; without words we can say to one another, ‘I’m with you. I get it.’” (Prov. 17:22; Ps. 126:2; Luke 6:21)
Perspective is both innate and learned, based on our family of origin, life experiences, and values. There is another element of perspective: choice. More than just looking on the bright side, perspective is how we choose to see God, love him, thank him, and praise him without ceasing. (1 Cor. 10:13; Gal 5:1; Rom. 8:1)
Have Compassion for Others
During a devastating season in college, I became acutely aware that most people are pretty good at hiding the hard stuff. We force a smile, we leave out details, we fake it, and we even flat out lie to convince others we’re fine. Our own trials and hardships help us have compassion on others. In my own heartache, I became softened for the really good fakers who are able to keep others at an arm’s length for far too long. God calls us to bear one another’s burdens in community and love. (Eph. 4:32; 2 Cor. 1:3-4; Col. 3:12)
Take Responsibility for Your Actions
Our mistakes teach us that we are responsible for our thoughts, words, emotions, and actions. While others influence our decisions, we are ultimately responsible for our choices. Sometimes the hardship we face is a direct consequence of our sinful behavior. Just as we’re responsible for our sin, so we are also responsible for acting in a way that pleases God and uses the gifts he has given us. (Gal. 6:5; Rom. 12:6-8)
To learn from our obstacles in every way described above, we must be vulnerable. We must own the hard things. We must admit defeat, open up to others, share our hearts, face our fears, and embrace the unfolding story of our lives. In order to learn from our obstacles, we must be able to take an honest look at ourselves. (James 1:1-27; 2 Cor. 6:11-13; 2 Cor. 12:9-10; James 5:16)
Editor’s Note: Get perspective on your current circumstances by seeing it within the bigger picture of God’s plan in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel in the IFWE bookstore.
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On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on Jan. 27, 2016.