Guest Post: Grace for Your Constant Struggle

I am honored to share a post with you by a new and dear friend of mine, Liz Lalama. This post spoke right to my heart and I knew that it would to others as well! Liz graciously gave me permission to share it with you here. Enjoy!

It’s a new year, yet I find myself back where I was before. It’s time to turn over a fresh leaf, yet I know that the underside of my leaf is just as brown and rotting as the top. I’m frustrated, as I find myself not quite fully experiencing victory over a depressive episode from this past year.

I’m in a similar place that I was four years ago. Honestly, I find that hard to admit. It was only a few months after writing a blog series on recovery that my depression flared up again. I feel uncomfortable saying that. I’m humbled by that fact that I don’t (and never did) have it all together.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re feeling the same struggles and pressures that you were a few years ago, or that you do every year. Maybe you have that one issue you’re embarrassed to say is still a struggle.

In all the talk of moving on, becoming better people, and making resolutions, it’s hard to face the fact that sometimes we just don’t. The reality is that most of the time New Year’s resolutions don’t succeed. It’s been a week … maybe yours has failed already. But I’m not even talking just about the new year. I’m talking about those deep struggles. The ones that we like to hide under the bed and pretend don’t exist. The ones that come back to haunt us after we thought we had won.

As a teenager growing up in the church, we would often have emotional moments on youth retreats where we would write down a sin, struggle, or addiction that we wanted to give up. We would then take those papers and either throw them in a fire or nail them to a cross to show that God had forgiven these sins and they were gone. It was incredibly meaningful and probably overly emotional. But it was very uplifting … until I became discouraged from writing down the same thing year after year.

It’s been years since I’ve thrown a struggle in the fire, but I find myself dealing with doubts about the fact that my struggles still exist. The truth is they didn’t actually burn in the fire. (I think that’s why they call it a “metaphor”.) But even though I’m no longer a teenager, I still find myself wishing I could throw the same old parts of me into a fire. I wish it was that easy.

Maybe like me, at the end of yet another year you find yourself realizing that if you were totally honest, not much has changed. Sure, maybe you changed your hair or moved or made a big life decision or made healthier choices. But you realize that your deepest, darkest fears are the same. Your body still isn’t as healthy as you’d like. That chronic ailment still exists. Your mental illness is still a daily battle. You still lose your temper. Or conversely you fail to speak up for yourself. You still haven’t reconciled your relationships. Even if you have conquered that addiction, you realize that you still have the potential to go back to it.

What are we to make of that? Am I a failure? Are you a failure? Am we a bad Christians? No. We are human. We are broken. We struggle. And that is exactly what a Christian is.

I’m afraid this isn’t a how-to blog. I don’t claim to have all the answers or even just one. But two things I know: We’re not alone and there is grace.

It’s too easy to think that everyone else it all together and we are the only ones who so often end up dealing with the same struggles we dealt with years ago. But if our fellow Christians were honest, we would soon find out that they struggle just the same. And through everyone’s struggle, there is grace every day and every year. There is grace every time I realize I’m still throwing that same struggle into the same fire.

Even the apostle Paul had his constant struggle. He refers to it as a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12). We don’t know what his struggle was, although scholars have made a few guesses. I think the fact that we aren’t told makes his thorn in the flesh more relatable. It doesn’t allow us to specify what is ok for Christians to constantly battle and what is not. By leaving the idea of the thorn vague, we are able to understand that Paul’s struggle is everyone’s struggle. I know very clearly what my thorn in the flesh is, and I’m guessing you know yours too. We might pretend otherwise, but truthfully we know the darkness of our own hearts.

Vicious thorns on bush. Sharp and threatening thorns on a plant in black and white

I do not struggle in the same ways as the apostle Paul, but like him I have cried out to God to take it away. Sometimes He has said yes, and sometimes He has said no. But I still have the questions. Why am I left with depression? Why do I deal with this illness that will likely go in and out of remission for the rest of my life? I have been left wondering if God hears my cry … if He even exists.

I often feel broken because I do not handle my thorn in the flesh as well as other people. But I don’t think it was easy for Paul either. He said, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” Three times he pleaded. He pleaded with God, over and over again. We easily skip over this verse and miss the pain Paul was in, the discouragement he felt in his struggle, just as we do. Even Jesus was so stressed in Gethsemane that he sweated blood as he pleaded with God to take the cross away from him. It wasn’t easy for him either. The pain and discouragement felt when we plead and yet hear “No” is not a lack of faith, it’s part of the human experience.

Paul then goes on, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I can hear some of you that are feeling very discouraged saying, “Yeah, yeah. Paul’s thorn in the flesh. His grace is sufficient. I’ve heard that.” I said that too. Sometimes I still do. But I failed to really understand the significance of God’s grace being sufficient.

God is not saying, “My grace is enough for you so just deal with this issue.” He is not saying, “My grace negates the need for doctors and seeking support and change.” It’s a gentle phrase, not a harsh one. It’s said in love, and is a reminder that we don’t have to be perfect.

God’s grace is sufficient for who I am. Jesus’ grace says, “It’s ok that you’ve failed. It’s ok that you find yourself in the same place you were before.” This world is broken.  We are broken. Yet we are God’s children and we are loved unconditionally, regardless of how often a thorn in the flesh haunts us. Even if I deal with the same struggle for the rest of my life and only see small and intermittent victory, Christ’s grace is still sufficient. I am still beloved. And so are you.

When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, His grace is sufficient … unendingly and continuously. Not just once, not even again and again, but constantly, in every breath we breathe and in every second of our broken lives. There is grace.

 

This post originally appeared on Salad At Midnight 

Liz LalamLiz Lalamaa is a blogger and freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She has a vision for fostering community and always loves a good chat at the coffee shop, on a walk, or at the playground. She writes honestly about life, mental health, faith, and society at her blog saladatmidnight.com. Find her on facebook.com/saladatmidnight or on twitter, @lizlalama.

 

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When He Feels So Far Away

This depression thing has hung on to me like a plague. It started seeping in last Summer and grabbed on to every cell of my body and mind by the Fall. In the midst of my darkest times I have felt so utterly alone – in a dark cavern in the deep pits of the earth below it’s surface – kind of alone.

A friend from church embraced me one Sunday (when I actually made myself go, only because my husband was teaching) and said, “I don’t know why God feels so far away during times like these, when we need Him most, but I know it feels that way.” And it was such an amazing relief to hear a fellow sister in Christ acknowledging that He does, truly, feel so infinitely far away, even removed, in times of severe depression. It’s mind boggling really.

One of the tricks to feeling connected to God is to spend time with Him – to dive into His word, to pray, to meditate on His teachings and His love. But when you’re depressed, you simply can’t do these things. It feels like lifting a 2 ton truck to open your Bible. Some may argue that you can actually do these things, but I would argue that it sure feels like you can’t and that it may truly be a fact of the condition. If you are able to muster up the strength and lift that truck, the words may seem foreign or completely without meaning. Our brains simply can’t comprehend the writing on the page.

With a God as loving as ours, why then does He seem so distant in our darkest hour? I believe it’s the illness, not our God. I believe its the disease and not His actual absence. I believe that God isn’t pulling away from us, but our minds are running the other direction. I believe that He is ever present, but our cord of connection is cut by the illness. He is not to blame. We are not to blame. The illness can take all of it. The sickness of depression is strong and can carry that burden without any buckling of the knees. It’s okay, pile it on. It’s depression’s fault, entirely.

God knows we will be afraid and completely discouraged at times, so He tells us in His word that He is always with us, He will hold us and strengthen us. It doesn’t say that we can actually feel it, but that He is doing it, whether we feel it or not.

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Do Not Fear

He also knows that our own thinking can’t be trusted. That’s especially true for those of us battling mental health issues, but it’s true for everyone. That’s why he reminds us of this in the Bible. Our understanding and comprehension of all matters, including mental illness, is flawed. So we must trust in Him.

Proverbs 3:5

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding…

It’s easier for me to talk about this today, as the worst part of this depressive episode seems like maybe, just maybe it is behind me. I’m not certain if I had read this post during the darkest times, that I would have been able to apply it or grab onto it. But I know it’s truth, it’s His truth, and I hope and pray that maybe it will get into the hands of someone who is suffering and that maybe it will give hope and light and shed truth on a time in which our head is full of lies.

I believe God truly does hold us when we feel most alone.

I leave you with one of my most favorite pieces of scripture. It truly is the picture of being pulled out of the pit of depression and set again on solid ground. Not only is this His word but it’s His promise. I have seen this promise fulfilled in my own life in the past and I hold onto it today as I put my trust in Him and not in my own understanding.

Psalm 40:1-3

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.