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.
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.
Liz Lalama 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.