It’s Yours. Go and Take It! How to Let Struggle Work in Your Favor.

Finding joy. Finding strength.

It’s not easy. Not for any of us.

And so often, those who do this hard work of fighting for life and fighting for power are given what is possibly the most condescending response ever. “It’s easy for you. It’s harder for me than it is for you. You have something I don’t have. You have the gift of joy.”

But.

Here’s the thing.

Joy is not a gift.

Galatians 5.

Joy is a fruit.

That means it is something that must be cultivated.

Fruit comes after ownership–owning our territory, and owning our part in the growing. It comes after plotting, tilling, planting, and much care.

Joy is not a gift of the Spirit, nor is it a gift of circumstance. Some of the most emotionally challenged people that I know have had it the “easiest” in terms of visible circumstances.

Joy is not a gift.

 

Those who have not known ease can assume that if they only had a different circumstance, they would also have a different level of joy.

But happiness studies from around the world show that this simply is not true.

Joy and circumstance are not related to the degree that people assume that they are.

Joy is not a gift, but sometimes struggle is.

Struggle works in our favor when we realize that it leads us in to our identity. Struggle and work make us feel our own power when we engage wholeheartedly and watch the fruit come.

Good parents see struggle as part of health.

 

Infants struggle to be born, and then they wriggle and struggle to hold up their own heads.

Babies struggle to crawl. Toddlers struggle to walk, falling down a million times and never giving up.

Good parents see this struggle as part of health. Like weight-lifting or training for a marathon, it’s hard in the moment, but no one gets stronger being carried everywhere.

In fact, I recently heard of a mother who was so protective of her child, never wanting to see him struggle, that she did carry him everywhere for almost two years. The child could not walk. He never had a chance to struggle and learn. There was no normal, healthy development in his legs. Child services came in to insist that the child be allowed to struggle to gain strength.

Very often, the thing that looks like struggle is the thing that builds your strength.

And even in Eden, there was work to be done.

There is a consciousness to joy. A conscious choice for cultivation. This consciousness exists with all the fruits of the spirit.

Even in Eden, there was work to be done.

 

There is nothing easier than criticizing a joyful, loving person. Nothing easier than tearing down a soft target. And there is something about a joyful person that can make an angry person angrier and meaner, especially if he is determined to stay in his state of mind.

It is not only that the joyful are a soft target.

A joyful person is a challenge.

The mere presence of a well-adjusted person is an inherent challenge to those who don’t have it figured out yet. And when that same well-adjusted person is also flourishing and strong, the challenge is even louder. And those who have not fought in the same way can sometimes assume the way was easy for those who have already won their battles.

A joyful person is a challenge.

 

I have fought this temptation too. The temptation to see someone who is living well and bearing good fruit as someone who just had it easy and has no real clue about life.

But then, after years of struggle, I started to wonder if, maybe, those people knew something I didn’t.

It can feel good in a twisted way to fall into self pity, to sit and tell myself how hard my life is. To vindicate the waves of emotion that, at forty-two years old, I still have not learned to entirely control.

“I deserve it! I want chocolate! I want to complain! I want to watch myself cry in the mirror! I want to quit!”

Self-pity gives us all the excuses we need to not try harder, to not go out and do the hard work of pursuing our destiny. It makes us feel exempt from the struggle for excellence in our own minds, where the battle is the thickest. We can redefine “excellence” in our pain, saying, “Well, at least I’m still here, well at least I’m this, at least I’m not that.”

At least.

But I don’t want “at least.” I want “at most.”

I want the best there is.

And I know you do too.

And God wants the best for us. He already has it planned out.

Very often, the thing that looks like struggle is the thing that builds your strength.

 

When the Israelites were “given” their inheritance from God, He also told them to GO AND TAKE IT.

When Ruth went to Boaz for charity, it was there, but she still had to work for it. She still had to GO AND TAKE IT.

When Jesus healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda, He told the man, “Get up. Take up your mat, and walk.” The man had to take responsibility for himself and TAKE his healing. He had a choice.

GO AND TAKE IT

 

It’s time for us to GO AND TAKE the inheritance, the blessings, the joy, the healing that God wants to pour out in our lives. God does many, many things by grace, just giving us blessings because He loves us. But even with a gift, we have to stretch out our own hands to receive.

But other times, like a good father who wants to see his child grow healthy, He stands out a little way from us, holding out His arms and saying, “Come on! Come on! Come on! I know you can do it!”

The way to let struggle work in our favor, and incidentally, one way to cultivate joy, is to count the struggle as joy. 

Don’t know how to do that? Me either, sometimes. Ask God to help you reframe it. And you will see Him standing before you with arms outstretched, cheering you on.

***

Reckon it nothing but joy, my brethren, whenever you find yourselves hedged in by various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith leads to power of endurance. Jas 1:2-3

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” John 5:8

So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. Ruth 2:23ab

See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land. Deut 1:8a

What have you been putting off because of self-pity or fear? What do you need to GO AND TAKE today? What is one thing you can do to move forward in claiming your inheritance?

Father, thank You that You allow us the good kind of struggle that brings strength in us! Thank You that You stand before us with Your arms out, saying, “Come on! Come on! Come on! You can do it! Come to me! I’ve got you!” Thank You that You know how much we can be, and You believe in us! Thank You that You never leave us or forsake us, and You are our greatest Helper, our greatest cheering section, our greatest encourager!

I pray for anyone reading this to hear Your voice in greater measure today and every day, cheering them on to claim their inheritance! To hear You say in their hearts–there it is! That thing I have for you! I’m shining a light on it, I’m cheering you on! Now! GO AND TAKE IT!

Thank You for helping us and planning out our best lives and making a way for us to find what You have! In Jesus’ name, we GO! Amen!

Pitiful or Powerful? One More Question to Ask After You Choose.

You can’t be pitiful and powerful.

You have to choose.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little bit about my choice and my journey from pitiful to. . . well, at least more powerful than before.

But what happens after we choose?

We start to live it. We wrangle and wrestle with old things. We learn what we need to let go, what still fits. How to live in our choice.

How to own it.

And then, we have to ask, how do we love each other well, whatever we choose? When we choose to be powerful? When we choose to be pitiful?

A few weeks ago, I sat with a friend. I listened and felt my soul shrinking back and dragging down as the same dark narrative was repeated over and over and over. This thought occurred to me:  She is hypnotized by negativity. She didn’t even hear herself. She had no idea that she was telling me the same story, again and again and again, a story that could easily be spun a different way.

And years ago, I remember listening to people older and wiser than I was, but I couldn’t imagine what made them think they knew so much. They were only people, like me. Sometimes I would leave those conversations filled with rage and resentment, missing so much if the wisdom that I could have gleaned from their sharing.

Emotion comes in and wraps itself around us if we let it. We can’t see ourselves, and we can’t hear ourselves, if we allow emotion to be a block to what we really want.

When I want to be powerful, but the person next to me wants to be pitiful, how do I show compassion and patience? How do I sit with their negativity and repeated sob stories without sacrificing my own hard-won positive focus?

When I want to be pitiful, but I sit next to someone who has found their power, how do I really love and learn from them when my natural response is to roll my eyes and stick out my tongue and say, “YEAH, RIGHT!  WELL, GOOD FOR YOU! ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW WHAT–I THINK YOU ARE FULL OF IT!!!”

I’m not sure that we have learned this yet as a culture.

How do we love each other well?

 

How do we know when to grieve? There is a scripture that says to mourn with those who mourn, but what if all they ever do is mourn? Even scripture puts a limit on mourning–God gives His people thirty days to devote to grief–even for the most tragic things. And then it’s time to put down the sackcloth and ashes and begin fighting our way back in to life.

Finding balance.

Letting ourselves rest. Being ok with where we are in our process and where others are in theirs, even if we know we are still kind of pitiful sometimes. Seeking our power and deciding not to be quitters. Finding our power and looking at someone else who hasn’t yet, learning how to encourage them forward without trying to push them where they aren’t ready to go.

It’s not easy for any of us.

Heidi Baker talks about asking God, “What does love look like in this situation right now?”

What does love look like in this situation right now?

 

As you grow in the powerful, as you face down the pitiful, if you struggle with knowing what love looks like in any moment, if you feel those tendrils of impatience or those talons of resentment trying to drag you down, just take a deep breath, and ask silently, “God, what does love look like, with this person, right now?”

He will show you.

***

Father, we are on a journey to fearless, a journey to powerful. We ask in every moment, that You would show us what love looks like. Eyes to see Your answer, ears to hear Your guidance, hearts that understand what You are asking us to do, and the grace to obey.

We want to grow in our own strength and still love well, wherever we are in our process. You are Love. You live inside us. We trust You to guide us and make Yourself known, even in the most challenging relationships, in the most challenging moments. We give every loved one, every family member, every stranger, every co-worker, every neighbor, every friend, every ex-friend, every attacker. Every person who has ever touched our lives. We forgive those who have trespassed against us. We forgive ourselves for our own trespasses, and we give others permission to forgive us. We look to You to take us higher within ourselves and in every relationship. We look for You to show us what love looks like in every moment. In Jesus, Amen.