All Christians Struggle. So What Do We Do About It?

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(Photo: Fred Antonelli)Fred Antonelli, Ph.D., LPC is a former senior pastor of 23 years, a crisis marriage & family therapist, author and founding director of Life Counseling Center, Inc. with offices throughout the Eastern Shore of MD and DE.

As a Christian, have you ever felt despondent, depressed, anxious or even questioning God's love? Sometimes do you feel that God took a sharp turn in life and you fell off the bus? Have you experienced such pain and sorrow as a believer in Jesus that there are times that you wonder if the fog will ever be lifted? Have you ever wanted to share your heart with a sympathetic Christian friend but you're reluctant to do so lest they think you to be "unspiritual" or "lacking faith?" Have you found that a legalistic mentality has left you feeling that you have to continue to earn God's favor in order for Him to accept and approve you?

These are the kind of questions and life complexities that confront Christians nearly every day of their lives. We're the believers in Jesus who are trying to walk out our faith, at times, through a veil of tears and unspeakable heartache and grief. Yet, often we're hesitant to express our feelings of disappointment and sorrow in life to other believers because our legalistic evangelical mentality makes us feel reluctant and unsafe to share our "stuff" ... leery we'll be judged by the listener. Or, to have a "secret sin" that you're carrying and would love to get help with, but dare not even mention it out loud in fear of it being plastered on the "prayer chain" or even worse, possibly losing your job if you happen to be in the ministry.

As a psychologist, crisis marriage therapist and former sr. pastor, I've seen these type scenarios played out over and over throughout the years. They're sad and at times, even heart-wrenching, but ... it's not how Jesus taught us to treat one another.

We've got to get it ... we struggle, all of us! The question isn't, do we struggle in life as believers? We do, and that's a fact. However, the real question is, why do we struggle? And through the struggle, is it possible to struggle well in the eyes of God and God be ok with that?

Listen, the struggling soul of man is as old as Adam and as recent as each morning when we wake up to face the day. In reality, the struggle is both a hardship in life as well as a loving, graced filled experience with Messiah. It's learning how to navigate through life's highs and lows, joys and sorrows while trying to hold a balance between holiness and humanity, faith and failures. The pain of human suffering doesn't come to a screeching halt at a person's door just because they're a believer in Jesus. And for those who have walked with God for years, surely you know this to be true. In case you haven't noticed, life doesn't always fit neatly into a prepackaged Christian dream of "God is good all the time, all the time God is good." Though God is a good God, a loving, just and gracious God, still that little phrase doesn't always cut it when you feel like your past your last prayer and the saltwater of life is now beginning to spill into your nostrils.

God gets our suffering. He understands the pain, disappointment, sorrow and questions that we go through. Jesus understands the systemic collapse of our human condition. He empathizes ... identifies with our fallen humanity. Why? Because, as crazy as it sounds, Jesus was both fully God and fully man. He had to be born through a natural means (a woman) and grow up experiencing both our struggles as well as our joys in order to connect with those He had come to redeem.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin."

-Hebrews 4:15

And the cool thing is this, as we travel this struggling road called life, God has made available to us this amazing Agape filled gift called "Grace" to help us get through the struggling, difficult times. In short, grace is a heart of love that is unconditional and sacrificial. It's a hand lifting us up when we do fall rather than a boot on our neck keeping us down. Grace lovingly leads us to a place of righteousness. It doesn't "beat" us into righteousness, it "leads" us ... it doesn't "pound" us, it "pardons" us on the journey toward righteousness. That's' the difference between grace and legalism (The Law). What a beautiful picture of God's patience and unending love toward us as the Holy Spirit moves us to a closer, intimate relationship with the Father.

To be honest, we're all present and accounted for on this fallen and corrupted planet. We're a motley crew of the standing and the fallen, the confident and the fearful, the victorious and the defeated, the strong and the weak, the faithful and the faithless, the stable and the unsteady. We all make up His glorious crippled church. We're the lovers of Jesus and His Word who will, one day, no longer be subject to the human corruption that has befallen these frail mortal bodies as a result of Satan's death grip.

Sin is a far-reaching problem with us humans. It has affected every area of a mortal's life, and that's a fact. There's nothing that we can do to escape its clutches and there's nothing in and of ourselves that we can do to eliminate it from our lives. But that systemic human disease has been given a powerful heavenly antibiotic to fight its deadly sin infested, bacterial infection. That heavenly cure is Jesus, the Lover and Protector of our souls.

The bottom line is this, the message of Jesus' radical agape love and grace really does endure through all things and forever. It endures through our greatest times of joy and happiness and through our worst moments of discouragement and sorrow. It's there when we're standing on top of the mountain and when we're struggling to lift the mountain off. It's there in our proud moments of accomplishment, and it's also there in our defeated times of humiliation. The solid truth is this: through the struggle, no matter how we succeed or fail in it, God loves us fervently, passionately, and unconditionally ... and that's a Biblical, foundational, bedrock truth!

In some earthly form or in some earthly way, each of us has faced the tempests ... or will face them. These are the storms of life set in play as a result of Adam's self-centered act of disobedience that rage against these fragile and corrupted jars of clay. But when we do struggle, at least we can confidently know that yes, we struggle, but because of God's great grace and endless love for us, we're now struggling well. Wow ... if that doesn't give you hope, I don't know what would!

This op-ed is based upon the book, Struggling Well: Balancing the Love and Grace of God with the Pain and Questions of Life.

Fred Antonelli, Ph.D., LPC is a former senior pastor of 23 years, a crisis marriage & family therapist, author and founding director of Life Counseling Center, Inc. with offices throughout the Eastern Shore of MD and DE.