When Life is Less than Perfect

By Ruth Haley Barton

Every life has difficulties. It may be a difficult marriage, chronic pain, depression, painful childhood memories, past mistakes, or emotional pain. Maybe you have begged God to take it away, but it's still there. One thing is true: God has the power to change your circumstances - so it is acceptable to ask Him to do just that. Paul asked the Lord three times to take away his thorn in the flesh. Christ prayed the night before He was crucified, My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me. Even in their willingness to do God's will there was an expressed desire that God take the hard thing away. In both cases God chose not to grant their requests because there was a more important good to come.

When bad things happen:

* See things from God's perspective. A "no" from God allows you to step back and look at the larger picture, perhaps even to understand His reasons.

* Depend on God. Pain and weakness keeps you in touch with your vulnerability - and in touch with your need for God and others. Turn your attention and your trust to Him.

* Let difficulties provide character. Just as physical muscles are developed in the hard work of pulling or pushing against weight or gravity, so, too, your spiritual muscles are developed in the hard work of living in less-than-perfect circumstances. There is no other way for some character traits to be developed. We also exult in our tribulations; knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope (Rom. 5:3-4).

* Allow difficulties to bond you with others. When we open up our pain to others, it can level the ground between us as human beings and allow us to see each other more clearly. You have the choice about whether to experience it in isolation - or to open it up and find the bond it can create with others. When you share your pain, the beauty and strength you see in each other is nothing less than inspiring.

* Expect God to use it. He will use areas of weakness and vulnerability in your life for His purposes. It's more natural to hide those things rather than risk misunderstanding, embarrassment, or disrespect from those who don't know how to respond to the reality of human limitations - theirs or yours. But Paul said that God wants us to boast about our weaknesses - putting them right out there in plain view - so that God's power can come shining through.