FACING UP TO DIFFICULTIES
None of us likes difficult situations in life. It is one of the deepest desires in our life to avoid difficulties. A lot of our prayers are in the hope that our difficulties will be taken away, or that we will have a comfortable time. We are mentally so averse to difficulties that we don't even like the word. We would rather call them 'challenges,' which put things, we hope, in a much better or 'positive' way and reduces or takes away the pain of recognising them as difficulties. Some people like to assert, "The word 'difficulty' is not in my dictionary!"
But, unfortunately, difficulties do exist, and they won’t simply go away by ignoring them or calling them by some other name! On the contrary, recognising difficulties provides us a basis for working to resolve them. Admitting that we have a problem is the first step towards getting over it. Once we recognise that there will be difficulties in life, we can prepare ourselves to meet them, and once we are willing to acknowledge that we do have difficulties in our personal life, our relationships, our workplace, etc., we can start working on finding ways to deal with them. But many people think that admission of problems is the same as an acknowledgment of weakness or inadequacy, and they try to hide them from others as well as themselves. Then, of course, those problems lie hidden and many times become bigger till they become virtually unmanageable.
Living In Denial
We Christians have a special problem with recognising difficulties. Some forms of teaching make out as if, once we have come to Jesus, all our problems are taken away. It is with this kind of an appeal that many evangelists invite their listeners to come to Jesus in the first place. Once we believe this, what can we say when we actually encounter problems that do not go away with prayer, or even with fasting? Some people ‘claim promises’ and avoid talking about their problems, ending up living in denial and unreality.
Many years ago, I wrote an article (on my web site www.c-n-c.org) how even godly people quarrel because of a lack of understanding on how quarrels develop. Some readers were ‘shocked’ to see that I thought godly people could actually quarrel! Their concepts about godliness and quarrels did not allow those two to co-exist. I was trying to say how different minor factors are usually overlooked and cause quarrels and how they can be avoided. But some people would not even read that article because for them it was unthinkable that godly people quarrel.
Jesus has said very plainly that we would have trouble in this world (Jn.16:33). He used a Greek word that meant affliction, anguish, distress, persecution, tribulation or trouble. We suffer in this life sometimes due to the consequences of our own sin, sometimes from the sins of others and sometimes because this world itself has been corrupted due to sin. The best of us are highly imperfect, and even godly people make mistakes out of ignorance. It is unrealistic to imagine that we won’t have any problem. Some Christians misinterpret Romans 8:28 as if it says that God will make only good things happen to us, whereas what it actually says is that, even when bad things happen to us, God will cause something good to come out of it for us, as in the case of Joseph (Gen.50:20).
As a result of wrong thinking about difficulties, many of us have developed different ways of dealing with them. Difficulties cause us psychological ‘pain’ and we have a strong tendency to take even unrealistic or temporary measures to avoid pain.
Denial. This is a very common method people try to use where we pretend there is no difficulty at all. Using promises as if they have already become true (e.g., "I am healed," when I am still sick), and taking spiritual positions ("I am seated in the heavenly places" and ignoring the reality of life on earth), are two such ways. This kind of approach prevents us from acknowledging that we have a problem, and then we don’t do what we ought to do to deal with our problem.
Blaming others. Some of us are experts at interpreting all our difficulties in such a way that the blame falls on someone else. Then our unconscious goal is to place the responsibility for action on the others so that we don’t have to do anything. This is again unrealistic, apart from being unrighteous, because the blame for most problems may be at least partly ours, or our response to another’s fault may itself be wrong.
Taking the blame. Some people constantly blame themselves, whatever happens. Sometimes they are not bold enough to stand up to the others, or they think that they should make this self-sacrifice for the sake of peace. This may appear to be a spiritual approach, but it is still unrealistic because many times a part of the blame also rests on the others. Also this leaves the problem untouched and causes it to accumulate over time.
. Dealing with problems is painful, and so some people stay away from them. They sometimes avoid mentioning this problem and live as if nothing is wrong, thinking that this will help them to avoid further problems. They believe (perhaps unconsciously) that if they gave enough time, the problems would go away. Time has no ability to heal problems. But once problems have been dealt with, time may be needed to heal the wounds. So what actually happens is that problems are building up pressure in our unconscious mind and some other provocation at a later date might cause a big explosion.
‘Committing’ to God. Sometimes we misunderstand what the Bible says about casting our burdens upon the Lord (Psa.55:22). Then we may remind ourselves about how God told Moses and the people of Israel to just stand still and see the salvation of the Lord because He would fight for them (Exo.14:13,14). So we pray, place our difficulties into God’s hands, and sit around waiting for Him to solve our problems. A great thing about our God is that sometimes He does this for us too, especially when things are totally beyond our ability. At the same time, we must not forget that this kind of intervention from God is comparatively uncommon, and that usually He expects us to deal with our difficulties with the wisdom and strength that come from Him. He wants us to cast our anxiety on Him (1Pet.5:7), as we trust in Him, and fight our battles just like the people of Israel had to do once they came to Canaan.
Change Of Understanding
We can see that all these approaches are really not resolving our difficulties, but compounding them. But we resort to these methods because we are trying to avoid the pain of facing up to our problems. The problems themselves are painful, and the process of dealing with the problems to resolve them is also painful. Even thinking about how to deal with the problem can be painful. That is why we tend to put off the whole process from our mind, while we find different excuses for ourselves to justify our inaction.
But this is a wrong approach, because, as we are waiting for the problems to resolve themselves, they are usually becoming more complicated and, at some point of time, may become too much for us to handle. We must understand that the pain we will have to face at that time will be far more than the pain we will have now, if we try to deal with our difficulties. Certainly there will be pain in the process of dealing with problems, but that will ultimately give us peace and rest, while ignoring our problems can lead to unbearable pain later. In terms of physical pain, it may be that we may have to go through the immediate pain of surgery and recovery; but that will be better than avoiding the surgery and ending up losing some major function in our body or losing our life itself.
Facing Up To Difficulties
The first step is to admit we have a problem, and secondly, to decide we need to deal with it. These can be big steps if we have been used to avoiding facing up to it. The next big step is to recognise the possibility that we ourselves may have contributed to the problem, at least partly, and examine ourselves before the Lord to see what that could be. It can be extremely hard for us to see our own fault. For example, parents of teenage children who have problems do not usually understand that they, the parents, have had a major part in the problem, by the way they brought up the children. In handling problems, we must be open to the idea that, as we go on to resolve the problems, more and more of our failures may get exposed, and we must be willing to face up to them for the sake of resolving the problem. Then we can take this problem to the Lord and ask Him for wisdom and guidance in handling it. Depending on the particular problem the ways of dealing with it may also be different, and there is no single approach that we can adopt for all problems. It would be good for us to wait on the Lord for wisdom, instead of hastily doing something, and also to consult with more mature and experienced people who can guide us.
The apostle Paul was one who experienced great difficulties on earth, especially in the ministry. But he learned how to live along with difficulties and how to deal with them--both through the grace he received from Christ (2Cor.12:10).
A great secret of handling problems is to recognise that our final goal is to resolve the problem rather than fixing the blame on anyone. What is more important than finding out who caused it is to find out what we can now do to resolve it. Once we are convinced about this, it becomes easier to keep the right focus and to avoid getting sidetracked or dragged into many other related issues.
Finally, let us remember that as long as we are on this earth we cannot avoid having to face problems or contributing to problems in ignorance. So we must not get shocked when we do have them; but we can learn to become quick in dealing with them as they come. May the Lord teach us to become humble and willing to learn.