I don't need to tell you that life is hard. The older you are, the better you know this.
The heavy burdens of past grief, present suffering, and anxiety about the future can easily overwhelm us, but they don't have to. There's wisdom about handling suffering to be learned from those who have gone through it before us.
Brick by Brick
Tim Challies, who wrote about the unexpected loss of his only son in Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God, had this to say about how to bear crippling grief:
My father was a landscaper, and he used to take me to work with him from time to time. I remember one day when he brought me with him to be an unskilled but low-cost source of manual labor. He showed me a skid of bricks that had been delivered to the end of a client's driveway and then a walkway he was building to the front door. My job was to get the bricks from the first spot to the second. I remember gazing at that giant pile with despair. How could I, at twelve or thirteen years of age, possibly move what looked like a literal ton of bricks? I realized I would have to do it in the only way I could. Piece by piece, brick by brick, step by step, I carried each one to my father. He laid them as quickly as I could bring them to him until a perfect path led to the entrance of that beautiful home.
And just so, while God has called me to bear my grief for a lifetime, and to do so faithfully, he has not called me to bear the entire weight of it all at once. As the pile is made up of many bricks, a lifetime is made up of many days. The burden of a whole lifetime's grief would be far too heavy to bear, and the challenge of a whole lifetime's faithfulness far too daunting to consider. But the God who knows my frailty has broken down that assignment into little parts, little days, and has promised a grace that is sufficient for each one of them. My challenge for today is not to bear the grief of a lifetime or to be faithful to the end, but only to carry today's grief and only to be faithful on this one little day that he has spread out before me.
Day by Day
Many years ago, I heard Gary Habermas tell a story in a class on the resurrection that has stuck with me. It was the story of a woman who spent years drowning in anxiety over her fear she would get cancer. When she eventually was diagnosed with cancer, she discovered that while God had not given her strength to bear up under the weight of every possible, imagined future difficulty, he did give her the strength to bear the concrete, actual suffering she faced day by day. She said she wished she had known he would do this because it would have saved her years of useless, debilitating anxiety.
Paul Revealed the "Secret"
The truth this woman discovered by experience was actually the "secret" revealed by Paul two thousand years ago in Philippians 4. Here's what he said about living in an unpredictable world where suffering and death are inevitable:
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11–13)
That's the secret—learned both by Tim Challies and Gary Habermas's friend: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." That's the truth we have to practice trusting, and as we practice, we'll experience God's faithfulness and get better at trusting over time.
There are two related principles in Challies's illustration and Habermas's story for us to grasp and learn to live by:
1. Don't try to bear all the griefs and sufferings ahead of you all at once—especially not the imagined ones.
2. Trust that God will give you what you need to bear your grief and suffering on the day when you need it.
This is how we fight both despair about our present and anxiety about our future. Letting go of anxiety and trusting God like this can feel like leaping off a cliff into an abyss. But I promise you, the ledge is there, just out of sight, and it will hold you.
Amy K. Hall. "The Only Way to Carry a Heavy Burden." The Stream (July 19, 2023).
Originally published at The Stream and reprinted with permission.
Amy K. Hall is a Christian worldview and apologetics writer and podcaster at Stand to Reason, an organization that trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square. You can hear her on Stand to Reason’s #STRask podcast.Copyright © 2023 The Stream
back to top