“Why is life so hard?” There…I asked it. Well…I actually said it. It was more of a definitive statement. No question mark required. I said it to no one in particular since I was home alone; and it was, at the same time, an unanswerable question, a statement of fact, a hands-up-in-surrender moment, and an exasperated prayer. Life is so hard. Yet the ‘why’ hung in the air like a taboo sort of question, complaint, and ever-growing dark cloud ready to burst at any moment. Why ask why?
Pictures from my own recent struggles as well as serious battles and prayer requests of family and friends hung in the air: death, divorce, isolation, estrangement, sickness, a runaway child, an addiction, bad choices, job loss, financial crisis, broken trust, broken relationships…and so much more.
And like the force of a blinding flash of lightning clashing with a rumbling clap of thunder, the invisible dam of stoic strength and self-defense that had been fortified with years of training, trials, tragedy, and trauma finally burst in that tear-filled question-statement.
Tears are simply the raindrops from the storms inside us.-unknown
But the question remained. Is there an answer or understanding we can grasp with our limited view and experience? I’m not a theologian, sociologist, or a psychiatrist; but I have lived, witnessed, and experienced great tragedy, loss, and triumph. I am just a traveler on a long broken road and I believe there are more theories and partial answers that create more questions than there is space to write or brain cells to brainstorm, but here are a few:
THE WORLD IS BROKEN. People are broken, hearts are broken, laws are broken, vows are broken, trust is broken, relationships are broken. Do you feel it? Have you seen it? Life is precious and priceless, but also fragile and fleeting. What lies in the aftermath, the rubble, of any great breaking? Pain, dust, and broken pieces? Brokenness creates fragments and scatters bits and pieces. Like flecks and shards of shattered, jagged glass that wound and cut and dig into deep painful places. And looking through the brokenness often obscures our view, like a distorted reflection through a shattered prism. But brokenness is also a picture. It shows us what went wrong and gives us an opportunity to repair or replace. To start over and pick up the pieces. To restore and to make whole. It creates hurt, but also hope and a chance for healing.
Jesus said in John 16:33, In this world you will have trouble… And I don’t think anyone would argue with him.
The psalmist said in Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Dare we believe it?! And seek it?
THE WORLD IS LONELY. Never have we seen so many faces and heard so many voices…and have yet been so profoundly alone. Alone in our homes, alone in our hurts. Behind a mask, behind a screen. Unseen, unknown. Alone.
King Solomon in all his wealth and wisdom understood: There is a man all alone, without even a son or brother. And though there is no end to his labor, his eyes are still not content with his wealth: “For whom do I toil and bereave my soul of enjoyment?” This too is futile—a miserable task. Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one may be overpowered, two can resist. Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. -Ecc 4:8-12
How can we show people they aren’t alone and unseen? Unimportant? Share a smile, hold a hand, make eye contact, give a hug, make time, ask questions, offer help, share the load. You may ease their burden for a moment in time.
THE WORLD IS HUNGRY. And seeking to satisfy its hunger with fleeting passions, importance, abundance, busyness, and untold distractions.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy? –Isaiah 55:2
Anxiety and depression are at record levels. Addiction is rampant. Addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, work, or to pleasure. To relationships, recognition, and achievement. The ways we try to satisfy the hunger in our hearts or to still the quiet rumbling in our souls are countless and fruitless. How do you satisfy an unquenchable thirst and feed a hungry soul? Why does there always seem to be an insatiable hunger for more?
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.C.S. Lewis
THE WORLD IS CONFUSED. Wrong is right, right is wrong. There is no truth, no consistency, no identity, no clearly defined lines between right/wrong, good/bad, black/white, yes/no, up/down. Truth is relative, your truth is your truth, and on and on… But real truth remains truth regardless of who believes it, disputes it, tears it down, or tries to erase it. While those bold enough to stand and proclaim it are mocked or labeled as haters.
The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak itGeorge Orwell
Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life.
My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.Abraham Lincoln
THE WORLD IS AT WAR. Sometimes it’s obvious. The never-ending news reports show battle images of soldiers and weapons and planes and death. Of rape and violence and murder, Headlines scream of anger, fear, division, and conflict. War at home, war abroad, war in our streets, in our homes, in our hearts. War without, war within.
There’s a battle for your time, a battle for your mind. For your kids, your spouse, your friends, your peace, your identity, and your heart.
We fight against time and schedules, against growing older and growing colder. Against shadows, demons, fears, and imaginations. The people in our past, in our homes, in our work, on the phone, in traffic, on the Internet, and often our worst enemy…the person in the mirror. It’s a battle on all fronts: physical, emotional, and spiritual. No wonder we are tired and battle-weary.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.– Jesus, John 10:10
People are angry. They fight to be seen, to be heard, to matter, or simply to be “right.” Life is hard, but life is also good. Trauma, trials, and tragedy come…but so do triumph and love and laughter.
And in the battle, sometimes wisdom and encouragement can be found in the least likely places: the hug of a friend, the laugh of a child, the wag of a tail, the rustle of the wind, the crash of the waves. Even a seed planted long ago in an inspired, creative idea. My very favorite movie is the Lord of the Rings. There is brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war. More than entertainment or escape, it creates a picture of life as we live it: triumph and tragedy, fierce opposition from enemies, the need for unity to stand and fight and overcome, light in darkness, hope in hopelessness, and the promise of a coming King. In both an intense and encouraging scene, as the battle raged, fighting seemed futile, and most hope appeared lost, young, brave Sam offered hope and encouragement for a battle-wearied traveler to continue:
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”-J.R.R. Tolkien , The Two Towers
Does that answer the question of why life can be so hard? Maybe not. I still feel the hardness. And I know you do too. If not right now, then probable yesterday…or tomorrow. It will come. The brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war… within and without. But I have to ask: Are you holding onto something? Even just hope…maybe especially just hope. Know that there’s something or someone worth fighting for. I encourage you in this season of hard…when all seem lost or you think you’ve done all you can do…stand, fight, and hope.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.-Jesus, John 16:33