The gifts of community are great. They are also sometimes burdensome. Relationships bring joy and laughter, tenderness and anticipation. They also bring frustration and sorrow and sometimes a heavy heart. We want to share the joy, but sometimes we're called to grieve with the grieving, weep with the tearful and comfort the hurting. Sympathy and compassion are crucial to relationship and, I admit I often fail to extend enough of either.
Walking alongside another is easy when life is smooth and when our companions are healthy and whole, their attitudes positive and their bodies, strong. It is less easy, and frankly, less appealing, when their attitudes are in the toilet and they are growing physically weak, unable to participate in life's activities due to failing capabilities or lack of enthusiasm due to depression or weariness or down right inertia. Relationships are hard work. Whether in marriage, friendship or with a relative or a co-worker; they happen in different contexts but they all have seasons of comfort and seasons of struggle.
Most Americans have lives of relative ease compared to the average world citizen. We have homes to live in, beds to sleep in, food to eat and incomes to satisfy both our needs and many "wants". We are bombarded in our culture with those who have"more"- more money, more beauty, more vigor, more health, more education, etc., and hence, we are often guilty of believing that we are deprived and that we "deserve" to have what we lack.
The result is that we frequently become even more self involved than we naturally are. We exercise excessively, we spend more time online that we do face to face, spend hours in front of the television but whine if church lasts 5 minutes longer than we expected. Why is it that I can spend hours reading a book I'm engrossed in but struggle to study the Word of God for consistent amounts of time? Why can I mindlessly chatter to a friend for hours and yet struggle to spend significant time in prayer? I can find ample time in my busy schedule to go to classes at the gym several times a week, but, can't seem to find time to keep my spiritual life strong and consistent?
The truth is we all give up too easily. In relationships and in our own lives. We look inward too much and outward too little. I have heard from several different sources lately that marriage may well be intended to refine us. There is no relationship as close or as long lasting as marriage can be. In marriage, if we are constantly concerned about my needs, my rights, my desires and what I deserve, we will often be unhappy. No matter who you are joined to, that person was never intended to meet all of your needs. Further, marriage was never intended to make life easy. When we begin to release the notion of "Prince Charming" and living "happily ever after" and instead look for opportunities to grow and learn and serve within the relationship, that is where the refining process begins to bear fruit.
Life is not easy. Not for anyone. It wasn't meant to be. It's a journey. Like most journeys, there are right and wrong turns. There are great roads with beautful views and conversely there are winding unpaved roads with ruts you may temporarily get stuck in. We all have unique journeys, but we are all fellow travellers. Some people join us in our journey for the long run, others for brief periods of time. Some we think will always share the road and then one day they're gone. Sometimes we understand why and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we are on a bumpy, uncomfortable road longer than we think we can bear and sometimes we believe we are going to avoid those pot holes all together.
In relationship, as in life, we have to learn perseverance. As a follower of Jesus, there is an even greater responsibility. We who call Him "Lord" have an obligation, a sacred duty to bring Him glory. In a nutshell, for me, that means overcoming my self focus so that it's no longer about me...my comfort and peace. It's a daily battle. But, having lived a little while, I realize that an unhealthy focus on myself, my needs, my just desserts, my desires, "what's fair" and even what I don't deserve, are at the heart of most of the struggles of my life. Difficult circumstances are common to all of us. Whether visible to the human eye or not, every human being has heartache, struggles, and battles to fight. If my identity is tied to the battles I fight, I will most assuredly loose that battle, becoming a victim. If I accept my circumstances, lay them at the cross and trust the Saviour to either (a) get me through them, (b) carry me over them or (c) give me the grace to live with them, then, I can be victorious and the glory will be His. Whatever the outcome.