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What to do With Hard Days

Originally published Monday, 29 January 2018.

I've been in this world long enough—I won't say how long—but despite my years of experience here, I am still surprised when things are hard. I still feel thrown off when life is difficult and things don't go smoothly. As though I didn't see it coming.

You know what I'm talking about. Like one of those Mondays where everything seems to go wrong. The alarm fails to go off. The kids are slow to get ready and end up late to school. At some point during the day, the car battery dies, you can't find your wallet, and the school calls to tell you to come and pick up a very sick child. You open the mail box to find an unexpected bill you know you can't pay. Days like that seem to compound themselves, adding one irritation upon another. Maybe throw in a broken dishwasher or plumbing issue to the mix and your Monday turns into a no good, terrible, very bad day.

On days like that, I grow increasingly frustrated and find myself mumbling, "Why does everything have to be so hard?"

I ask that even though I know the answer. 

Or do I really?

I do know that this is a fallen and broken world. I am a sinner and live among sinners in a land groaning from the impact of sin that has permeated every square inch. So I really should not be surprised by frustrating events in my day. After all, things do not work as they should in a fallen world. Objects break down. People get sick. Accidents happen. Not only that, but everyone else has hard days and in our sin, we take it out on one another. We are also limited by our humanity and our weaknesses. Whether it's a tendency to run late, be disorganized, or forgetful, or simply just being tired out, these weaknesses exacerbate and contribute to the challenges of our days. In some ways, our frustrations in the midst of hard days reveal a longing to return to the way life was before the Fall.

Many of us might look at the comedy of errors in our day, shake our head, and become science nerds for a moment saying, "It's just Murphy's Law." You know, the one commonly known as "if anything can go wrong, it will." Sometimes we look at hard and challenging days as just that, a compounding of bad things happening all at once. We see them as random and purposeless. They become disruptions and obstacles to overcome. Things we have to push out of our way to get where we are really going.

But for believers, hard days are more than that. They are not random. They don't happen just because we "woke up on the wrong side of the bed" or because it's a Monday or any other colloquialism we want to claim. Hard days are Divinely placed opportunities for us to learn and grow in our faith.

And this is the part I often fail to remember or realize in the midst of my hard days, but it is crucial to how I respond: God is sovereign over all things. He controls every event, every circumstance, every irritation, every moment— even determining when a piece of hair falls from our head. So when hard days come, it's not because God has stepped away and taken a break from his work of Providence. Rather, he has orchestrated the series of events and we have an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, about God, and ultimately, to be changed by it. 

How is that? 

It's in those hard days where we are pressed and pushed and prodded beyond what we think we can do that we learn who we really are and how much we need God's grace. We see areas of sin in our life we might not have noticed before and have an opportunity to repent and turn from it. We might come face to face with idols we worship—the things we turn to for hope and life, things like control, comfort, and success. Hard days become opportunities for us to accept the Spirit's conviction and turn to Christ for grace, forgiveness, and help.

It's also in those difficult moments where we experience God's grace in profound ways, where we are strengthened by the Spirit, and enabled to do more than we ever thought. It's in those trying times where we see the real fruit of obedience, trust, and reliance upon God. Those hard days become opportunities for us to stretch our spiritual muscles and live out what God has taught us and called us to do. 

Above all, God uses hard days—whether they are days consisting of small but irritating inconveniences or long drawn out days of hardship—to change us into the likeness of Christ. That's the ultimate goal: our holiness. God is not concerned about us living comfortable, carefree lives in the present. He is about making us holy and preparing us the future to come—eternity with him. More often than not, that means facing hard work in the midst of a hard day. But we're not the only one at work; the Spirit tirelessly labors in us and uses every moment of our lives to strip us of sin and remake us into the image of our Savior. 

Hard days should not surprise us because we know who rules and reigns over all things. So when hard days do come, we need to turn to the One who placed that day before us. We need to yield to the opportunity to glorify God in how we respond. As we do, we can rejoice, because we know that one day, we will be perfected in glory, made like Christ, and be with him forever where hard days are no more.