Courage

the truth about hard things

A year ago, I stood in front of a hundred women and made them repeat after me, “I can do hard things.”

We were talking about studying our Bibles, acknowledging the discomfort of entering unfamiliar territory, and our tendency to cut and run when things get hard. Growth happens in the tension, I assured them. As we persevere in the hard work of studying the Word, it penetrates our hearts and renews our minds. So we can tell our brains to pipe down; we can breathe deeply; we can do the hard things.

I felt pretty confident after that: I can do hard things. And I loved that it became a mantra of our women’s discipleship efforts–this challenge to one another to do the things we may not feel like, but which we know are ultimately for our good.

I love studying my Bible. I don’t say that to display my piety but rather to admit that this “hard thing” is really not that hard for me. Maybe at some point it was, but really, maybe not. When I heard the gospel 7 years ago and realized I’d been taught wrong my whole life, I couldn’t devour my Bible fast enough. I wanted to read all the books and understand all the things. I wanted to undo years of wrongful thinking and with every discovery, there was more light. And the light was addicting. I couldn’t get enough. Even in dark seasons or busy seasons, the Word was my anchor–words to nourish my soul and steady my feet. In the middle of the night with babies, in the early hours of the morning, on notecards around my house, and in my lap while the kids watched TV, I found a way most days, because the words were life itself.

This is why I beat the table for women to know the Word, because I simply can’t understand–how can you live without it?

My mind is a terrifying place even when it’s tethered to scripture–but it’s much, much worse apart from it. It’s not that I’ve been able to study in depth at all points in my life, but time in the Word has been a fixed part of my daily routine for many years now.

The only conclusion I can reach is this is solely a work of God’s grace. I can’t desire God apart from his work in my heart, but he has faithfully cultivated that desire over the years, and he’s done that primarily by revealing himself to me in his Word.

There is discipline involved in my pursuit of understanding scripture, but it doesn’t feel like discipline. It’s like eating breakfast. I wake up hungry.

But it’s not just Bible study that’s not really a hard thing. School was always pretty easy for me. I only had to pay attention to ace a test. And if it was an essay test, I probably didn’t even need to pay attention. (College was a little different, but skipping class might have had something to do with that.)

I often found courage where others were fearful. For example, I love roller coasters. At youth group camp in the Appalachian mountains, my peers stood trembling on the mountain’s edge, clinging to the ropes and paralyzed from stepping over. I was the first to go, marveling at the rush and the beauty as I repelled down. A couple of years later, I dove head-first off a cliff into the Caribbean. I flew to Chad when I was 16 and home again, alone, to catch another flight to Russia a week later. When I was 19, I volunteered for an internship in Los Angeles without any personal contacts or idea of what I was getting myself into. And I love public speaking.

These, again, aren’t meant to be examples of my awesomeness but rather my reality. While I might tell people to do hard things, what I haven’t really admitted deep down is that many of these things haven’t been hard for me. I’ve always loved an adventure, a challenge, a change. Come on, guys, we can do hard things!

I tell it to my kids, too. We can push through the discomfort! We can do things we don’t feel like! We can do hard things!

Which is why I hate to admit that this move to California has knocked me off my feet. What I once might have found thrilling is now mostly overwhelming. It turns out, I hate doing hard things. I want the comfortable things. I want to shop in a store where everything is where it should be; I want to be surrounded by a crowd of people who know me; I want to send my kids to the basement or backyard while I have coffee with a familiar friend.

I don’t care if growth happens in the tension; I’m tired of the tension.

At times, the darkness has hovered so thick I’m not sure I can breathe. I wonder if I’m really just a fraud. Have I even fooled myself?

I’ve felt this compulsive need to confess to all my friends back home: I can’t do hard things! They’re too hard! Let’s all just go back to bed!

I want to say my struggles these past months have been humbling, but mostly they’re just humiliating. It turns out I’m weak where I thought I was strong. I’m fearful where I thought I was courageous. I’m self-righteous where I thought I was helpful.

But there’s grace to be found even in my stubborn refusal to do the hard things.

By God’s grace, I stumble out to the patio most mornings, cup of coffee in hand and Bible in my lap. I search for hope in those well-worn pages. One morning, the words leap off the page: “This I know, that God is for me” (Ps 56:9). It takes my breath away, this reminder of the God who did not spare his own Son–how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (Rom 8:31)?

But also these words: This I know.

And I realize that I do know.

That even in the midst of the depression and the loneliness and the uncertainty, that in these years, God has been at work in my heart, helping me to dig down deep, setting my feet upon a Rock (Lk 6:48, Ps 40:2). This God-given discipline–this one hard thing–this is how he sustains me (Matt 4:4).

It’s not that I hold fast to him–it’s that he holds fast to me.

I wake up hungry, and every morning he spreads a feast and invites me to come and sit–to eat food I haven’t paid for and drink until I’m no longer thirsty (Is 55:1-2).

He meets me with mercies new every morning. Even when I’ve doubted his goodness. Even when I’ve forgotten the ways that he’s proven his faithfulness. Even when I’ve refused to receive from his hand the good he’s continually provided–new places to belong, new people to love. He reminds me that, though I am faithless, he is faithful (2 Tim 2:13). That when I am weak, he is strong (2 Cor 12:9). That my flesh and my heart fail, time and time again, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps 73:26). And that he is working, even when I fail to do the hard things (Rom 8:28).