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The Same Struggle: You’re Not Alone and It’s Okay

Oct 11, 2016

Do you ever get tired of struggling with the same thing? Ever feel like you’ve been dealing with the same struggle your whole life?

struggle man standing in water dark black and white

I meet so many people who talk about how they battled the same weakness, problem, or tendency for years. This experience shocked me, learning how common it is to circle the same issue again and again.

But as commonly I find this experience, I also find a common frustration. The people I talk to hate this experience. They say things like, “I’m so over it” or “I’m so tired of struggling with this.” They ask questions like, “Am I the only who experiences this? Will I ever be free of this struggle?”

Bill and His Struggle With His Struggle

Take my friend Allison. She knows she has the tendency to dominate a conversation – she’s got a lot of life experience, she’s well read and she’s a very wise woman. So she does all she can to not hog the conversation, yet sometimes she ends up talking more than anyone else. For years, Allison has told her friends about this struggle and they’ve encouraged her. At times, she does better but other times, she slips back into old habits. When someone points out how Allison is making it tough for more reserved people to contribute, the news crushes her.

Like Allison, battling the same struggle for years often leaves us feeling defeated. Some of us take on a victim mentality, where we cease struggling. We simply give up, accepting the inevitable defeat again and again.

Others of us refuse to give up. Instead, we get angry! We hate the struggle. We hate our inability to defeat it once and for all. This is especially bad if we’re struggling with our temper. We’re angry about being so angry!

And yet, there’s also a third group of us. We continue to struggle but without giving up nor giving in to frustration. We struggle but differently than we used to.

“I’m So Sick of This Same Struggle”

Take Steven Furtick for example. Furtick is a pastor in North Carolina. In a 2015 sermon, he shared how he saw a counselor for many years because he didn’t want his personal struggles to hold back the success of his church. At one session, he lost it with his counselor, describing his frustration over his continual battle with the same struggle. Even an extended time with this counselor hadn’t eliminated the struggle completely. Furtick said, “I’m sick of myself. I’m sick of this same struggle.”

The counselor offered a different perspective. He said, “you’re still struggling but not at the same level you used to struggle.” When Furtick asked for him to elaborte, the counselor said, “you’re struggling at a deeper level. We used to talk about your behavior and now we’re dealing with your motivations.” The counselor continued, “you’re also struggling at a higher level. You have more perspective on your struggle and you wrestle with it differently than you once did.”

Can you relate to that conversation? I sure can. I look back at the struggles which continue in my life after years of awareness. I’m often tempted to get frustrated at my inability to eliminate bad habits, unhelpful tendencies, and personal flaws. However, with many of these, I don’t struggle the way I once did. The struggle is the same, but the way I struggle is different.

Struggle path trail fall leaves green grass trees

Exploring Our Struggles

If you’ve been nodding your head as you read this post, then I want to encourage you to take a couple minutes to read through this process below. I want to help you gain new perspective on your struggles and learn how to struggle differently. These five questions could take as little as a few minutes or could take a half-day if you set aside the time.

1. What are your “same struggles?”

Some of us may have been making a mental list as we read through Furtick’s dialogue with his counselor. Others of us may have a hard time making a list. It might be good to ask someone who knows you well. It’s a scary thing to ask, but we all could use help with the self-awareness.

While I had a couple struggles in mind as I was writing this, I sent my wife a text message and asked her to share. She sent me the following list within a couple minutes. “Detaching from on your phone at night. Telling me when we are not getting enough time together. Telling me when life is hard for you. Making time for your writing. Giving me a calendar of events so that I know what is happening in advance.”

None of these surprised me. However, as I read over this list, I saw some struggles which are five, eight even ten years old. If I’m completely transparent,  I’m struggling in some areas at a “different level”. But with others, I feel like it’s the same kind of struggle I’ve always had.

What are your struggles?

2. What has come as a result of your struggle(s)?

Struggles do not have to be permanent. Our struggles aren’t always the same. Yet, all of our struggles produce “by-products”. Something comes from the struggle.

One thing which comes from our struggles is opportunity. We often see opportunities emerging from adversity. We might never have considered making a change in our life because it was too scary, but when adversity forces our hand, we take the risk as we now have nothing else to lose.

New relationships emerge from the struggle too. I met my wife and we became close friends during the toughest season in her professional life. Ultimately, we began dating amidst that season. It formed the foundation of trust we’re still building upon today.

After listing three to five of your struggles, add to your list by noting what has come out of your struggles.

3. What helped you thrive or caused you to be defeated in your struggle?

If there’s one area where we should become an expert, we should become an expert in knowing and telling our story. No one can nor should know our experiences to the depth we are capable of going.

This past week, I led the staff of my church through an experience I call Building Your Post-It Note Timeline. With a posterboard, four colors of post it notes, and about an hour, each of us dove back into our past and processed our lives. We noted the highs and lows, the successes and the struggles. We wrote down the names of people who encouraged and mentored us, along with those who wounded or abused us. At then end, we chronicled the lessons we learned from each season, how they changed us. (If you want to learn more about how to make your own timeline, check out my free step-by-step guide here.)

As I was thinking about my timeline, a thought struck me. I saw some common threads in the seasons where I thrived. I had a mentor or two, was physically healthy, and developed a healthy rhythm of hard work and rest (including personal retreats). During the thriving times, I also contributed to a larger mission out of my giftedness or sweet spot. In general, I was hopeful, happy and free.

During the seasons of defeat, the exact opposite was true. I lacked mentors and overworked. I was unhealthy and out of rhythm. I spent the majority of my time working in areas I didn’t feel gifted or aligned to my strengths. And I was generally bitter, angry or cynical. I now have an important checklist to monitor!

If you looked back in your past, what do you see separating the seasons?

4. Where do you have more empathy because of your struggle(s)?

I can be very judgmental of people who struggle with something which is no big deal for me. I don’t know if you know this experience, but in the places I lack empathy, I’m far less generous, gracious and merciful.

Struggle changes our perspective. Not only on our experience, but also the experience of others. In this video, Brené Brown illustrates the difference between empathy and sympathy. I love how Brown shows the power of empathy to empower others. Empathy doesn’t enable destructive behavior; instead, empathy puts us alongside someone in their struggle with the love and support they need to survive and thrive within it.

5. Have you surrendered the outcome of the struggle?

We love being in control. I mean, was anything better than when someone invented the remote control for our TVs? I can remember having to get up and turn the knob to change the channel. Who wants to do that anymore?! (Our remote recently stopped working, so I’m speaking from experience here).

But we are not in control of outcomes in this life. We cannot control the outcome, we can only influence the process. Despite many infomercials, we cannot make ourselves a certain weight or size, but we can choose our diet, activity level and (sometimes) our amount of sleep. We cannot control our financial future, but we can discipline ourselves today to make wise choices.

What happens if our struggle continues for the rest of your life? What if it never goes away? We can fixate on ending the struggle (the outcome) or we can refocus on what we can control (the process, our response, our actions and attitude).

Strength in the Struggle

We don’t get to chose whether or not our struggle is a seasonal or lifelong thing. I wish we did have that power. But we don’t. There’s places in my life where I wish I could end my struggles but I haven’t yet.

Maybe this is why I relate so much to the experience of the Apostle Paul. He had a struggle he couldn’t kick and he had an honest conversation with God about it one day. The perspective he gained and shares in 2 Corinthians 12 remains one of my favorite sections of the Scriptures.

In reflecting on the extraordinary gifts he’d been given, he wrote, “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

A Hope and a Prayer For Our Struggles

I know many of you who read this blog don’t share my faith and I’m grateful you read my posts here. Whether you believe in God or consider yourself a follower of Jesus, I wonder if you’ve ever considered how your struggles gave you more strength. I truly believe I’ve found my greatest strength because of God’s presence in my struggles. I’ve seen friends grow strong in their struggle, when it could have defeated them.

My hope and prayer for you today isn’t that your struggle ends immediately. I’m praying you struggle well. I hope a year from today someone could say to you the words Furtick’s counselor said to him. “You’re struggling but not at the same level you used to struggle.” Whether the struggles goes or remains, may you struggle at a deeper (and higher level) than you once did.

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