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Productive Struggle

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Productive Struggle

Productive Struggle

August 24, 2019

The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.-Pierre de Coubertin.

I wanted to be a better person. A bigger person. A more spiritual person. A person who didn’t struggle.

Recently I fell victim to chance and circumstance. An admittedly unfair situation forced itself upon me. I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At first, I resolved to accept the situation with grace and faith. But as days stretched into weeks and weeks turned into months, my resolution wavered. I began to struggle.

I longed to be more like Mary, the mother of Jesus. When told she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, she simply said:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 38 NIV)

Her statement expressed such simple acceptance and obedience. She didn’t question. She didn’t argue. She didn’t wonder, “Why me?” She didn’t struggle.

Although I wanted to be like Mary, my reaction more closely resembled a struggle described by the Apostle Paul. In Romans 7:19 he observes:

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (NIV)

I didn’t want to question God’s purpose for allowing this situation in my life. But the more I tried to reason with myself to trust Him, the more my emotions pulled me to do the opposite. 

As the heat of the battle intensified, my emotions bubbled over into my words. With brutal honesty, I expressed my anger at the unfairness of the situation. 

Immediately I regretted giving voice to my emotions, because I equated struggle with sin.

In my work in public education, we often speak of the need for students to struggle in order to grow. With no struggle, students remain stagnant. Their skills never progress. If the struggle becomes too difficult, students shut down in frustration. So we have coined the phrase: productive struggle. This is the “just right” point of struggle. Enough to grow, but not too much to frustrate. Truly astute teachers know how to manage the struggle for their students.

Productive struggle applies to our spiritual walk as well. As our perfect teacher, God expertly manages our challenges. Only He knows how to help us grow into the likeness of His Son. Undoubtedly, struggle will always be part of the equation. 

This may sound like a dubious blessing. However, the Apostle Paul makes the following observation regarding his own struggle:

 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25 NIV)

Struggling against his flesh reminded Paul of his ultimate need for Christ, leading to a renewed appreciation for His grace. The same holds true for me.

Transforming our character into the likeness of Jesus is a process, with each step cloaked in grace.  One day, I will be like Christ. I will be struggle free. Until then:

Grace bridges the gap between who I am and who I’m meant to be.

As I continue down the road, I pray to see the potential for growth in struggle and to seek solace in God’s grace. Wherever you are in your journey, I pray the same for you.

Productive Struggle

August 24, 2019

Productive Struggle

The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.-Pierre de Coubertin.

I wanted to be a better person. A bigger person. A more spiritual person. A person who didn’t struggle.

Recently I fell victim to chance and circumstance. An admittedly unfair situation forced itself upon me. I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At first, I resolved to accept the situation with grace and faith. But as days stretched into weeks and weeks turned into months, my resolution wavered. I began to struggle.

I longed to be more like Mary, the mother of Jesus. When told she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, she simply said:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 38 NIV)

Her statement expressed such simple acceptance and obedience. She didn’t question. She didn’t argue. She didn’t wonder, “Why me?” She didn’t struggle.

Although I wanted to be like Mary, my reaction more closely resembled a struggle described by the Apostle Paul. In Romans 7:19 he observes:

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (NIV)

I didn’t want to question God’s purpose for allowing this situation in my life. But the more I tried to reason with myself to trust Him, the more my emotions pulled me to do the opposite. 

As the heat of the battle intensified, my emotions bubbled over into my words. With brutal honesty, I expressed my anger at the unfairness of the situation. 

Immediately I regretted giving voice to my emotions, because I equated struggle with sin.

In my work in public education, we often speak of the need for students to struggle in order to grow. With no struggle, students remain stagnant. Their skills never progress. If the struggle becomes too difficult, students shut down in frustration. So we have coined the phrase: productive struggle. This is the “just right” point of struggle. Enough to grow, but not too much to frustrate. Truly astute teachers know how to manage the struggle for their students.

Productive struggle applies to our spiritual walk as well. As our perfect teacher, God expertly manages our challenges. Only He knows how to help us grow into the likeness of His Son. Undoubtedly, struggle will always be part of the equation. 

This may sound like a dubious blessing. However, the Apostle Paul makes the following observation regarding his own struggle:

 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25 NIV)

Struggling against his flesh reminded Paul of his ultimate need for Christ, leading to a renewed appreciation for His grace. The same holds true for me.

Transforming our character into the likeness of Jesus is a process, with each step cloaked in grace.  One day, I will be like Christ. I will be struggle free. Until then:

Grace bridges the gap between who I am and who I’m meant to be.

As I continue down the road, I pray to see the potential for growth in struggle and to seek solace in God’s grace. Wherever you are in your journey, I pray the same for you.

6 Comments

  1. Teresa on August 25, 2019 at 2:30 PM

    Thanks this is a good reminder to us all to remember that in order to grow we may need to experience that productive struggle to be more like Christ.

    • Shirley Desmond Jackson on August 25, 2019 at 11:46 PM

      Thank you, Teresa. I appreciate your feedback. Yes, as much as I hate struggle, it is a necessary ingredient for growth.

  2. Charla on August 29, 2019 at 7:23 PM

    Thank you for your prayer over us, Shirley! I love the moments when Christ’s work in me produces joy from the struggles of life. It is one way I know I am His and that He is working in – and through – me.

    • Shirley Desmond Jackson on August 29, 2019 at 9:57 PM

      I love your spiritual perspective on struggle Charla!There is something deeply comforting in knowing He is still working on us, so (as you point out beautifully), He can work through us. Thank you!

  3. Armelle NEBOIT on August 31, 2019 at 6:58 AM

    Dear Shirley, I can so much relate to your article. Recently I have been struggling so much with finding out what God wants me to do for a living. A few months ago he put writing on my heart but it seems difficult to make a living with that activity in a short term perspective. At the same time, people around me push me to do what I have always done : accounting and financial reports. But everything inside me shouts : NO!!! What I used to love looks opposite to my present internal longings. I am struggling to know if God wants me to do it anyway (and he will give me his grace to do it) or if God wants me to be more assertive and defend my new “me” to people around me. Meanwhile I keep praying to know which direction to go and it is so tiring emotionally in the waiting process…Knowing God’s grace will bridge the gap is very comforting…Thank you!

    • Shirley Desmond Jackson on August 31, 2019 at 6:24 PM

      Dear Armelle: Thank you so much for your vulnerability as you share your struggle. I have never enjoyed being in limbo. Waiting for direction can be so emotionally draining. I am confident God put the desire on your heart to write for Him. In time, He will make His purposes clear. In the meantime, I pray for you to continue to write. I personally am not able to write full-time right now, but I am actively praying and working toward that goal. My heart and prayers are always with you! Bises!💕

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