As someone who came out of a very dark past (both a drug addict and drug dealer from Atlanta), I couldn’t have ever guessed that my time at a theological seminary would prove to be the most trying time to date. I mean, I’ve had guns put to my head and I’ve run from the police. Who would have ever thought that Wilmore, KY (the acclaimed “holy city” and modern day Mayberry) would be where I faced both inner chaos and outer difficulties bordering on some sort of “chronic crisis.”
Over the course of these past 4 years, I have experienced difficult seasons of my marriage which resulted in us separating twice. I have endured the news of my father’s cancer. My wife has had serious health issues every semester, and most recently had to spend 2 months in the hospital after nearly dying…not to mention the regular stress that comes from being a full-time student with all the reading, papers, exams. You get the point. The struggle is real!
Here are 5 things I have learned through trials:
1) Lean into the Body of Christ.
“For as in one body we have many members and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5)
When these difficult seasons came upon us, we have had to lean into the real gift available to us in the Body of Christ. When our marriage was failing, instead of throwing up our hands and giving up, we found that there were so many people who were trust worthy and wise. Being a part of the Healing Academy with Rev. Peg Hutchins in many ways helped save our marriage, for we were able to realize the deeply rooted brokenness within each of us, and do the hard work of loving each other through the difficult times of hurt and pain, to find that healing was available for us when we no longer “insulated and isolated” in shame.
2) Allow people to help.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
When we have been faced with my wife’s illnesses each semester, we quickly had to learn to allow people to help us. Both my wife and I have very independent personalities, but when you are faced with trials of this kind and most recently with a trial of such magnitude, you really need to drop your pride and allow people to love on you. True and lasting community and friendships have been forged in our lives because we have learned to allow others to help when we are unable to help ourselves.
3) Avoid sin and resist temptation.
“Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
Many times I have been tempted to despair and anger. At times I haven’t been strong and fallen into bitterness and apathy, but because of the support that we have found in the community of both the seminary and our church, many times I have been able to resist the temptation that seems so easy to relent my inner life toward.
Nothing is so sure as to see the very weakness of our flesh during times of trial. It can often scare us to see just how fragile and quivering it truly is at times. To resign my tendency toward pride and self-preservation has been a lesson I have needed to learn countless times and in a variety of ways.
4) Pray without ceasing.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
I have found myself repeating to myself and to my wife during these times the words of Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. Not in the sense that everything will be “rainbows and butterflies” because it’s just not ever going to be that way, nor has it been promised to us in that manner. But, what has given me hope in this statement is that the reality of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and return overarches all of the experiences (good and bad) that I have ever faced, I am facing now, or will ever face in this life. All things shall be well because of Christ. This is how I am framing my heart, and allowing my prayers to never cease. Even in the midst of the most trying times.
5) Cherish the present moments.
“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)
Surviving the difficulties that I have faced so far has done one thing very well. It has cause me to see how fleeting this life really is, and how precious the moments we have with each other are in the formation of our souls toward God. When I have been in the most terrible of places inwardly, it has never failed that the Lord has allowed me a single moment of divine clarity to see how precious my wife and children are to my life. I have been moved for a single moment to a place of heavenly sight. Their lives intertwined with mine are what matter most.
Andrew Eberhart specializes in Spiritual Formation and Prayer Ministry.