It’s not always easy to see the beauty in the midst of your struggle. In fact, it often feels impossible.
When I was 16, after battling an eating disorder and anxiety for years, I was sent to a wilderness program in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. The program was designed to jump start the process of turning teens around. Some were there instead of doing time, some were there for drugs, running away, cutting, eating disorders. Many had depression and anxiety. But all were there because we shared a deep brokenness. We were all hurting.
When I first got to the base camp, I was shaking with more fear than I had ever experienced. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew it wasn’t going to be fun. I kept imagining myself opening the door of the truck on our way up the mountain and escaping into the wilderness. But I knew that I would never survive, so I sat there silently staring out the window, trying not to cry.
I knew at first glance that I didn’t fit it. The rest of the girls seemed so tough, and I was so scrawny and naive, tears pouring down my cheeks. Were these girls going to beat me up? As was the policy for newbies, I spent the first few days in solitude on the edge of camp in order to reflect on why I was there.
I was there because my parents didn’t know what to do with me. Because I wouldn’t go to school, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep. The world felt too hard for me, it always had. No one quite understood. And that was why I was there, in the middle of the woods, wearing cargo pants and a plain yellow t-shirt.
I was there for two months. I learned a lot about myself. We hiked every day, all day. I became strong, physically and emotionally. I made friends with the other girls, and many of them changed my life in ways they will never know. Who knew that hiking up a mountain every day, making my own fire, eating cold oats every morning, would begin a long healing process for my broken heart?
For as long as I could remember, I had been praying to God to take all my hurt away. I wanted Him to be my genie, to grant my one greatest wish. But He doesn’t do things that way, does He? He wants something more for us, real healing. He wants us to learn from our experiences, to take chances, to follow Him to the oddest places.
I wish I could say that the struggle in my own life ended at sixteen years old, but it didn’t. I had begun the healing process, but there was still so much work to be done. Sometimes I did it willingly, other times I dragged my feet. And even still I am on this journey of healing. I look to the Almighty as my rock, my hope, my future. And I continue to fight through the struggle with the help of some people I love and trust.
The truth is, that sometimes we can’t see the beauty in the struggle. Sometimes the mountains are too great that the valleys below are hidden. But I have found that when I cry out to God in the midst of my pain, He hears me. He may not grant my request, or scoop me up off of the mountain. But He is with me. He doesn’t make us go the journey on our own, but He does encourage us to figure it out for ourselves a little bit.
One of my favorite moments of struggle was in wilderness. We had been hiking all day and I was sick with a nasty stomach bug. I could barely move, couldn’t eat, couldn’t keep a thing in me. When we finally settled in for the night, I was a wreck. I was in the middle of the woods sick as a dog and there was no one to take care of me. I was alone in my own tent. I so desperately wanted to be home on the living room couch, watching a movie and sipping some tea, distracted from how sick I was.
At this point I had nothing. Nothing at all. I was alone in the middle of the woods. I couldn’t even cry out to God. And then a little song danced across my mind, and reached my lips. It was a song we had listened to endlessly in the car when I was a child. To this day, I have not been able to locate the song, but It went like this:
“When I am afraid, I will trust in You
I will trust in You
I will trust in You,
When I am afraid, I will trust in You
In God whose word I praise.”
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get that tune out of my head, and before I knew it, I was asleep. Now I didn’t wake up the next morning healed, but I was surrounded with the peace that passes understanding. When we cry out to Jesus in our suffering, He arrives. When we simply call on His name, He is there. We may still have to suffer, the struggle may not be over, but we are not alone.
You see, sometimes years later we see the beauty in a painful time. Or sometimes we can even see it in the midst of a struggle. But sometimes we struggle and it never makes sense to us. Sometimes we face trial after trial and feel it will never end. But I think the beauty in the struggle is simply, purely Jesus. That He walks with us, and talks with us, that He provides us peace at times when it feels there should be none.
There have been many struggles in my life where I wrote God off, where I didn’t want anything to do with someone who would let me experience such suffering. But then I stopped blaming God, and instead pressed into Him. What a difference that makes. I still sometimes find myself angry at Him, and there are times when I can barely call His name. But knowing that He is the beauty in the struggle, that He knows what He is doing, and I can trust in His love and goodness has made all the difference.
So today, in whatever struggle you are facing, where beauty seems so far away. Remember that the beauty in the struggle is Jesus, and cling to him with everything you have left.
My foes have trampled upon me all day long, For they are many who fight proudly against me. When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me? Psalm 56:2-4 NASB