In two weeks I'm teaching a lesson that is supposed to focus on challenges and how to overcome them, especially through or with Christ. I'm dreading that lesson. I hate talking about challenges. But perhaps not for the most obvious reasons.
I remember as a teenager, hearing people talk about challenges at church meetings, feeling and interpreting their talks this way: One must have challenges in this life. God gives us challenges because He loves us and wants us to learn and grow through them. The more challenges you have, the more God must love you. Also He never gives us more challenges than we can bear. So having tons of challenges means you're a great warrior who can bear anything.
I hated hearing about those things. Why? Because it seemed that everyone else was having challenges but me. I felt my life was extremely easy. I had no challenges at all. So what was I to think about that? Either that God does not love me one bit because He doesn't give me challenges or that I'm such a lousy person that I couldn't bear even a tiny challenge. At my darkest moments I did what everyone told to never do: I prayed and asked for challenges. And I got none. How very discouraging. I did not want to think I was a looser, so I decided to take another approach: everyone else is wrong about challenges. We don't necessarily need them. We can learn from other people's challenges also. The amount of challenges is not equivalent with God's love. God can show His love by only giving blessings also.
I've grown a few years since. My gut reaction still is I have not had any challenges in my life. But I've learned to define it more like this: I haven't had any negative trials of faith in my life yet. I think that's what some people mean when they talk about challenges: something hard that happens that may make you wonder if there really is God after all. I believe everyone's faith in God will be tested during this life. But I also believe it can be tested via positive things also: do you do what God asks you to do. It doesn't always have to be a negative testing.
I believe we all face in this life things that are hard for us, things that can be called challenges. Some of them come because of our stupid or wrong choices. Some of them come because of stupid or wrong choices of other people. Some of them come just because life is. Some of them might come because God wants us to learn some specific things. But I think that's rather rare even though we can learn many things from every challenge.
How we view life, ourselves, God and Christ makes a huge difference in how we deal with our challenges. When we know that life is eternal, we also know that there is an end to the challenge, even if it seems far away. When we know we truly are children of God we know that we have not "deserved" a challenge because we are somehow bad. God does everything out of love for us. He is always willing to do all He can to help us with our challenge. He just can't interfere too much because then it no longer would be our life really. When we allow ourselves to feel His love, it may cure the wounds caused by our challenge.
But the greatest thing is that Christ has died and suffered for us. Whatever pain there is in the world, He knows how it feels. He's been through that. I think all the pain and suffering I go through in life as a huge pile of snow. It is so big that if I start climbing over it, I'll fall many feet deep into the snow and probably never get out of there. Or if I start digging a way through it, the snow on top of the tunnel will collapse because of its' weight and I'll get crushed under it. But because of what Christ went through, He has a snowplow and He can make a way for me back to the less snowy area. Only with His help can we really get through a challenge. (And for those not believing in Christ or God - we believe all good comes from God - He does offer help even if we don't ask for it and we may accept the help without thinking or realizing it is from God.)
When we face a challenge there are many roads we can take. We can focus on asking "why me?". We can try to understand why things have happened and what has been our part in it. We can start blaming others or ourselves for the challenge. Or we can brush it off and pretend to think it's not a big deal. We can deny the challenge all together. Or we can turn to God and ask His help. We are entitled to ask for all the things we need to get through the challenge: strength, wisdom, forgiveness or being able to forgive, love towards others, perspective, hope, faith, being able to forget, to get a good night's sleep, find someone to help, vision of future... What ever our needs are, we should ask for those things. God most likely wont take our challenge away just like that. But I know He can ease our burden and make it lighter. He can make us stronger. He can help us survive.
I've come to realize that's why I feel I haven't had challenges. It's because I've asked and He's blessed me. He's given me a friend at the time when I was so overtly afraid of people that I was horrified to remember it while reading my youthful journals. He's given me a perspective and strength to face my mother's death as a young single adult. He's given me love and guided me to knowledge about disabilities before and after finding out about those some of our children have. He has prepared me for my challenges, He has walked through them with me and He has given me all the tools to make things as good as they can. Because of Him, I still feel I have not had any challenges. But if challenges come, I know where to turn to for help.