When the going gets tough, where do you get going?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
– James 1:2-4

During our time at uni, we navigate through the inevitable oscillations of life, experiencing both the highs and the lows, successes and failures, and everything in between. We all love the mountaintop moments, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but God also has such good things for us in the valley. This requires being willing to face challenges head on. But, wired as we are to be pain averse, our response to fear often looks like fight, flight or freeze. 

We react to the pain, rather than respond to it. We numb, we ignore, we run away, we complain, we blame, we lash out, we shut down, we compare. The list goes on as we kick into survival mode, sometimes falling into harmful patterns of behaviour as we make poor choices under duress. We’ve all been there, it’s okay – you’re not alone.

But the greater truth is this: God loves us too much to simply leave us in the places of immaturity in our lives. He has more for us. More of Himself to reveal and give to us. More He wants to do in us and through us. More of His love and grace and mercy to sustain and encourage us. God still has good things, perhaps even some of the best things, for us in the dark places. He is inviting us to ask questions about who He is and what He’s really like. 

The journey to becoming mature sons and daughters of God looks like us learning how to move from a place of simply reacting to the environment around us to a place of response.

We make choices to be internally motivated by our commitment to follow Jesus and our core values even when – especially when – the going gets tough. Instead of discarding the difficult things in pursuit of the highs of newer, flashier, easier, more convenient experiences, we need to learn how to work through the fear, work through the pain, work through the challenge.

“The journey to becoming mature sons and daughters of God looks like us learning how to move from a place of simply reacting to the environment around us to a place of response.”

The Highs

Our experience of any new environment, whether it’s of our housemates, our uni course or a new job, often looks like a typical sine curve (you know, the one that looks like a wave). We are filled with promise, nervous energy and excitement. We reach the peak of the curve feeling hopeful for new opportunities and new relationships. Even though beginnings require large amounts of energy, they’re also where we’re really excited to have found a church we really like, or we’re really clicking with one of our new housemates or excited about a new class. We move upwards and forwards on the curve, bolstered by a mixture of adrenaline and anticipation.

The Lows

However, as we face increased pressure, greater responsibility, disappointment or disillusionment, our experience can become increasingly challenging, stressful or overwhelming. So we’re still enjoying that politics class but there’s a big exam coming up, or our housemate still makes us laugh but we’re mildly annoyed that they don’t take the bins out more often, or perhaps we’ve received some difficult news from home and are now feeling confused and alone.

The Choices

When we begin to feel the pinch, when we feel like employing one of our many reaction tactics of giving up or running away, this is the exact moment we need to hold on a little longer. Ask God what He’s saying and how we can respond. Because this is the crossroads moment where a powerful choice happens. We can choose to either start the process all over again, hoping that a change in church, job, or uni course will make our problems go away. Or we can dig deeper to actually address what’s really going on amidst the challenges.

It’s simple really, but far from easy. We have to fight for growth, because facing the hard truths and persevering can often be the hardest, most awkward and uncomfortable parts of the journey. It means actually having that difficult conversation with your housemate, actually sitting down with your pastor/student worker to talk about what you’re finding hard, actually choosing to grow up and learn how to be able to deal with challenges by going through them, rather than simply avoiding them. Pressing in rather than running away.

We have to fight for growth, because facing the hard truths and persevering can often be the hardest, most awkward and uncomfortable parts of the journey.

The Change

In the end, we may still choose to make a change in our external circumstance but if we never actually go and grow through the challenges, our lives and experiences can repeat like a broken record. We don’t learn the lessons we need to learn in order to move forward. But when we’ve been willing to do the work and held our lives up to the light of God’s truth, we hopefully move into a new chapter with significantly less immaturity and our eyes significantly more fixed on Jesus. 

We can choose who we are becoming in light of who God already says we are. So rather than just simply starting the whole process over again in a new environment, we now get to bring our growth in maturity into the next chapter, rather than just bringing the baggage we haven’t dealt with.

The Question

So ask yourself these questions and process with God, wherever you may find yourself. In which areas of your life are you more quick to change your external circumstances than deal with your internal ones? Where does your perspective need to be readjusted to see opportunities for growth and maturity in the midst of challenge? Where do you need to deal with some baggage so you can say yes to greater measures of freedom? 

We can spend our lives wishing for or in pursuit of the next season when things finally get easier. But if we only ever change our external environment without ever changing ourselves, we stunt our growth. We continue to replicate the same unhelpful behaviours in new environments because our immaturity remains the common denominator.

We can spend our lives wishing for or in pursuit of the next season when things finally get easier. But if we only ever change our external environment without ever changing ourselves, we stunt our growth.

The God who is with us in the midst of challenge and pain is found all throughout the Scriptures. He welcomes our pain and our questions, He brings truth, healing and reconciliation. Challenges and external pressures may come and go, but what remains constant is Jesus and His ever increasing goodness, His extravagant love and our choice to grow in self-awareness. So when the going gets tough, it’s not just about where you get going; it’s also about Who you get going with.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” – Lamentations 3:22-24

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

If you get tired, learn to rest not to quit.

Having spent two years as a local church student worker, Lizete is now embarking on a new adventure to study a Masters in Policy and Journalism in Paris. She’s passionate about sharing stories and seeing them change the world!