Why is Life So Hard?
“Why is life so hard?” a client recently asked me.
I didn’t know what to say. It was a good question. And I knew he had good reason to ask it.
I didn’t have a good answer. I don’t know the answer. I just looked him in the eyes and said, “I know. It sucks doesn’t it.”
He slumped lower down on the couch, surrendering to the grief in his heart. “Yeah. It does.”
It’s true, life is hard. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you.
And it’s often unfair. Hard and unfair. What a combination.
Existence has always been tough. Ever since the Fall, life became marred by suffering, toil, pain, and relationship strife (Gen. 3).
Yet, our hearts were made for more. So, we always long for something better.
I grew up in Nebraska (insert your own joke here).
Growing up, the state slogan was “The Good Life.” I like it. This short phrase conjures up images of small town living, quiet little acreages, and idyllic interactions with your neighbors. It connects a sense of well-being to a simple, orderly life lived in community.
The idea, quaint as it may be to some, has its merit. After all, Scripture urges us to “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands” (1 Thes. 4:11 NLT). I like this idea. I like the ambition to live the good life.
Although your idea may differ from my ambitions, I’m sure you have your own dreams about the good life. As well you should, after all, we need goals to move us forward. No good thing was ever accomplished without hope.
Yet, the downside of our dreams is that real life is rarely easy, or idyllic. While transcendent moments happen all the time, the majority of our lives are much more mundane. Long, ordinary, even dreary moments pervade our lives.
Throughout history, people always understood that life is full of work, toil, disappointment, and loss.
The Church also understood this. We even saw how God uses those painful challenges to shape us and to grow us.
Christ himself was “despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Is. 53:3 NLT). God’s plan for His life didn’t include the good life. Jesus didn’t have money, wasn’t married, didn’t own land. He didn’t even have a bed to sleep in (Matt. 8:20).
While none can doubt that Jesus lived the “God life,” no one in their right mind would claim that He lived the good life.
Nor did His closest friends. Eleven of the apostles were martyred. John alone escaped martyrdom. But he still suffered persecution, torture, and exile. Although these men lived good lives, they never lived the good life. Like Jesus, they lived the God life.
That doesn’t mean that the two don’t overlap. Certainly, many people have lived both the good life and the God life. Although, as Jesus said, one always has to take priority over the other (Matt. 6:24).
Trying to find a good life is hard enough, but two things make it even harder. One obstacle is God Himself. He is far more concerned with our character than our comfort. In order to grow us, He often allows us to go through difficulties.
His plan is to prune us in order that we bear more fruit (John 15:1-4). He wants us to be fruitful and to live abundant lives (John 10:10). But the fruit always comes after the pruning.
But our culture also makes living the good life harder. Ironically, humanity is better off now—in every available metric—than ever before in history. Food, shelter, safety, clean water, health care, basic sanitation, the rule of law, each of these are at an all-time high for human history.
Leisure, commerce, travel, and entertainment, were once pipe dreams for common folk, yet now they are all a part of daily life.
We should be happy—or at least happier. But we’re not. As a culture, we’re depressed, anxious, frustrated, and angry.
For all the progress we’ve made toward living the good life we seem to be both simultaneously closer and farther from the mark than ever before. Why is that?
Certainly social media hasn’t helped. When you take a quick look at your Facebook feed, it leaves you with the sense that you’re failing. To all appearances, it looks like everyone else has their lives together. They’ve got the house, the hustle, the sexy selfie, the amazing vacation, the perfect family, and the gloriously effortless amazing hair.
Social media gives us this false impression that everyone is doing better than they actually are. We see them put on their best face, post their best pics, and promote their best ideas.
No one wants to present their worst self online. So, we all censor what we show. We offer the good, but keep the bad and the ugly to ourselves. It’s understandable, and we all do it. But it comes with a cost.
It fosters a deep discontentment with our own lives. It causes us to compare our lot with everyone else. It promotes envy, discord, and anxiety. The sum total is that we end up more dissatisfied than satisfied with our lives.
When we find ourselves in a position like this, it’s time to reassess the kind of life we’re aiming for. Are we after an unattainable version of the good life in order to be the envy of our frenemies? Or do we want to live the God life even with its accompanied hardships?
It’s not easy either way. We don’t get to opt out of pain. Life is tough no matter what road you choose. But we do get to choose.
I believe (at least, I hope) that it’s possible to live both the good life and the God life. But we can’t aim for both at the same time.
Consider what C. S. Lewis said:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither” (Mere Christianity).
We have to pick what’s most important and go after it.
Trouble will come. We’ll have to make sacrifices. Things will feel unfair. People probably won’t understand. It will, at times, feel lonely.
But these challenges will come either way. You can’t escape the fact that; “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33 NLT).
Life is tough. Sometimes it sucks. In the Marine Corps, we had a saying, “Embrace the suck.” It means to stop fighting against the reality of a crummy situation, and to choose to go through it to the best of your ability.
I don’t say this to diminish your suffering. I know what it’s like to hurt. I’m genuinely sorry for all the ways the world has been unfair to you.
But, I want you to know that even though things may hurt like hell now, it won’t be this way forever. This too shall pass.
In light of eternity, our troubles are temporary. Knowing that, let’s set our sights higher than our circumstances, higher than our comfort.
Let’s choose to live the God life. Like Jesus, let’s choose to endure the hardship in front of us, for the sake of the joy that comes later (Heb. 12:2).
Life is tough, but because Christ lives in you, you’re tougher. Through Him, you can do all things (Phil. 4:11-14).
You have everything you need to overcome and live the God life.