Today I’m writing for those of you who identify with Thomas more than Peter. Who peer at the Bible with head cocked, who tend to uncover more questions than answers in your faith. Whose pain has resulted in a series of unsteady steps backward, confused but holding on.
I’m writing to the strugglers.
It was a conversation from more than ten years ago, and I don’t remember my particular uphill, spiritual frustration at the time, but my friend’s words remain seared in my mind: “You know, I think God loves strugglers.”
That also means those of you struggling to do the right thing, to keep being faithful when you’re bone tired. Calling on the phone when you’d rather curl up with a Netflix marathon. Enduring a sleep-deprived night. Changing one more diaper. Pushing a wheelchair. Offering a gentle answer to the belligerent client. Mopping up the trauma-mess someone else inflicted. Waiting for a loved one’s depression to lift.
Is God really present?
You know, I see it. I see Him beckoning to the curious Zacchaeus up the tree. I see Him conceding to a red-eye rendezvous with Nicodemus. Whispering to Elijah in a cave. He met Hagar in the desert as life evaporated from her, body and soul. He delivered a lone, long-tortured demoniac to liberty at last.
Winding myself through the stories of ancient seekers, I’m quietly astonished by God’s responses to strugglers. Questions of calm intention and omnipotence expose His compassion for their wonderings. From the blind Bartimaeus (“What do you want me to do for you?”) to the disciples (“What are you looking for?” and “Who do you say that I am?”), God’s gentle, all-seeing, arresting questions reveal a careful knowledge of and nurture for our troubled, confused souls.
In fact, the Bible tells us that He’s personally experienced that temptation to fall away from trust (Hebrews 4:15). I was thumbing through Matthew 4 one day, and here’s what I saw: Jesus enduring every single one of the siren songs that drown out the call for steady, patient love and trust. In this passage, Jesus confronted the same tempting whispers I hear:
Don’t trust this infuriating timing. Look to the now.
You can’t trust Him. Think of what could happen.
Forget this. Everyone knows that power, money, and comfort go a lot farther.
Put yourself first. Prove yourself.
And in response to all these, Jesus stuck to this lifeline of a script: “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work He started” (John 4:34).
My husband has ascended all of Kilimanjaro’s 19,341 feet a total of three times. Though a non-technical climb, it required him to be in the best shape of his life. He and his groups went through eight different biozones, among the switchbacks and cliffs, for eight strenuous days (the descent only required one of those).
Only recently did I see the connection here with our breathless, arduous pursuit of intimacy with God. Like my husband’s climb, there is a rigour required of us as we traverse the varied terrain of our lives, each trail unfolding more of the greatness of an inscrutable God.
David writes in Psalm 24: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?” In the book The Songs of Jesus, author Tim Keller explains this psalm:
To know His presence…is to “ascend” a hill or mountain…and doing so is always a struggle. You must repent, seeking a clear conscience (verse 4). You must know your idols and reject them (verse 4). And you must wrestle in prayer to seek God’s face, as did Jacob (verse 6), who said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me (Genesis 32:26).
I see that “a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). I see that He has always been big enough for all my questions—Why didn’t You show up? How could this outcome be the “good” You promise?
I’ve realised my questions so often reveal more about me than they do about Him. It’s more me sowing deep doubt into my core, not to mention trusting my brain far more than God’s.
As I’ve brought these questions to Him, chewing and praying over them, I imagine posing them to someone who loves me, like my husband. And as I comb through the tangles in my thoughts, tugging through the snarls, there is peace to be found. It’s the feeling of an anchor bigger than my storms, the constancy of the God of the Universe calling me beloved, even when I can’t feel it. I need not abandon truth until all my questions have been answered.
Even when there are no answers, He gives respite
Arduous as it is, there is satisfaction to be found in the ascent. There is a level of contentment even in not yet fully reaching the summit; not yet seeing all He sees from His elevated vantage point. Because walking with God, journeying with Him (John 15:4-5), has always been far more important than a temporary outcome or success on this planet.
And when our packs feel impossibly heavy and our legs have turned to jelly, we need godly companions among us, to point the way in the dark. Or maybe we need to camp out, to simply be—creating space to just exist on a holy mountain with the God of the Journey.
This is where honest prayer becomes vital: the kind of prayer that pours out our hearts like water (Lamentations 2:19). The prayer that brings all our pain and questions into His presence with us, yet doesn’t let lies or questions get the last word. Father, this stings and burns in a way I can’t imagine would turn out good. I hurt so much. Help me to trust that You love me. That You mourn with me, You see me, and You make beautiful things out of dust.
As Keller writes, all true prayer “pursued far enough, becomes praise”. It may take a long time, a lifetime, but all prayer that engages God and the world as they truly are will eventually end in praise.
Here’s to you, strugglers. And to the God who welcomes you with open arms (Luke 15:20).
This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.