The Christian Struggle: Strong Enough to Fight, but Wise Enough to Rest?
The summation of the Christian life is struggle. St. Paul goes so far as to describe the virtues of the spiritual life as battle equipment, driving home the reality that our Christian reality is indeed a war of souls, waged upon countless fronts within ourselves and in the wider world (Ephesian 6: 10-18).
“Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.” –1 Peter 4: 12
The struggle is relentless. The pain and wounds run deep. Rest and relief seems like a mirage in the distance.
And that is the enemy’s great lie.
I ran in the BattleFrog Carolina 8K obstacle course last weekend and I finished the race with a strained IT band (I limped through half the race), sore muscles and joints, and cuts from head to toe. My body is worn and beaten, but I want to continue training; I want to push myself even harder, but just as the body requires rest in order to heal and recover, so does the soul.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11: 28
There is no way I could have finished the course given the extent of pain in my knee, but then I was never alone.
And neither are we in the Christian life.
The lie is that everything depends upon us: our ideas, our sweat, our blood, our effort, God’s Kingdom will crumble unless I pray, I volunteer for this committee, I initiate this program, I win this person for Christ…
Our intentions are good, but the devil knows that we have no power independent of God’s grace to achieve anything. One of Satan’s most clever tactics is having us busy ourselves with the pious chores of Martha, while ignoring the holy respite of Mary at the feet of Christ.
Our body will fail if we forego recovery and nutrition. Our faith and spirit will falter if we do not rely upon and rest in Christ. We cannot forget that while we are called to do our part in building God’s Kingdom, it is his grace and spirit which moves and works through us which brings this reality to fruition.
“I [Jesus] am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” –John 15: 5
My friends, you may be strong enough for battle, but are you wise enough for nourishment and recovery? Here are a few ways we can secure our spiritual health:
Remain in Community
Christ did not build a Church of strictly individual and independent relationships with himself, but an interconnected, interdependent communion which spans time and space: the Communion of Saints, a Body which prays, struggles, gives praise, and works together (Romans 12: 4-5). This mystery fully expresses itself in the Mass, where together with the priest we lift our supplications and praise to God, joined with Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Being Christian means you didn’t just espouse yourself to Christ, but the entire family of faith. It means allowing Christ to touch you, in the person of someone in the community, and heal your wounds. It means removing all the armor and exposing your heart to those who care.
Our bodies take time to heal and do not fight the process; neither should we within the Body of Christ.
Partake in the Supper of the Lamb
The body requires healthy food for energy and repair, and so does our soul.
“This bread of the Strong gives me all the strength I need to carry on my mission and the courage to do whatever the Lord asks of me. The courage and strength that are in me are not of me, but of Him who lives in me – it is the Eucharist.” — St. Faustina
Jesus knows what he is asking when he says, “Come, follow me.” He runs headlong into danger in order to rescue every precious soul, and if he is the Head and we are his Body, we must do the same. That is why we must be properly nourished for the mission, and there is only one food with the power to sustain us during this war: the Eucharist.
This is why Jesus spent so much time expressing the importance of the Eucharist (John 6, 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17, Luke 24: 30-31, etc.), because he is the Bread of Life, that without this bread “there is no life within us.” Without the Eucharist we do not have the spiritual calories required for the Christian life. Jesus is our nourishment as Word and Eucharist.
The fog of war clouds the senses and veils the battlefield. Our struggle in the Christian life too stirs a cloud of dust in the spirit which threatens our view of Christ and the mission. The only solution is a controlled retreat from the fray. As Christians, this means surrendering pride, our illusion of control, and resting in the grace and mercy of God.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” — Psalm 46:10
The only way to still a pool filled with ripples is to still yourself. So it is with our hearts. We will never see ourselves clearly if we constantly struggle with our own understanding of mission and purpose. Jesus said that the “Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 27), that we might reconnect and find our proper place in him. Only when we are still in Christ will we see ourselves truly reflected as the image of God.
So today I ask, are you at your limits? Are you crumbling from the fight? Has your pride blocked you from proper rest and nourishment in Christ? I urge you, stop before you break, because Jesus does not want you in this battle alone, but to rely upon him for your strength and your brothers and sisters in the Body as your encouragement and support.by