In 1989, I suddenly found myself in San Diego, CA, wondering how the heck I had ended up in Navy Basic Training. Overnight I had gone from living a calm and peaceful life to being in an environment of extreme trauma. During 9 weeks of basic training I experienced sleep deprivation, minimal food, 18-hour work days, and continual humiliation. Then finally, on one victorious Saturday, I graduated from boot camp. I was a new man. For 9 weeks, I had hated boot camp. It was shocking, miserable, and there was no way out of it. But I had no choice but to walk all of the way through boot camp and finish it.
In the months and years following Navy Basic Training I came to see that the hard times that I spent in boot camp had taught me a whole host of things I would have never learned during a time of peace and calm. During boot camp I was unable to see any benefit in the experience because I was mired down in the intensity of my present circumstances But after boot camp I was able to clearly see the things that enduring those nine hard weeks had taught me. Twenty-four years later I am still drawing on the things that I learned during those hard nine weeks.
No one likes being miserable. No reasonable person likes pain. But the cold, hard truth is that it is impossible to duplicate the growth that happens as we endure hard times. Throughout our whole lives, we will experience difficulties. Life Transitions, Relational rejection, Abuse, Workplace Tensions, Financial Trauma, Sickness, and Grief are all a part of life. But what do I do when I feel paralyzed by the trials of life?
Here are 6 principles for dealing with hard times:
1. Everyone experiences hard times.
We sometimes think that everyone else is happy and we are not. But there is no such thing as a trouble-free life. Trials come in all shapes and sizes, and we all experience them. Wishing you had another person’s life is a waste of your time. Thinking that you are particularly cursed is false. Hard times began with the fall in Genesis and will continue until this earth comes to an end.
2. Hard times must be endured rather than escaped.
I remember thinking intently about what I could do to get out of boot camp before it was over. But all of this thinking led me to see that I had to walk through basic training. There was no escape. There is also no escape from many of life’s hard times. They must be endured. Rather than looking for an easy way out, look to endure what you must endure.
3. Hard times produce necessary growth.
If you get nothing else from this post get this: It is impossible to duplicate the growth that happens as we endure hard times. Misery is often necessary for growth. A life without trial would produce an immature, untested, unseasoned person. Rather than thinking that you are cursed, or looking for an easy escape, look to grow as you endure pain.
4. Remember the forest when stuck in the trees.
I often think about the fact that Joseph, in the book of Genesis, sat in a jail cell for 13 years. He had done nothing wrong. But God’s plan was to use him mightily after this experience. Your present circumstances may be miserable, but are necessary for what you will ultimately be and do. God sees not only the trees but also the forest of your life.
5. Live in Community and Share your burdens.
We are not meant to live life alone. The New Testament advocates people living in close community with each other, bearing each other’s burdens, and helping each other. Friends are critical in all seasons of life but especially during hard times. Don’t wait until hard times to build close spiritual friendships but make it a central part of your life.
6. Pray without Ceasing
Sometimes, in a difficult time, I can do nothing but call out to God. There is no substitute for calling out to God during hard times. We see David do this is the Psalms, Paul do it in the New Testament, and Jesus call out to his heavenly Father. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Lastly, remember, Chuck Swindoll once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond.”