My 5th-grade teacher, Terri Nobles, had a 2x4 in our classroom. Written on it, in black permanent marker, was BOARD OF EDUCATION. And if you failed to heed her warnings, you'd find yourself at a picnic table during recess, with that 2x4 and a piece of sandpaper, trying to get rid of the black permanent marker.
Mrs. Nobles would grin, as she supervised you sanding that 2x4, saying, "Steve Austin! Life is hard, and then you die." You laugh - or maybe you cringe at that story - but the principle isn't wrong.
A friend of mine sent me a message recently that read, "Life sucks."
And I responded, "Yep. It's a promise from Jesus."
During The Last Supper (John 13-16), Jesus is giving his friends and students some final reminders. This had to be one of the most hopeless and uncertain times of his life, but he persists in giving his life to those he loves most. Jesus begins to summarize everything he’d taught them over the past few years; stuff like:
- washing their feet
- reminding them that the proof of life-change is in our loving one another
- promising to send a Comforter, after he's dead and gone
- And teaching that we are all connected to the Vine. We all belong. We all have a place of refuge. We are all one great big family - and God will continue to care for the Vine and the branches. Connected to the Vine, all things are possible, but when we view ourselves as separate - disconnected - we live in discord and can do nothing fruitful or universally beneficial. Almost the entirety of chapter 15 is about the love of God and neighbor.
Jesus leaves them with one of the most essential pieces of Scripture, John 16:33, "In this world, you will have trouble...".
This statement from Jesus is a declaration - a promise - while you are living, you will have tribulation. My friend was right, sometimes life sucks. If you are a human, you will struggle. Other religions, in my opinion, do a much better job of emphasizing the fact that to be human is to suffer, but that is precisely what Jesus is talking about in this incredibly honest, and human portion of Scripture.
So many of us want to believe that Christianity is about the end of suffering and pain and hard times. We want to find that the successful Christian life means health, wealth, and happiness 24/7. But we forget that before Jesus ever resurrected, he was mocked, beaten to a bloody pulp, nailed to a cross, and buried.
In this world, you are going to suffer. Terri Nobles is standing there, leaning over the picnic table of your life, saying, "Life is hard, and then you die." We think those truth-tellers along our journey have got it all wrong, but Jesus shows up on the scene and echoes the cry of all the realists. He hands us the BOARD OF EDUCATION while everybody else is playing, whispering, "Life is hard...".
Life is hard! Yes! Don't let any of these TV preachers tell you otherwise. Life is hard! Uncertain! Unfair! Unpredictable! “Life is suffering,” said the Buddha, and Jesus responded, "Amen."
Here’s the Good News: as Jesus is walking away, he turns back to us and says, “PSST! But be at peace!” He winks at us and says, “I've overcome the world!”
Life has quite a track record of beating us down, disappointing us, shocking us, making us angry, and leaving us feeling hopeless for a time. But as I look back over the past thirty-five years, I see that hard times come and go, but we always have the opportunity to wrestle those painful seasons for a lesson (read the story of Jacob). Jesus promised that we would have hard times, but he also promised to never leave us in the middle of excruciating pain, dire circumstances, poverty, doubt, or anything else.
As my friend Sarah said recently, the boat we’re in may be on stormy seas, but hope is the anchor that keeps us from being dashed against the rocks and destroyed.
The tension of hope and pain, promise and struggle - it all works together in this beautiful dance of humanity - pushing us toward each other, guiding us inward to the Light that dwells inside, urging us to be honest about our wounds and not to leave anyone behind.
For more on this, listen to Episode 63 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast with Sarah J. Robinson. We talk about hope, uncertainty, joy, and the compassion of those who care about us. Download the episode today!