Have you ever experienced the feeling of being so bogged down by something difficult going on in your life, perhaps one unexpected hardship after another or maybe one seemingly endless battle, that you struggle to move forward, yet when you look to the right and the left, other people appear to have things so much easier?
While I do think that “Facebook envy” is part of the problem (when everyone else seems to have their lives so much more together than you do because you are only privy to their highlights), I also think some people are dealt a more difficult hand than others. I don’t pretend to understand why, but I read some verses in Joshua today that seem to apply to this phenomenon.
Joshua 1:12-15 says,
And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh Joshua spoke, saying, “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land.’ Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But you shall pass before your brethren armed, all your mighty men of valor, and help them, until the LORD has given your brethren rest, as He gave you, and they also have taken possession of the land which the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and enjoy it, which Moses the LORD’s servant gave you on this side of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
As 12 tribes of Israelites prepared to take possession of the land God had promised to them, some of them frankly seemed to have it easier than others. Two and a half tribes settled and had rest from battle while the remaining tribes still had some fighting to do before they could take possession of their land. God calls those who are enjoying a time of rest to help those who are still in the midst of warfare.
I have found myself struggling on both sides of this. When I am in the midst of (figurative) battle, I sometimes feel envious of others and even ashamed that I am struggling so much while others seem to be enjoying times of rest and blessing. I find myself thinking, “My life is so good! Why is this so hard for me? Everyone else seems to be able to handle it so much better than I do!” However, when I’m enjoying a time of rest or even when I am feeling crushed under the weight of my relatively small battles, I sometimes feel guilty that others seem to have to endure so much more difficulty than I do, through no fault of their own. God does not seem interested in making us feel guilty or ashamed for struggling or for enjoying a time of rest that He Himself has given us (verse 13). We need not feel guilty for enjoying the good gifts that the Lord gives us, but we also can be compassionate toward others, knowing that for whatever reason, some may have had to fight harder to enjoy the same blessings from the Lord.
God does not ask us to feel guilty for enjoying His blessings, but He does call us to use our blessing to bless others. In some seasons, we are rested (physically/ spiritually/emotionally) and have the energy and reserves to dive in and help others who are drowning. Other times, we can barely stay afloat, and the thought of trying to pull someone else up is simply overwhelming. Rather than comparing our situation to someone else’s, we can enjoy rest when we get it and use our extra energy to help others, and we can feel unashamed for needing help when we are in the midst of suffering and adversity.
We must first be able to notice others before we can even be aware that they might need help. I believe that many, many people are struggling with pain that would be more bearable if they felt safe being vulnerable and sharing their pain with compassionate listeners. We must create safe spaces where people can openly share their struggles without fear of judgment and condemnation, knowing that the listeners will be compassionate and supportive. I have been in groups before where people were not comfortable sharing, and so it was hard to know what battles they were fighting, which makes it impossible to help. I’ve also been in groups where I shared something really difficult I was experiencing and either received no response or someone else’s judgment when I really needed support. There are certainly times when we need people to call us out and help us see the need for repentance, but when people are vulnerable enough to share a struggle which they themselves have already identified, sometimes the greater help is to ask how we can support them rather than adding to the voices of criticism.
When we get through a difficult battle, may the Lord enlarge our capacity for compassion so that “we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). When we are enjoying times of rest, may the Lord open up our eyes that we might really see the people He has placed in our lives and build meaningful relationships that allow them to feel safe sharing their struggles with us. When we are in the midst of difficult circumstances and see others who appear to be well-rested, we can thank God that we are not all fighting at the same time! Instead, He has graciously provided brothers and sisters who are refreshed enough to help us fight, and some of them have been through such similar difficulties that they know exactly what kind of support would be most helpful. May we watch carefully to observe how we can help one another take possession of the inheritance God has given us, for “Then you shall return to the land of your possession and enjoy it” (Joshua 1:15).