Keeping the Faith

I’m a Christian and I’ve had a Crap Year

It’s been a crap year.

A friend came and sat beside me at church and asked how I was.
“How’ve you been? How’s life for Team van Ryn?”
I looked her in the eye and decided that instead of contriving a sugar-coated response, I’d give it to her straight.  She’s the kind of person with the knack for teasing the truth out anyway.  I told her about the funerals, the health scares, the medication complications, the ‘no driving’ instruction, the waiting, the thwarted plans and the feelings of sorrow, frustration and fear.

She nodded and said she had experienced the same periods of difficulty in her own past.
“There’s nothing I can say,” she acknowledged, “but don’t be afraid to let it show.  Be honest with people.”

It was immensely refreshing to speak so candidly.  To lose the pasted-on smile and the trying-too-hard squeak of happiness in the voice, shuffling from foot to foot while casting a line into the waters of the past to hook a positive, something to talk about without making people feel uncomfortable.

For the record, there are plenty of positives and the old maxim, “count your blessings” is as useful a tool as ever.  But at this time of the year, pushing towards Christmas and year end, there are chances for reflection and some of you, like me, will just have to shrug your shoulders and say, “It’s been a crap year!”

That’s ok.

Happiness is a punishing god to which we all grovel and sacrifice.  The cruellest kind of god, because we never arrive.  Not fully.  In an opinion piece for the current edition of Eternity magazine, Bible Society boss Greg Clarke posed this question: “How much time do you spend imagining a better future for yourself?”

Not only do we strive to be happy, we strive to appear happy.

Social media gives us a new avenue for donning a mask of happiness.  We select the most attractive profile shots, we share achievements and joyous moments (“Just cooked a lamb roast, cheesecake and a croquembouche, all before 10am!”), we post family photos of “tickle time” and Sunday picnics, and comment with a witty sentence that we’ve taken half an hour to form.  It’s the ultimate mask.

Then you bump into that friend you Facebook every day and see that there are black circles around her eyes, her smile is sagging and when you ask how things are, she’s biting back tears.

It’s so ok to not be ok.  You have permission to crumble.

The Bible is full of laments from people struggling with their life circumstances.  They have faith in a good and mighty God, but that doesn’t mean they will be guaranteed a bright and prosperous life.  Oh no.

In 1 Corinthians 15:19, Paul puts things in context, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  He alludes, of course, to the hope of eternity.

There’s a poem I stumbled across recently by Carol Wimmer.
“When I say… ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak and pray for strength to carry on.”

A few verses later, it continues:
“When I say… ‘I am a Christian,’ I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartache which is why I seek His name.”

It’s been a crap year and my faith doesn’t mean next year will be any better.  My faith means I know that God will equip me and carry me and teach me, just as he did this year.

First published in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 2, 2013.

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I am a writer, mother, wife and believer in a reality bigger than my own. I love exploring the small epiphanies of life. Nothing is humdrum. Every moment is charged with opportunity, each one mixing its ideas with the ink in my pen. You call it alchemy, I call it God.

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Claire,

    It’s true that we are week people who have problems and experience bad things.  Yet God has made it this way so that we won’t be boastful about ourselves, but rather give thanks to God for everything we have.  Somehow troubles are good for us so that we will ‘glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ (Romans 5:3-4)

    God told the Apostle Paul that ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9)

  2. Roger Martin says

    Thanks Claire.
    I have found that the verse in Romans 8 :18 has kept me going on many occasions.
    “For I consider that the sufferings (or difficulties) of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”

  3. John Wigg says

    A religion of the “pasted-on” plastic smile and frenzied, manic “happiness” has nothing to do with the Man who wept at the tomb of Lazarus. The Man of Sorrows also wept over a “holy” city that rejected God’s prophets and rejected its Messiah.

    The Apostle Paul wrote:

    8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

    2 Corinthians 4:8-11 [ESV]

    As Mary of Bethany proved, sometimes an alabaster jar must be broken so the rich aroma it holds can fill the house.

  4. That was a great read, thanks! I’ve been dealing with a lot of struggles as I’ve been reaching out to God, and it has definitely made me aware of how switched off I’ve been to my emotions. Although I’ve had the hardest time of my life yet, it has been the most joyful also. I like how it puts it in Psalm 119:92.

    If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy,
    I would have died in my misery.

    And it says that we certainly will have trials by living the life God has planned for us, but that is just another opportunity to rejoice!

    James 1:2-3 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider
    it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested,
    your endurance has a chance to grow.

    I love that idea and hold by it as much as I can.

    • Thanks Chris – beautiful passages to carry through the hardships. God pointed me to this verse in Joel 2:13 yesterday: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate…”
      Rend your heart and not your garments – that’s the bit that stood out. Because the custom during periods of grief was to tear at one’s clothing, as an outward gesture or show of the inward feeling – and the trap was for it to not be genuine. Rend your heart – soften it, allow it to feel at a deeper level, allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you. That’s my interpretation for now anyway! I love the way God continues revealing new meaning to verses I’ve heard countless times before.

      Thanks for sharing and dropping by 🙂

      • Yes Claire, it’s important for us to rend our hearts.  This verse also reminds me of when Jesus stood before Caiaphas.  The high priest didn’t soften his heart when confronting Jesus, rather he did what was forbidden for the high priest to do (Leviticus 21:10) and tore his clothes (Matthew 26:65) and then he condemned Jesus (Matthew 26:66).

  5. Cristina says

    Thank you for this insightful piece Clare. I too am a Christian who has had a crap year, but I have been amazed at how good God has been and how His strength has carried me through. At my lowest ebb He has been so faithful and I shudder to think how difficult this year, with the very unexpected death of my beautiful mum, would have been if not for His love and comfort. I hope and pray that 2014 is kinder to you than this year has been.

    • Thanks Cristina. I’m so sorry to read about your mother, I can’t begin to understand how painful that must have been, and continues to be for you. What a comfort that God does know and will be there beside you every difficult step of the journey. Praying your 2014 is brighter too, with much healing. Thanks for your honesty 🙂 Bless you.

  6. “It’s been a crap year and my faith doesn’t mean next year will be any better. My faith means I know that God will equip me and carry me and teach me, just as he did this year.”

    That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Having faith doesn’t mean we instantly get the happy-clappy Christian life of “everything goes well all the time.” But we have an awesome helper to get us through, and hope that it all means something.

    Thanks for this post, after what has been a BIG year of ups and downs for me and my husband, I think it’s just what I needed to hear.

    • That’s great to hear 🙂
      We forget sometimes – I certainly do – that as Christians we are assured of a heavenly eternity, but not necessarily a heavenly life! However, God’s word equips us for every eventuality so that we can experience His love and peace despite and even because of the hard times. Praying 2014 is a year of blessing for you 🙂

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