The following is a guest post from A.C. Wilson:
As a college student, I hear a lot of slang, funny phrases and strange trends. Everything from “on fleek” to “ratchet” or “the dab.” One of those phrases is “the struggle is real.”
You describe a long homework assignment to your roommate and they look at you with pity and a dash of humor and say “the struggle is real”
You run out of ice cream: “the struggle is real”
You trip and stumble at the bus stop: “the struggle is real”
A form of college casual empathy for mostly the mundane, everyday problems that we may encounter. There are memes about it. There’s a whole “struggle” movement.
Sometimes I wonder where this phrase came from. Why do we feel the need to identify which struggles are legitimate and which aren’t? Shouldn’t all struggles be “real” by definition of a struggle? Can there be fake struggles? Are we so jaded by so many complaints and “struggles” a day that it is necessary to identify the “real” ones? Perhaps it is part of our culture. Maybe we are so insecure that we need to validate what is acceptable to “struggle with” and what’s not?
More to the point, for those of you seeking the holy life: “The struggle” really is real. And God bless you for undertaking it because it is freaking difficult sometimes.
But why does God, who is all peace, allow this difficulty, this pain in the struggle?
I think it is for our good. If God just gave us all the virtues without the fight, then they wouldn’t be virtues anymore, because virtues take practice and perseverance. If He didn’t allow struggle, we wouldn’t know peace and if we did not know peace we would not know Him, at least not as fully and intimately as He desires. God wants the struggle for holiness to be “real,” otherwise there would be no glory in it.
The struggle gives God glory, and “The glory of God is man fully alive.” -St. Irenaeus.
According to St. Irenaeus, this fight, this struggle, is what makes us fully alive. We would be dead and despondent without the love of God always calling us forward, to stretch ourselves, to turn to Him in everything.
And yes, He is calling you. Yes YOU.
Before a whole host of objections and hesitations, I would beg you not to back down from the struggle. God loves you and calls you, wherever you are at on your journey, whatever your struggles are. He can take your everyday “struggle is real” moments, whether it is a call to change your life or having no way to cook bacon and transform them into real grace and true blessings. How? By uniting your everyday life to Christ, you can make a productive homework session a heavenly accomplishment. If you stub your toe and don’t immediately profane God’s name, that is an accomplishment. Truly, all of heaven cheers for your smallest accomplishments.
So he is calling you, you can be certain of this. But this knowledge requires abandoning yourself to God through habitual prayer and the sacraments as you fight to maintain His presence in you.
It is true God asks for everything and nothing less, but this does not mean He will take everything from you. It doesn’t mean that He will break off your engagement, end your career, or sever your ties to your family and friends. Saintliness doesn’t automatically mean a dramatic cutting off of everything familiar to you. Quite the opposite. Saintliness, or living the life God calls you to (your “vocation”), is about God entering into the everyday moments of your life, and your efforts to make a home for Him in your heart. From there, everything else will flow. You might have to leave things behind, you might not. Either way, it is for your betterment. If you have to break it off with your fiance and go into religious life, it will only be because God wants your particular love and affection purely for Himself. If you give up your job, it is because God wants to glorify you on a new path. If you live a life of isolation from your loved ones for God, He will provide for you all the closeness and intimacy you need. For any attachment we give up in this world, God will give us something greater from His very own tender heart. The less worldly “security” of money, power, etc, that we have, in the name of God, the more securely we are attached to his pierced heart, that beats for His children.
Be not afraid to trust. “The Lord is my Shepherd. There is nothing I lack.” (Psalm 23). If we really believed that, what could we do? How would the world be different?
So from one cliched expression to another, go fight the good fight, work on your prayer life, watch the graces flow, and know that I love you.