I sat on the floor, baby in my lap, as he drooled all over his toy. On the other side of the room, my toddler ran around playing with the other toddlers, kids busy shrieking with joy and frustration. Clustered together, the moms chatted, getting some much-needed time with other adults. At this particular play date, I was new to the area and just getting to know these women. We discussed normal things like, “Where are you from, and what do you do for work?”
Occasionally in situations like this, I’ll throw out a specific question or statement to see what kind of parenting style or personalities the people I’m getting to know might have; something simple like, “I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of bath time….” If, after I state my feelings about bath time, a mom declares how she loves giving her kids baths and how it’s a part of their nightly bedtime routine, then my response is usually, “That’s awesome! I’m so glad that works for you and the kids!” But if the mom’s response is more like, “Yeah! Bathtime is not my favorite, either. I’m so tired at the end of the day; we probably don’t do it as much as we should...” Then I grab on! Aha!!
“Oh, me too!” I respond. “Honestly… unless they really need it, baths are more weekly in our house than nightly!”
“Really?” She says, “I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who struggles with it!”
We have found something we can relate to, and an opportunity to bond over a shared struggle is born.
When I put statements out there like that, sure, I want to get to know the other women better. But honestly, I’m also fishing to see if they are like me. The question behind the question is, “Do you have struggles like mine?”
Sharing our struggles is hard, especially if I want to have a perfect mom facade. Ok, maybe not perfect. But how about at least “put together”? It’s scary to share my struggle and to show that I have cracks because once I’ve shown my cards, I open myself up for judgment.
However, there is something in us that longs to put down the facade and ask, “Do you struggle like I do? Please tell me I’m not the only one?” And when one person is willing to go first and show some of their own cracks, you might find the next person’s wall starts to come down and be vulnerable about their own cracks.
There have been times when I’ve felt like the only one with problems and when I’ve felt isolated in my issues. But in truth, we all have issues, and our issues can lead to thinking things like, “I must keep my problems hidden. No one needs to know my pain or how hard and ugly my struggle is! It’s selfish and embarrassing to burden others with this!”
Left to ourselves, we search for solutions, a program, a cure. We ask, “How can I figure this out? Do I need a better routine, more patience, and a better night’s sleep?” or “Maybe if I lose the weight, or get that raise, then I can be the person I “know” I can be…” These are both the types of thoughts that my sinful heart feeds on, as well as the lies the enemy shouts at us. The enemy wants to keep us feeling isolated with our thoughts faced inward, searching for our own solutions.
We all have cracks or even gaping holes. We all have a sin condition that leaves us broken and imperfect. The struggles look different for each of us, but each one of us has them. It feels good when we can be honest with certain people about those deep inner issues. It feels good to hear that we are not “the only one.”
However, even in identifying with each other and being honest with our problems, we have a tendency to twist the use of sharing our struggles to lessen the weight of our own broken state. We start to twist it when we use others’ struggles to justify our actions or sin problems. Our related struggles shouldn’t be an excuse to justify our actions. Instead, God’s law proclaims to us our related struggles and points us to our related need, and then God’s gospel points us to Christ.
Christ proclaims we can rest in our forgiveness on his behalf. And on account of him, we can let others know that forgiveness and peace at the cross are for them, too. Christ turns us from facing inward for solutions to facing the finished work of the cross that states, “It is finished.”
Of course, skipping bath time is not a sin struggle. But it does serve as a mostly safe “open door” to admitting deeper struggles. The first cracks we show are often the small “acceptable” ones, but over time they give way to the big ones we know we shouldn’t have – the issues we hold close to the chest and are embarrassed to admit to just anyone. When the door opens to those conversations, the message of the cross is close at hand.
The cross is close when you both find yourselves sharing your heart and admitting your weakness and your need. This is when we can point and be pointed to the cross where Jesus meets us with outstretched hands, taking our burdens and proclaiming forgiveness. Only Christ on the cross can take away the hold and the isolation the enemy makes us feel trapped in. There is no sin, problem, or weakness that is too big for our Lord and Savior. There is nothing that was not defeated through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Christ takes our problems, our struggles, and our sin and tells us we are forgiven. He tells us we are never alone, and in him, we are always enough.