I knew it would not be easy; but I never thought it would be this hard.

But the truth is, it is “this hard.”

Being born is hard; dying is hard. And, in between… much of life is just “this hard”.

Getting an adequate education is hard. Lacking the training for a lifetime of work is hard.

Going to work every day is hard. Unemployment is hard.

Parenting is hard. Losing a child is hard.

Being in relationship is hard. Being alone is hard.

Family is hard. Singleness is hard.

Exercising is hard. Being out of shape is hard.

Eating healthy is hard. Poor health is hard.

Addiction is hard. Recovery is hard.

Living responsibly on this earth is hard. Climate change is hard.

Keeping the peace is hard. War is hard.

Living justly is hard. Injustice is hard.

For once he was not engaging in hyperbole when Jesus said,

In this world you will have thlipsis. (John 16:33)

Thlipsis is the Greek word in the New Testament for “hard”. Thlipsis is everything I spend my life trying to avoid. Thlipsis is trouble, difficulty, struggle, friction, discomfort, tribulation, affliction. It comes in an endless variety of forms and, as long as I live in “this world,” thlipsis will be part of my experience.

This world offers a cornucopia of anesthetics to mute the pain of thlipsis. But, anesthetics generally carry troubling side effects of their own.

I can distract myself from thlipsis almost endlessly; but one day a painful circumstance will emerge I simply cannot avoid.

I can make my life smaller and smaller in an attempt to protect myself from suffering. But the more limited my life becomes, the more I will struggle with the minutiae that feel out of my control.

Admitting that life is hard is not whining. It is simply acknowledging reality.This world is a beat up, badly battered, broken-down old wreck of a thing. Human community is most often deeply dysfunctional and almost always flounders in various degrees of confusion. Nothing really works all that well. Making one’s way through the chaos is like walking barefoot across hot asphalt embedded with shards of broken glass.

The surprise is that I am still surprised when life is hard. The shock is that I still look longingly at someone else’s life and cherish the illusion that somehow they have a charmed life that is never hard.

No one is exempt. There are always hard bits.

But Jesus did not only promise thlipsis. He also said,

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have eirēnē. (John 16:33)

Eirēnē is a quality of the human heart; it is not a function of circumstance. Nothing external creates eirēnē, because everything external is impermanent and uncertain. Eirēnē is a steady inner tranquillity, a security no change in my circumstances can shatter.

Ironically, the necessary condition for eirēnē is thlipsis. I only come to eirēnē through the refining fire of suffering. Peace is glimpsed when I let go of the demand that life should not be “this hard” and accept the reality of my circumstances.

Suffering is only exacerbated by my determination life should be different. When I cling to the vain hope of finding satisfaction on the surface, I condemn myself to a life that is too superficial to thrive in the harsh light of reality.

This is the reality of my life. These limitations and discomforts are the chisel by which beauty and strength are released from the stone of my resistance.

I can cling to my dying day to the hard surface of my determination that life should not be as it is. But, the more I refuse the struggle, the more difficult I make it for my true beauty and strength to be uncovered. Pain is truth calling me to open to a deeper reality beneath a life that is “this hard.”

When I accept how hard this business of living often is, I break open to the deep inner place of being that is my true nature. I discover another dimension in which dwells a peaceful presence that does not rise and fall with the vagaries of this temporal horizontal dimension.

When I rest in this inner place of eirēnē, I begin to perceive light and beauty in the midst of the struggle and pain that are my inevitable companion on a journey in which life is “this hard”.

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