How to Handle the Hard Times

7 min. to read.

Took a trip to the DMV last week. Waited for a long time… a really, long time.

When I finally got my chance to stand at the counter, I presented my carefully filled-out paperwork. The guy at the counter slowly flipped through my documents, and mused, “Oh…”

Long pause.

“We’ve got a problem here.”

A small defect in one of my documents meant they wouldn’t process the papers for me. This trip to the DMV was supposed to solve my problems, not give me more work to do!

Not where you want to spend your day.  Note--This is not MY DMV. But it's exactly like my DMV in all its soul-sucking glory.  Photo Credit: Tantek Celik,  CC-NC
Not where you want to spend your day. Note–This is not MY DMV. But it’s exactly like my DMV in all its soul-sucking glory. Photo Credit: Tantek Celik, CC-NC

You’ve had those days. Maybe you’re having one right now. Obstacles stand in your way. Your efforts don’t seem to be paying off. Circumstances far worse than a long morning at the DMV upend your plans, maybe in a painful way.

These are the hard times. The ones that test what we’re made of, and where we really place our trust. Everyone has them.

Part of maturing spiritually is learning how to handle hard times.

6 steps for redeeming our evil days.

I recently was studying Ephesians 5. At the end of the chapter there’s an intriguing verse. It says:

“Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

Pay careful attention to how you walk. Make the most of your time. Why? Because the “days are evil.” That’s exactly how I felt about my morning at the DMV.

But the Greek word translated as “evil” has more texture to it. It means something full of labor and annoyance, where you’re hard-pressed and surrounded by difficulty. Your circumstances put you up against the wall, it’s not what you asked for, it’s frustrating.

This is exactly the kind of day we’re talking about. The verse then goes on to offer some ideas about how we, as followers of Jesus, might navigate such days.

1) Pay Attention

This is where the verse starts: Pay attention. Our walk is the habitual pattern of our life that is taking us somewhere. The gateway to life change is when we start paying attention to the habits that make up our life. Where is our walk taking us?

On good days we can get away with not paying attention. Everything’s going our way. But during hard times—the lonely days, the tired days, the frustrating days—it’s easier to slip back into old habits.

Instead of living with our attention on Christ, out attention goes to our worry. Instead of trusting, we get controlling. We retreat to choices that make us feel safe, or certain, or numb. All this can happen without our even noticing it. The first step on hard days is to pay attention. How is your walk? Notice what’s going on for you.

2) Redeem the Day

The day comes however it comes. We pay attention so we can do something about it. The passage continues by telling us to “make the most of it.” That sounds like trying to make the best of a bad situation, maybe even just “sucking it up.”

But the Greek word translated here literally means to “redeem or buy back.” To redeem something means to recover it, to rescue it. This is the word used to describe buying a slave and setting them free.

We’re not being told to suck it up and make the best of a bad situation. We’re being told to take a bad day and transform it. How do we do that? The counsel from this verse is unexpected.

3) Speak to Each Other

Verse 19-21 tells us to “speak to each other.” For followers of Jesus, dealing with hard days is a one-another process. We are not made to do this life alone. On hard days my vision is limited. My hope gets eroded. My faith feels puny. That’s why we need each other.

4) Speak God-centered Encouragement

If you read verse 19-21 you’ll see that what we say to each other isn’t empty platitudes. This isn’t a vague promise that things are gonna get easier. This isn’t just Positive Mental Attitude. This is encouragement based on God’s character; it comes from a place of worship.

On hard days we remind each other of who God is. God is faithful. God is able. God is present. God is healer. God is redeemer. God brings resurrection.

When we encourage each other with positive phrases and back-pats our words carry no power. When we encourage each other with the truth of who God is, with stories of how God has shown up for us, with reminders of God’s purpose we are speaking words of life.

One of the fastest ways though the hard times is starting with gratitude.  Photo Credit: mythic moonlight CC NC
One of the fastest ways though the hard times is starting with gratitude. Photo Credit: mythic moonlight CC NC

5) Return to Gratitude.

We all have painful circumstances in life. The pain is hard, but it’s not often what really derails us. Instead, we get caught up in what should have happened, in what we think we deserve, in our frustration about other people who got in the way of our plans.

But all of that is just entitlement.

Verse 20 continues: “…giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The universal antidote to entitlement is gratitude. Gratitude and bitterness can’t exist in the same heart at the same time.

So we set aside the should-ofs, and could-ofs, and I-don’t-deserve-this. We set that aside and start by looking for what we can be thankful for. For another breath. For another day. For each other. For the opportunities that will come as a result of this hardship. For God’s presence.

6) Seek and Trust the voice of Mentors.

So, we speak to each other, we speak words of life, we start with gratitude, and then we do something hard. We trust our journey to our community. The passage ends with an odd phrase. “…submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.”

Now, I know that that word is uncomfortable for some of us. There is depth to be studied there. But for now consider that it simply means inviting trusted brothers and sisters to speak into our lives.

We go to those people—not the people who will just affirm us and tell us we’re right, but the people with maturity and perspective and wisdom—and we say, “This is what’s going on for me. Am I off track here?” And then we trust them enough to let them speak into our lives.

Hard days come. Circumstances that are out of our control happen. We all have hard days—evil days. But we are not alone; that means that we can redeem those hard days.

When we do them together.
When we speak to each other words of life.
When we start with gratitude.
When we trust others to speak into our journey.

The Bible portrays situation after situation where God worked in the middle of painful, frustrating and unfair circumstances. It almost looks like that’s where God likes working best. Maybe because on hard days we’re a little more open to God’s input.

We don’t redeem our hard days because we worked really hard, and kept a positive attitude. We redeem our hard days because God is with us, and in Christ, we are resurrection people.

2 thoughts on “How to Handle the Hard Times

  1. Oh, boy. I had not read this post yet, and there it sat in my inbox, just another thing bugging me that I had not got done. So I clicked on it just to check something off, and oh, was it just what I needed. Not easy to recognize some of my current overwhelm as the echos of entitlement, but there you have it. And yet encouraging to know that I have a God that can redeem my day from my circumstances. This was God-breathed for me, thanks.

    1. Just walked into my office and saw this comment. So cool to be a part of a God-moment for you, Tara. Thanks for posting your comment. God is big and is working in Your life. That’s the truth.

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