“The struggle is real” (from Urban Dictionary.com)
A (generally) ironic saying often used in place of the saying, “first world problems”. Has slightly more urban undertones than “first world problems”. Denotes a situation where the user wishes to express that they are encountering some sort of undesirable difficulty, but dealing with it. With irony, it has a comical effect of dramatizing a non-critical, yet undesirable situation.
Tom: I had to walk to class today because my bike got a flat tire.
Adam: Must’ve been real hard, man.
Tom: Yeah. The struggle is real.
One of the most fun parts of youth ministry is the opportunity to stay relatively up to date on the pop culture and lingo of today’s teens. I get to learn all about movies, TV shows, Youtube videos, songs, and sayings that make up today’s teenage world. Some people may say that it’s horrifying; I think it’s pretty fascinating.
This one saying, however, ‘the struggle is real’, makes me particularly chuckle each time I hear it…and each time I use it now (because I’m hip). How often do we hear complaints from young people how HARD life is these days?! Schoolwork, sports, friends…DRAMA! More often than not, the source of one’s frustration is usually something that previous generations would have loved to have.
Let’s look at an example. ‘Man, my mom keeps blowin’ up my phone!’ Now, how many of us would A.) love to have their mother involved with their life, or B.) have a phone, that is really a computer, that fits in their pocket…that they are probably not paying for! The struggle is real. Hopefully we all get the idea.
Time and time again I find myself saying this phrase, internally or out loud, to the young people I meet, and let’s be honest, to many adults as well. To put it bluntly, many of us have become lazy, narcissistic, self-gratifying, and privileged, and we share our ‘struggle’ with the world whenever we get a chance to hear ourselves talk, or tweet, or post an update.
And just so you don’t think that I’m talking about ‘everyone else’ in the world this morning, I am guilty of this as well! There are regular occurrences where I catch myself complaining about the speed of the internet because it was taking a few extra seconds to talk with someone face to face in real time on the other side of the world! Have we just become soft?
The short answer is yes…and no.
Yes, it is very easy to talk about the future generations, and our present society, as lazy and self-centered, and some of the criticism may be valid. But I’m also here this morning to share with everyone that there is some genuine suffering in this world today amongst all of us. While the pain and stress of one’s life may be a molehill compared to another’s life, the pain is still real for that person. If we want to congratulate ourselves for being raised tough, then go ahead and do so. But we also need to be aware that when people are hurting, no matter what the circumstance or our own perspective on it, people are still hurting.
Looking back on my own life, I learned a tough lesson about this just last year. My friend Zak was one of the most loveable guys you could meet. Every time I went back to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and saw him he would be there to welcome me back with a smile and a hug. Unfortunately, there was a darker side to Zak’s life as well: he suffered from depression. He would tell us things every now and again, about how he wasn’t doing well with work, in his marriage, or life in general. All my friends and I could think to do was to listen and try and give him a pep talk every now and again, but Zak always seemed to have some sort of weight on his shoulders. Long story short, the weight on his shoulders was too much for him. One day I received a call from my friend; Zak had killed himself.
My friends and I talk about it every now again, and sometimes we hear some pretty harsh things about how Zak should have been able to ‘push through it’, or that he was even selfish or weak. Sisters and brothers, I am here as a pastor and a friend: someone’s pain and struggle in the world is just that; it is theirs, and it is real. It’s not our place to make judgments about others pain.
When reading today’s texts, sometimes it’s important for us to first experience the darkness of the soul before experiencing the light of God’s love in our lives. The pain and struggle we read about in today’s texts are real. We are reminded of the story of Job as he says in chapter 23,
“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; 17If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!
What we will also read, however, is that God can move even in the darkest of places to reveal true light and love. So let’s get to the text.
We pick up in the Gospel of Mark with Jesus confronted by a man of wealth. Again, here it is important to note just how fast the author of this Gospel moves when he describes the interactions of Jesus. Just previous to this section Jesus is teaching in Judea on a variety of topics. Following this section Jesus will travel to Jerusalem and reveal what will happen to him in the final days before he is crucified. So it is no surprise that here in these few verses we get a ton of information and teachings that we are left to digest!
The man addresses Jesus as ‘good teacher,’ and asks about inheriting eternal life, as many people wish to know about; right? How do we get to heaven? Jesus’ response surprises the man, I’m sure. Yes, he will tell the man about living according to Jewish law, the Ten Commandments, but he first makes sure to clarify something: only God is good…not even Jesus. Now, we can discuss the implications of this statement when it comes to our understandings today of Christ, but I believe this to be an important foundation for the following set of teachings that we read today. All of us, no matter how hard we try to be good in this world, are simply not perfect.
Jesus will go on to discuss the commandments with this man, who of course is following them as a righteous Jewish person would. Finally, Jesus gets to the point.
21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
The scripture says that Jesus ‘loved him’ before sharing with him what may seem like a nearly impossible request: get rid of all of your possessions, and then come join me. This, of course, would be considered an insane statement…unless you, yourself, have done it like Jesus did.
We then pick up in verse 22: When the man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
My first reaction when reading this is to chuckle at the whole situation. ‘Here we go again! Jesus just dissed another bad guy!’ But I’m not sure that’s the whole story about this man. I wonder just how serious this man was about following Jesus. I wonder how much he really wanted to be a good and faithful person.
Jesus will say just how hard it is to enter the kingdom of heaven.
26The disciples were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
How hard is it to enter the kingdom of heaven on our own? It’s impossible. It’s impossible for us to live a perfect life. It’s impossible for us to follow every rule, law, and teaching. No matter how hard we try, how hard we pray or worship, we are simply not good enough to get into heaven.
Yes, this news is tough to hear; heartbreaking for some. I think we can relate at times to this man who confronted Jesus now about trying to inherit eternal life: he was shocked and went away grieving. And if we know that it is impossible, then what hope is there? How are we to respond? Now, this, friends, is a time where you can say, ‘THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!’
Well, here is one thing that I think we can take away from this teaching this morning. When we realize that there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves, then we actually find ourselves in some pretty good company. We are all in this struggle called life together. Some of us may struggle with what may seem as very trivial things such as having too many possessions. Others of us may struggle with absolutely heartbreaking things like the loss of family members and friends to violence, disease, or poverty, just to name a few. Yet somehow, in the mystery that is life, we are found to be living our lives together.
No matter where we find ourselves in this world, we all need the saving grace of God in our lives. This is the Good News! Yes, the struggle is truly real in this world, yet Christ offers us salvation in God’s love.
As the author in the letter to the Hebrews reminds us in HEBREWS 4:12-16
12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Friends, today we are invited to approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive God’s mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. This is not of our doing, our behaviors, our following of laws. No, we are simply unable to save ourselves.
The Good News is that in Christ Jesus we are saved! Our sufferings, our struggles, our trials and tribulations, are ultimately turned to joy and celebration with such news.
It’s with such news that we are called to walk together in our faith journeys, hand in hand, as we are called to suffer together, celebrate together, and help realize God’s Beloved Community together.