I take my birthday greetings – wishes – blessings – prayers seriously.
It may not always appear that way since I use the same birthday wish-prayer for everyone each year, but it’s true.
Each February (for my wish-prayer year begins with the birthday of Josiah in February, not on January 1st), I prayerfully sit down to consider and write out the next year’s birthday blessing. I let the images of hundreds of friends and family scroll through my mind as I reflect upon what God has been showing me recently and seek Him for words with which bless folks in the coming year.
Some years these wish-prayers are more poetic than others.
Some are longer and some are shorter.
Some come slowly to me and some seem to flow with ease.
This past year the words seemed to flow.
But when I reached the last word and read back over it, I cringed a bit.
May you have enough
so that want does not make you bitter.
May you lack enough
so that abundance does not cause you pride.
May you have peace
so that despair does not overtake you.
May you have struggle
so that you learn to rely on Jesus.
may you have eyes to see what is at hand
and the graces which are all around.
Really? That is my wish-prayer for my loved ones?
And yet somehow I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the words written were meant to be.
And meant to stay.
Still, every morning as I got on Facebook to post my wish-prayer to that day’s recipient(s), I hesitated.
Would I want someone to wish and pray this for me?
May you lack enough?
May you have struggle?
Yet I did push send day after day.
And I prayed that my birthday greeting would be well-received.
And over the months I began to realize something:
“May you have struggle” does not mean “may you suffer”.
15 years ago this past August I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Common phrases that I heard went from “you don’t look sick” and “it’s all in your head” to “fibro-what?!” and “you’re too young for that”. Doctors put me on various medicines to try and help different symptoms, which, of course, had different side effects. I was in my sophomore year of college, had gotten a part-time job at a florist shop and was leading a mime team of fellow classmates. My journal of the semester shows ups and downs with decreasing highs and increasing lows which felt (and reads) like a downward spiral of poor sleep, nightmares, deadening fatigue, depression, weight gain, poor concentration, brain fog, biting off more than I could chew and pushing myself when I should have been listening to my body better as I tried to deal with my new diagnosis in the midst of college life.
To put it simply, it was a struggle.
Because my brain and body were so impacted and I was having a hard time keeping up with schoolwork, I talked to each of my professors – more than once – to keep them abreast of what was happening and seek some aid in discerning and completing the most vital readings and assignments. Some of my professors were more than understanding, lenient with time and helpful in making needed adjustments. A couple of my professors came off a little harsher, not giving extra time and telling me that “in the real world” no one would give me a break because of bad days or bad health. (I’ve since discovered these were both right and wrong…)
But then I had one professor who basically said to me, “I’m glad you are struggling.”
Now, I don’t remember his exact wording. And looking back now, I wish I did. But that was the gist of it.
And I was insulted.
Now perhaps I should inform you that I attended a wonderful little Christian liberal arts college and this professor was in the Educational Ministries department wherein I was majoring. And though it was my first official class with him, I knew him well enough to know he had a love for Jesus and for students (teens and young adults) and desired to see them know Jesus and follow Him whole-heartedly. And I knew he had nothing against me.
So somewhere in my head I knew that his words were more wisdom than evil. He was not cursing me.
But I was still insulted.
And I’m pretty sure there were tears after I left his office.
See the thing is, for most of my life I have equated struggle with suffering.
And I equated suffering with sin. Not in the way that the disciples did in John 9 thinking the man was born blind because of his sin or the sin of his parents. I’d fallen in love with that story long before.
Sure, suffering comes sometimes as a direct result of our sin.
And suffering can come as a direct result of the sin of others.
Suffering can also come as an indirect result of the sin of others.
But sometimes suffering comes simply because we live in a broken world. A world broken by sin.
And because I equated struggle with suffering and suffering with sin and sin with evil, I felt that struggle was evil and someone being happy that I was struggling was… well… horrendous!
Suffering is a struggle.
But struggling is not always suffering.
Struggle can be edifying.
Struggle can even be part of intended design.
Like the oft-used butterfly illustration. It is the work, the struggle of the newly reborn butterfly against the cocoon which strengthen it to fly. If you stop to help a butterfly’s struggle and release it from its cocoon, not only will it not be able to fly, but it will perish.
Or like the man-pushing-a-rock illustration (a version of which is illustrated here by mime artist Todd Farley).
I am slowly learning to remove the word struggle from its tightly-wound association with suffering and evil in my head.
Struggle is more closely related to discipline than to suffering.
And after months of posting this “may you have struggle” birthday wish-prayer, I am finally not hesitating as I tap the “post” button.
My own birthday is quickly approaching.
And I’ve come to know that should someone greet me with my own wish-prayer, I would not walk away with tears as I did 15 years ago.
I find it easier to see the wisdom.
And the grace.