Some years ago I watched an amazing reality TV show. The producers took five men to the Gulf coast of Central America and they had to trek across the jungle to the Pacific coast. What made it interesting is that all five suffered from a disability. A big African American fellow was in a wheelchair–having lost the use of his legs through polio. One man was blind. Another was deaf. The fourth suffered from chronic depression. The last had learning difficulties.
The camera crew followed their trek through the jungle. At one point the deaf man takes the blind man by the hand to lead him through. The team encourages the depressed man to continue. They all help the man in the wheelchair drag himself and his wheelchair up a muddy hill and across a swollen river. It made for riveting viewing and was a reminder to me all the way through of our shared pilgrimage through this life.
After one particularly grueling day the man in the wheelchair was interviewed. “Why are you doing this?” the interviewer asked. With his eyes welling up, the big fellow in the wheelchair said in his deep voice. “It’s the beautiful struggle man, it’s the beautiful struggle!”
So it is, and it is so sad that so many in our modern world are consumed with the ambition to avoid the beautiful struggle rather than go through it and overcome. Think of all the money, time and effort we expend trying to create Disneyland-type perfect worlds for ourselves. Think of all the money, time and effort we expend creating worlds that are “practically perfect (and practically plastic) in every way.” What if we were to expend the same money, time and effort to face the beautiful struggles in our lives and conquer the problems rather than papering over the cracks, filling in the holes and pretending the problems do not exist?
What if we were to engage in the beautiful struggle with the true grit of a warrior and the courage of a champion? Instead we too often expend that same determination and courage and grit to simply beat the other guy, come out on top, be a winner and this usually means getting more money and plastic prizes than anyone else.
What if we were to lock arms with others in the beautiful struggle like the men on that great trek through the jungle? What if we admitted our faults and relied on the strengths of others while using our own strengths to help them at their points of weakness?
Not long ago I read the story of a Frenchman named Philipe Croizon. He had all four limbs amputated after an electrical accident but with specially developed apparatus he went on to swim the English channel and other long distance swims. It’s the beautiful struggle!
The spiritual struggle is the same. How often we seek the perfect church rather than trying to be a perfect Christian ourselves. How often we seek spiritual consolations or some sort of gooey, emotional religious experience. What suckers we are for a kind of religious fantasyland in which everything is perfect and spray painted and plastic. How much anguish and trouble we expend trying to search for or build these false utopias instead of dealing with life’s difficulties the way they are and learning to overcome or endure.
The fact of the matter is, it is in the difficulties that we are closest to God and he is closest to us. It is in overcoming and enduring that we are closest to the experience of the gospel. What happened to Jesus Christ? From the very moment of his birth he was thrust into the beautiful struggle. From the moment of his baptism the gospel says he was ‘thrust out’ into the desert to endure temptation and enter into the beautiful struggle. From that moment onwards in the story of the gospel Jesus goes through battle after battle and faces conflict every day.
So be encouraged today. If you are in the middle of getting your hands dirty and life is messy, then be re assured that it is the beautiful struggle man, the beautiful struggle! That’s what life is for. It’s a beautiful struggle to make a soul…it’s a beautiful struggle to make a saint. With great courage little Therese of Lisieux cries out, “You must be a whole saint or no saint at all!” and realizing that it is a battle she says, “Sanctity! It must be won at the point of a sword!”
What are you waiting for? Buckle on your armor. Polish and sharpen your sword. Strap on your helmet.
It’s the beautiful struggle.
Fr Dwight Longenecker is the author of St Benedict and St Therese–the Little Rule and the Little Way. Visit his blog, browse his books, invite him to speak and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com Blog: Standing on My Head. His latest book: The Romance of Religion –Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty