Have you ever experienced a truly terrible Monday? For some of us that is how we would describe every Monday—truly terrible. Probably because the weekend is now over and the weekly grind of jobs starts again.
But what I’m talking about may be better described this way. Have you ever had a Monday from Hell, a day where everything that possibly could have gone wrong does go wrong? Your alarm clock doesn’t go off, because the power went out during the night, thus making you late for work. You burn your tongue on a cup of coffee, and when your tongue doesn’t hurt so much you realize that it would be better to drink sewer water than this coffee swill. You drip ketchup on your white shirt. You go to hit print or save on an email or document for work and it magically deletes everything. You go to get an afternoon snack and you are a nickel short of getting that chocolate bar or bag of chips you wanted. You head out to the parking lot to find that you have a flat tire, and coincidently have no spare tire with you. You start limping your vehicle to the tire shop or the mechanic, only to be stuck behind the slowest driver on the planet. And consequently, you hit every possible red light along the way. I could keep going. And for some of you, I’m sure that does describe a day or two that you have actually lived.
For other people, it can be more serious. They find out that their young child has skin cancer. Some people find out that their rent payments are going to go up if they want to stay living where they are. It could be that their raise has accidentally put them into a new tax bracket, causing them to pay more taxes, leaving them more financially strapped than they were before. The news of a loved one passing away undoubtable ruins a day. And again, this is just a tip of the iceberg of what are really bad days.
It is a blessing when these things happen in a kind of spaced out manner. We have a terrible day once this month, and might not have another for a few more months. But that isn’t reality for everyone. Sometimes, it isn’t one bad day, but a bad week, a bad month, or a bad year. This isn’t just a terrible happenstance for some people. At some point, everyone has a period of extremely lousy events. And when those things happen, whether it is a single bad Monday or a season of terrible events lasting months, we all tend to ask the same question; Why? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve all this? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why, God, why? We all know that feeling. When the bottom falls out from under you, and all you can muster is the question of “Why?”
Now, why is not a bad question to ask. Sometimes there is a legitimate reason why bad things happen. Maybe you drove over a nail and that is why you have a flat tire. Maybe someone put vinegar in the coffeepot to clean it, forgot and that is why your coffee tastes horrible. But there are times when the why can’t be known. Why did that little boy develop skin cancer? Why did my loved one have to pass away? Why do I have to pay more in taxes for a 50 cent raise? Why? I don’t know.
Why is a good question to ask, but I believe that there are times when asking it can be one of the most burdensome questions. We ask why over and over again, and we are left answerless. We analyze and examine time and again, but it remains fruitless. Rather than doing something to help ourselves in this difficult time, asking why can actually make things worse.
I know that in the times that I have asked why, not getting an answer has led me into a dark place. What I mean by a dark emotional place is being on the verge of depression and very much angry. Not knowing why I was going through these terrible events left me upset. There had to be a reason, I thought. Life is cause and effect, right? I am living in the effect, something bad, so what caused this? But I couldn’t figure it out. Then my frustration turned to God. Why God am I having to go through this? Why can’t you take me out of this storm? What am I supposed to learn in all this? Why can’t you just tell me the lesson rather than crush me? Even in those moments, I usually found no answer. No solution to my why question. From conversations with other people, people that have gone through terrible Mondays or horrific seasons of suffering, I am not alone in this. They have asked the same questions of themselves and of God, and gotten nowhere.
As I was sitting and listening to a gentleman’s struggle last week, I wondered if we were going about this all wrong. What if asking why was a bad question? What if there was a better question we could ask that wouldn’t bring us down, but lift us up? What if we could seek out a solution that helped us in the midst of our troubles in a different way? Would we be able to avoid the depression and the anger?
There is a better question. Rather than asking why are we going through this, we should ask this question.
HOW? How are we going to make it through this?
“That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. ” – Genesis 32.22-31
This has always been a strange passage of Scripture. Who is this mysterious man? Why does he strike Jacob in the hip, and then bless him? Why wouldn’t the mystery man share his name?
While we could get caught up in all the mystery, I find how Jacob is reacting to his current situation much more interesting. In the verses prior to this, Jacob has left his father-in-law’s home. But it wasn’t a friendly departure. Jacob had to steal away his wives, children, flocks and herd, and basically run away from the place he had called home. If that wasn’t bad enough, his father-in-law, when he discovered what Jacob had done, hunted him down. Not the friendly, I’m coming to see you off at the airport that we may hope from our father-in-laws, but I am going to catch you and kill you kind of chasing. It wasn’t something that Jacob had done that had brought on this violent chase. He wasn’t rude or disrespectful to his father-in-law. Jacob could have been asking Why all day long, and never would have gotten an answer. There would have been no logic or reason that Jacob could conceive of that would have explained this hunt of which he was the hunted. The issue with Jacob and his father-in-law is eventually put to rest. They shake hands and go their separate ways. Problem solved. Crisis over, but that doesn’t mean that things are suddenly going to get easy.
Jacob had left his father’s house under terrible circumstances. He had stole from his father and his elder brother. What he had done was a terrific insult to the both of them. As Jacob approached what was once his home, he received word that his elder brother was coming to meet him. And he had an army.
One problem was resolved only to be beat down by another. Life threatening situations dissolved only to be threatened again somewhere else. I may complain about my lousy Mondays, but never have I had my life threatened. And never twice in such a short period of time. If it wasn’t enough that Jacob’s life was in danger, his wives, children, and everything he owned was in danger as well. Bad days cannot get much worse.
I can only imagine that Jacob asked himself why this was all happening. I’m sure his internal dialogue was a tidal wave of “Why? Why? Why? Why?” This time it was different, he did know why this was happening but that probably didn’t bring any comfort to Jacob. He realized that he had dealt with his father and brother in a horrendous manner, but why was there no break? Why was it problem after problem, calamity after calamity?
From God, there is no answer as to why. But there is an answer as to how.
How would Jacob get through this calamity? How would he and his family make it through this event with an angry elder brother and an army barreling down upon them? Jacob would make it through the same way that Christians do. Those that put their faith in God will survive through the difficulties and problems that come their way in the same manner as Jacob did.
How we get through our problems is blessed and marked. Let me explain how this answer to How is better than an answer to the question Why.
In the midst of our struggle, in the middle of our conflict, we may feel abandoned. We are surrounded by our problem and there doesn’t seem to be much hope for anything. The silver lining on the rain cloud can’t be seen. Any ray of sunshine is blotted out by the darkness of the storm. But, we are not alone in the fight. We are not by ourselves in the storm. In fact, we are better than not alone. We are marked as blessed. Just as Jacob was blessed by the mystery wrestler, just as he was favoured in the midst of chaos and crises, so we are blessed by God in the times of our trouble.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. – Psalm 146.5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1.3-4
How are we going to make it through our terrible Monday? How are we going to survive a series of lousy situations? We will make it through as blessed people because God is there with us. We are quick to forget that God is with us in our time of trouble. The clouds surround us and make it difficult to see the truth. There in the chaos and strife, God is.
We are not abandoned. We are not left alone to struggle through the catastrophes. We are blessed by a God that is present with us. One of Jacob’s ancestors experienced this many years before him. She was suffering and struggling through a tough situation, when she realized God was there with her. She stood amazed when God spoke to her, when God said that she would survive this ordeal. God let her know that in the midst of her calamity she was not alone, she was not forgotten. In fact, she was blessed (Genesis 16).
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. – Deut. 31.6,8; Josh. 1.5, Heb. 13.5
The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. – Ps. 118.6, Heb. 13.6
Asking how we will make it through this current problem, rather than why, gives us the opportunity to be reminded that we are not alone. God is with us, and in the midst of this present trouble, He will bless us. That is not the only reason why we should ask How instead of Why when we are facing tough times.
I wish that the Bible include more details in the narrative accounts sometimes. Especially in this wrestling match. It is the only one that is recorded in the Bible. What kind of moves did Jacob use? How did the mystery man counter them? How many rounds did they fight? Did they get a break in between for water and a pep talk from their coaches?
Some of these things we may not find out, and obviously some of them are irrelevant questions or down right humorous (or humourless if your sense of humour is better than mine). But what the Bible does say is that Jacob lost. And he lost badly. He had his hip taken out of joint. I’ve broken only one bone in my body and that hurt. I can’t imagine what walking on an out of place hip was like. That must have been an unreal amount of pain. However he made it through that defeat. Jacob was never the same. When people talked about him and the events of his life, they would talk about what happened before the wrestling match, and after the wrestling match. The events of that night forever changed him. In fact he rarely went by the name Jacob after that; he answered to Israel after that. Jacob’s life was now marked. He was marked. In the midst of the calamity with his father-in-law and the impending attack from his elder brother, Jacob was touched by God. He was impacted in a way that he would never forget and he would constantly be reminded of who helped him in his time of need, and how.
Sorry. SPOILER ALERT! The mysterious wrestler was God. This isn’t a unique idea when you look at the whole Bible. God often touches or marks his children in the midst of some problem or difficult situation. The prophet Isaiah lived in the midst of a people with unclean lips, when in a vision, God touches him. The nation of Israel was rebelling against God, again, when God removed his guilt and atoned for his sin. This became a pivotal moment for Isaiah, for after this moment it was he that went forth as a spokesperson and a mouth piece for God (Isaiah 6).
There was a commander of a great army, a man who was great in the eyes of the people, but he had a skin disease. Upon hearing of a man of God that could possibly cure the skin disease, this commander left at once to find this remedy. Once he found the man of God, he was told to dip himself in the gross but nearby river, seven times. After some reluctance, and some persuasion, the commander did just that. After his seventh dip in the river, he arose without any evidence of a skin disease. There was no longer a mark on him. He was cleansed, for he had been touched by God. Just as Isaiah had a pivotal moment that marked his life, so this man experienced one as well. For he refused to serve the foreign gods of his homeland, but serve only the true God, the one that had marked his life (2 Kings 5).
Even look at Jesus. He was clearly marked by God when He was baptized by John, but more so, Jesus was marked at his death and resurrection. The nail marks in his hands and feet, and the spear mark in his side showed his disciples that He had in fact died and come back to life. God had done something miraculous, and here was the evidence, here was the mark. And amazingly it is by those marks that we are healed and our transgressions removed (Isaiah 53).
Just like in these men’s lives, when we are faced with calamity and strife, we have a unique opportunity to be touched by God, to be marked. I am not saying that God is going to come down and dislocate your arm or something like that. But God will mark you, change you in those times of difficulty. He will touch you in such a way that you will not be the same after this problematic time. You will not be the same man or woman. The way you walk, the way you talk, the way you look will be radically different. Because you have come through the fight and had God affect you in a way that is life altering. This is true on the physical level and on the spiritual level. Just as Jesus let the sick touch him, even just the edge of his cloak, their physical infirmities were healed, and their spirits awakened to the reality that God was there in their midst.
Asking how we will make it through this current problem, rather than why, allows us to be uniquely touched by God. It gives us the opportunity to be reminded of how God has worked and moved in our lives, in ways that we didn’t understand at the time.
Does any of this help? Do the Mondays miraculously disappear? Do the cancers that sneak up on people vanish? Do our loved ones suddenly stop dying? Do our problems go away?
No, they don’t. Jesus told his disciples, shortly before His arrest and subsequent death, that as long as they were a part of the world, they would have trouble. It was inevitable. That is just how the world works. Bad things happen. Whether it is just life happening, or it is the persecution of the believers for their faith, trouble is something that will come our way.
But that wasn’t it. That was not all that Jesus said. Yes, there would be difficulties. Yes, there would be hard times. But don’t let that beat you down. Don’t think that these calamities or terrible circumstances are the end all and be all.
“But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16.33
Jesus is the ultimate victor. He has overcome all the sin, sickness, disease, brokenness, and evil in the world. Any and all calamity and tragedy is overwhelmed and made powerless in Him. The Mondays will come around, but that doesn’t mean that they have the final say and authority over you. Jesus does. What Jesus has done is so total and so amazing, that the apostle Paul says, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
For through Jesus, even death and Hades have no power. They cannot destroy us, though they may threaten to. All power and authority are found in Christ. Only in Jesus is there any help, any hope when we are faced with the tragedies and calamities of our lives. Whether they are big or they are small, they do not have the power to destroy us. And in Christ is the power to uplift us in those difficult times.
Why is not a bad question to ask when you have a bad day, whether it is a Monday or not. Why can lead to answers to explain the events or circumstances you find yourself in. But why can also become burdensome.
When you are in a troublesome time, when you are experiencing hardship, try doing this instead—Ask how. How am I going to get through this?
You will get through this with God at your side, blessing you as you go. You will get through this marked, touched by God in a way that you and others around you will know that things have changed. You will make it through because Jesus has overcome the world, and destroyed all those threats so that you may live.
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