I’ve been struggling lately, like I always do, really, but with moments of respite, with who I am and where I am in life; what’s happening and how and why and all of those life and existential struggles. It pretty much fills my journals! Sorry to whoever has to read them in a hundred years. This week (and many other weeks), I’ve been feeling like I struggle with everything, and like it’s too much for me – that I should have some reward for it, or at least a respite from the suffering. I’ve even been mentioning to God as I pray that I know He knows what I desire, and they’re absolutely good desires, like working in a place that allows me to do the good things I want to make life better for people and where I can feel joy at using my talents, and that I don’t really understand why then it’s not happening, when I’m trying on my end, and praying, and it’s a good thing, and yet nothing is coming. And I’m waiting, and waiting, and I want to almost scream with the frustration. I feel like I can’t do the things He’s sent me here to do – effect change for good, help people, develop love, extend my talents, learn and grow, be more, etc.
This morning, feeling this frustration and a lack of hope regarding it all, especially about being able to fulfill my purposes in this life, I studied a bit of 2 Timothy using “Understanding the New Testament”, a book that offers more accurate translations of some New Testament books (this volume deals with 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon), and adds commentary from both the author and historical and theological sources. I’ve been reading it using my French Bible, which sometimes concurs with the re-translations and sometimes offers something different. So, this morning I was up to 2 Timothy 2:3, in which Paul begins a series of analogies relating Timothy’s ministerial work, or being in general a Christian, to a soldier’s duty, an athlete, and a farmer or farm worker. First, he exhorts Timothy to “suffer with me (endure hardship), as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”, and reminds him that
no soldier entangles himself with the affairs of this life, if he wants to please the one who enlisted him.
During military service, a man would leave his regular occupations and devote himself to that service, until they’d completed the time they agreed to serve in the war. Even a career soldier wouldn’t also have some other job on the side, or be consumed by other concerns, but be devoted to his military career and give all the service demanded of him. There are obvious connections to Timothy’s role of the time as a sort of regional seventy in the Asia Minor area.
Next, Paul writes about athletes, who had to follow the rules of competition leading up to and during the Games. This meant taking on six months of training with a public trainer, whom they had to obey or risk being excluded from the Games. The training “taxed to the upmost the endurance and strength of the contestant, alike in the preparation and the struggle” (Harvey). Then there were the rules of the actual contest during the Games.
And the athlete is not crowned, if he hasn’t competed according to the rules.
Last of all comes the farmer, who has to labour (the Greek word, kopiao, meaning “to feel fatigue; by implication to work hard; to grow weary, tired, exhausted with toil or burdens of grief” or “toil to weariness”) before reaping the harvest. When I came to this, it described just how I was feeling. The farmer’s situation requires patience in experiencing this fatigue of body or spirit – despite their effort, the results won’t come in until it’s the right time. Unlike the soldier or the athlete, the farmer doesn’t win a battle or a race. There is work, and then there is waiting.
How much more unreasonable will it be for us to refuse the labours which Christ enjoins upon us, while he holds out so great a reward? – Calvin
From these few verses and their commentary, I realised and remembered that in this life, as an ‘enrolled’ Christian, there are ‘rules’ about struggle and rewards: one has to endure, suffer and train, work and plant and wait, and not worry overmuch about all the concerns of daily life. Instead, one must focus on doing these things and following the guidelines until the contest is won, the enlistment over, and the harvest gathered in. None of these people – the soldier enlisted in the army, the contestant in the Games, or the farmer – expect to receive their reward without adhering to the rules laid down for it, which they’ve agreed to by entering their respective labours. All of them know that consistent effort is required, and that they will see the results of their labours through it. None of them expect it to be easy.
I feel like it would be fair to get a really good job that’s just what I need and want, to best use my gifts and pay my way in life. But this life, or this world, isn’t fair, so it might be that that doesn’t happen. I hope it will – that someone will give me a chance, despite lack of experience in the area I want work in, and that my application will be considered according to its real merits – but there’s no guarantee.
I’ve been so frustrated with the seemingly un-budging circumstances that are constricting my life – the place I work, where I live, etc. But in fact, to fulfill my purpose in this life, I can’t wait for these right circumstances, but need to fulfill it everywhere I am. While I’m still working beneath my qualifications and outside my interests, or while I’m living with a housemate who never cleans our bathroom, or while I still can’t sleep so much of the time. None of these things are ideal; some or all of them could have been avoided by things being different in the past; they’re regular parts of life in a fallen, imperfect world. Perhaps the true test is whether I’ll apply and multiply those talents given me in every circumstance, including the least likely or least ideal-for-me, not whether I can multiply them in only ideal conditions. (Actually, it makes a lot of sense as I’m writing it like this; the sensible realisations aren’t always obvious). Can I do good without just the right job that makes it easy to do that? Can I develop love without just the right relationship to support its development? Can I be happy and hopeful, no matter what happens to me?