Have you ever felt stretched between competing needs in your family? Smushed like the filling spread too thin between two slices of bread?

Dr. Pam SanderlinToday I’ve invited a friend who’s living in that precarious place right now to sit with me to think it through. Dr. Pam Sanderlin is a career missionary, educator, editor and gifted artist (who happens to speak fluent Turkish.)  Post reprinted with permission from http://betweencontinents.blogspot.com/.

Welcome, Pam!

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I’m in the middle of trying to working out my theology on the problem of pain and difficulties.

Mind you, this is not an intellectual activity: I’m trying to work this out because life is so complicated and, at times, difficult, being part of the “traditional sandwich generation.” Think about it: What is it like, being the peanut-butter-and-jelly smushed between two pieces of bread? You’re stuck to the bread no matter what, holding it all together. You’re in it for the long haul. Will you be consumed? (We could do a lot with this metaphor.)

Wood carving by Ruth Geneslaw

Wood carving by Ruth Geneslaw

For a long time I consoled myself with the unbiblical belief that God would never give us more than we can handle. I even believed, for a time, that being a Christian meant I should be immune from difficulties.

But both of those perspectives are wrong. Life has proven them to be incorrect perspectives.

How do we come up with these sorts of ideas when even the news headlines show the opposite? Think of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria who have endured torture, rape, slavery, and death precisely because they are Christians. Closer to home, think of people from amongst our friends or family who are overwhelmed and crushed by circumstances.

So, here is my current thinking: Problems and difficulties are a given in this life. At times, it will be more than we can take, but it’s okay, because we are not alone. Good thing, because we can’t do this alone! I don’t know about you, but I need my husband, my sister, my extended family, my counselor, and my church and small group.

More than these support networks, we desperately need God in the midst of hard things. Admitting our weakness and inability — and our need for Him — allows us to let go of the controls and let God work. And He does. He is working even when we don’t see it. Even when we don’t think He cares about us and our circumstances.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul writes in Romans 8:35-37. “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.“(bold, mine)

Here’s the rub: I don’t feel like a conqueror; I feel like a loser most days.

Why is that? Certainly, things are hard, but it goes beyond that. Our adversary Satan purposely puts discouraging, defeating, joy-stealing thoughts and feelings in our way to shake our faith and well-being. We can respond to these thoughts–and even the circumstances we’re in–in a variety of ways: anger, frustration, defeat, feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing, or we can run to God, refusing to believe the lie that “He has abandoned us.”

We can throw ourselves on God, knowing that no one can separate us from His love. Fact (not fickle feelings). We can ask for His perspective, His thoughts, His guidance, His help, His power to persevere. He is the conqueror for us. He is our vanguard and our protection.

As it says in Psalm 91:1-7:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”

But, but….buthow do we know that God’s love and presence are with us despite our feelings, the circumstances, our fallen state? He’s promised His presence in Psalm 91.

And Paul answers this earlier in the Romans 8 passage:

(1) Our sins cannot keep us from God’s presence because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

(2) We are promised eternal life with God in Heaven.

(3) Satan can’t block us from receiving God’s love.

(4) God is with us through the difficult situations.

It’s very hard, but we are not alone. Even we “sandwiches” are conquerors because God is with us.

Not our effort, but His.

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“Sandwich Generation” wood carving by Ruth Geneslaw: http://www.ruthgeneslaw.com/gallery/pages/sandwichGeneration_jpg.htm