Can’t You See I’m TRYING?!!?

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Many people could look at Martha, complaining, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work?”–and mutter, “All that fuss over one tough day; she didn’t know how easy she had it.” What do you do when you’ve tried your best until you’re on the edge of burnout, and then instead of help or encouragement, you get blame for not doing even more? Consider:

  • The low-income mother who’s working sixty hours a week to keep her children housed and fed, has tried in vain for months to find an affordable daycare arrangement with space available–and then hears from a neighbor threatening to “report you to Child Protective Services if you keep leaving those poor kids alone all day.”
  • The college graduate battling severe autism, who’s been turned down for one job after another because everything in his natural instincts fights his best efforts to develop “soft skills“–and is withdrawing even further because he knows he’ll have a public meltdown if one more person asks, “Why don’t you quit living off your family and get a job?”
  • The teenage introvert in a family of extroverts, who is the primary loser in an ongoing war between her natural passions and the “Why don’t you get out and socialize?” pressure from well-meaning but less-than-empathetic parents. Or the extrovert in a family of introverts, the artist in a family of athletes, the sportsman in a family of scholars–anyone who is made to feel something is wrong with him because he just can’t enjoy what “everyone else” loves.

The quintessential example is Job, who did more things right than any of his peers, yet in his hardest hour could find no sympathy, just “Why didn’t/don’t you do more?” criticism. Like Martha centuries later, he felt that even God was dismissing his struggles as unimportant.

Where Does My Help Come From?

Charles A. Tindley might have been familiar with similar situations a century ago, when he wrote in a hymn-prayer:

When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all about me,
Stand by me.

(“Stand By Me,” 1905)

God is standing by us in our struggles, even if He has done little about them from our point of view. Sometimes He holds off the help we want so we can develop the strength we need. Often, though, we get so busy trying to solve things ourselves–or trying just to keep up with immediate demands so things won’t get worse–that we don’t leave time or energy to even ask for His help. Would you park outside a coffee shop, sit there in the car because you were “too exhausted” to walk in and place an order–and then get mad at the staff for “not wanting your business” because they haven’t brought you anything?

You may say, “Well, a barista doesn’t know what I need before I ask. God does.” Which is true, but not an excuse. God wants to be your Friend and Mentor, not just your Provider. He doesn’t appreciate being treated as Someone Who should “stand by” and deliver as needed without your even looking at Him; He wants to stand by you and have you aware of His presence. If you look to Him regularly, it matters less whether your situation improves quickly than that you feel His ongoing comfort and guidance. Since He has full knowledge of you and all your struggles, He’s your best source of empathy and help.

Slow Down and Pray: You’ll Make Faster Progress

It may seem as though your world will implode if you interrupt your work to talk to God for ten minutes. But those who actually try it on a daily basis agree it’s the best investment you could make. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, NLT). Notice He didn’t say, “First find the right place to unload your heavy burden, then come to me.” We’re to come as we are, and let Him do the unloading for us.

It’s amazing how much less burdensome life becomes when we stop “trying so hard” and start doing things in the right order.


Don’t Poison Yourself With Faultfinding

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     Once upon a time, there was an old woman who lived only for being surly and disagreeable and impossible to please. Her stepdaughter, who lived with her and kept the house, bore the worst of it; no matter how hard she worked, it was never good enough. Eventually, though, the girl attracted the sympathy of a fairy godmother, who began coming secretly each day and using magic to accomplish the chores, so flawlessly that even the crabby stepmother could find nothing to criticize.
     This only annoyed the stepmother, who felt cheated of opportunities to engage in her favorite sport of complaining. So each day, she demanded more work than the day before, until finally she came up with an assignment she was certain would be impossible: “I’m tired of living in this shack. When I get home this evening, I want to find a castle in its place!” Which, sure enough, was exactly what happened.
     The old woman was furious, and determined that this time she would find something to make a scene over, if only a hairline crack in a wall. So she began an inch-by-inch inspection, starting with the top floor. But as she bent to check the top step of the staircase, she stumbled, plummeted down the stairs, and broke her neck. The stepdaughter kept the castle, and lived happily ever after.
     The faultfinding habit is always self-destructive, sometimes as dramatically as in the story. It makes the news every now and then: somebody collapsed with a coronary while screaming at the customer service clerk, somebody smashed into a truck while yelling out the window at another driver. And who can forget the Israelites in the wilderness, whose habitual grumbling brought down the literal wrath of Heaven more than once?
     It’s true that some of us are predisposed to notice imperfections—and that’s not wrong in itself, if the next step is to take an active role in improving the situation. But the dedicated complainer would much rather disclaim personal responsibility, and just growl at God or the world for not “fixing things” right now. Before long, this behavior reaps a bad habit, which, in turn, reaps a bitter harvest of digestive upset, high blood pressure, spoiled relationships—and, yes, sometimes dramatically violent disaster.
     And if grumbling on reflex is foolish, actively seeking excuses to grumble is positive proof of a fool. Why would anyone do that—search for unhappiness as for hidden treasure? Because it flatters our pride, allowing us to feel like official inspectors appointed to tell the world how to organize itself, and to punish the world if it ignores our orders. But ultimately, though we may succeed in making others miserable for a season, the ones we punish are ourselves.
     If you’re already in the grumbling habit, or if you’re at high risk due to depression or other emotional sensitivities, gratitude is the best medicine. Start by reserving ten minutes a day to make a list of the good things in your life—be very specific—and to thank God for each one. Search out blessings with the same diligence you’re tempted to waste in searching for negatives. Keep that up for two weeks, and see how it becomes easier and more natural—and how much more fun it is than finding fault!
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  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at

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