Last year, I was telling a friend how tired and unmotivated I felt. I wouldn’t have minded the fatigue if my mind were sharper. Being out of commission physically, I wanted to at least get some reading or prayer in. But try as I did to separate the parts, I was reminded that I am an embodied soul, with interconnected body, mind, and spirit. So I was unproductive and felt guilty for it. I was exhausted and cranky. I expressed my frustration at being knocked out by something so common— a healthy first-trimester of pregnancy.
To this, my friend replied, “Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not hard.” Her words helped me name a type of suffering I, and others like me, often have trouble responding to. Common, hard things— those situations that are difficult but seem minor in the grand scheme of things.
Morning sickness, college exams, relational stresses, financial uncertainties, low-level anxiety. These, and more of what we face, seem to be mundane, run-of-the-mill troubles. And while some people are tempted to make too much of their own problems, others of us struggle with even calling these struggles “trials” at all.
How do we think about the common, hard things? And what does God think about it?
God Cares About Common, Hard Things
Part of the reason many Christians don’t know what to do with common hard things is that we desire to have a proper perspective of our trials. We hear reports of war abroad, see injustice in our country, and watch as people face terminal illnesses in our churches. And in the face of such deep suffering, we have trouble seeing how God could sympathize with our relatively small, daily burdens.
The good news for us though is that Jesus does care about common hard things, and he showed it when he walked on this earth. The gospel account of the feeding of the 4000 demonstrates this care.
This story goes like this. After days of ministering to crowds, healing the lame, blind, crippled, and mute, Jesus approaches his disciples about getting food for the people. The disciples protest this impossible task, and Jesus performs a miracle, feeding four thousand plus with seven baskets of leftovers to spare.
I had heard this story countless times before I, in the midst of a common but hard heartbreak, picked up Jesus’ motivation for multiplying the bread and fish. Matthew gives it to us in his account in Jesus’ own words:
“I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (Matt. 15:32 ESV)
Jesus, who’d fasted for forty days early in his ministry, was concerned about a crowd who hadn’t eaten for three. He didn’t compare his own trial to the one now faced by the crowd. He knew some of them would not be able to handle the journey home, and in his kindness, was unwilling to send them away empty. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “I’m doing important things like healing diseases and bringing about God’s kingdom. Find food on your own.” He didn’t harshly rebuke them, “I didn’t eat for forty, you should be able to survive three.” He had compassion on them, the Scripture says. And in the same way, he has compassion on us.
God Uses Common, Hard Things
God not only cares deeply about the common trials in our lives, he also uses them to draw us to himself and make us more like him. Here are three ways he uses the common, hard things in our lives:
1. Common, hard things remind us of God’s infinite mercy and power.
If God were finite, he’d need to split his time, attention, and power accordingly between global crises and personal requests. The news cycle and “compassion fatigue” reveal our limited human capacity to care, much less act, in response to the suffering we witness in the world. Oftentimes we assume that God is like us, triaging the needs of billions and prioritizing the urgent ones first.
Some people think going to God with the small things in our lives belittles him, making him small in our own eyes. This is true if we only ever go to him with our own wants and needs. But our heavenly Father is big enough to handle both requests for his kingdom to come and for our daily bread. He is powerful enough to shoulder our troubles and the burdens of the rest of the world day in and day out.
I’ve heard people say they don’t pray because there are so many other important problems in the world for God to tend to. I know what that feels like. Often, God provides in small ways that matter to me, and as I’m thanking him, I am embarrassed that he answers these prayers. I’ve even called these request “dumb” in my own mind. I have been trying to stop thinking of them as dumb and instead as “sparrow” requests, granted by God who cares for lowly sparrows and numbers the hairs on my head (Matt. 10:29-31).
Because God is infinitely powerful, no burdens are too heavy for him. Because he is infinitely merciful, none insignificant. He knows our frame, knows when there are things that will leave us too faint to walk home, and is willing and able to provide the bread and fish we need. Learning to come to him with our common, hard things reminds us of the greatness of his compassion and the limitlessness of his power.
2. Common, hard things deepen our sympathy for others.
The problem with having a measuring chart that relativizes our own suffering is that it hinders us from ministering to those whose trials we deem less difficult. There are trials we all recognize as legitimate suffering— serious illness, death of a loved one, persecution, and the like. But at times, it can be harder to minister to people when they are not as strong as we are, not “getting over” things as quickly as we would or enduring with attitudes we think they should have. We grow impatient with such sufferers. We may be tempted to roll our eyes at a teenager’s heartbreak or wave off a younger parent’s struggle with sleep deprivation. Thankfully, Jesus is not like us.
Jesus endured all we face: loneliness, rejection, temptation, pain, loss, tiredness, and more. He knows all of it, from Everest-sized suffering to pebble-in-shoe trials. Yet he does not wait for us to approach him with our problems only to respond, “I endured. Why can’t you?” Rather, because he was tempted in every way as we are, our High Priest mercifully sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).
Likewise, as we learn to admit to God that the common trials in our lives are still hard, we no longer see ourselves as better than others who suffer. And as we receive comfort from him in our trials, we are able to comfort others with his divine comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
3. Common, hard things humble us so we can receive grace and give him glory.
Marriage and parenting are God-given mirrors, revealing to us our true selves. Since becoming a parent, I’ve seen how impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty I can be. But the most humbling thing for me hasn’t been merely seeing how sinful I am. The most humbling thing has been realizing how I’ve pridefully judged others who I thought were impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty. If my trials were uncommon and my suffering extreme, I may find a way to excuse myself. But being put through the daily, common grind and temptations others face— and failing—that has been humbling.
The common hard things in my life have been used by God to surface pride in my ability to resist temptations I thought myself above. I didn’t think I’d be the mom with the kid screaming in the store, caring more about my image than my child. Until the morning sickness of my fifth pregnancy, I never related to the temptation of distraction through smartphone entertainment. I didn’t think my ability to be reasonable and patient was so rooted in my good health. And I didn’t think there was so much pride and judgment sinisterly lurking in my heart.
1 Peter 5:5 says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (ESV). It is scary to think about being opposed by God. But as children of God, we can take great comfort in knowing our Father works to humble us. He disciplines us not just for the sake of putting us in our place, but that he may give us grace: grace in forgiveness, grace in his provision for our needs. And as we receive his grace, he receives all the glory.
When we don’t think we need God in our day-to-day, common, hard things, we miss the gift of his nearness, care, and forgiveness. When we push through life in our own strength, we miss chances to receive the grace of God and to display his power made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). We miss out on the opportunity to show those around us that anything good in us comes not from us, but from Christ.
Our infinite God joyfully welcomes not only his strongest saints, but lovingly carries the weakest of his fold. And he invites us who are weak to come to him with our feeble hearts, minds, and bodies.
Are you facing any common hard things today? Bring your burdens to God and witness the boundless compassion and infinite power our loving Heavenly Father. Hear the voice of Jesus. He is unwilling to send you away hungry.