Last year, I was telling a friend how tired and unmotivated I felt. Since I was physically laid low, I wanted to at least accomplish some reading or prayer. But my failed attempts reminded me that my suffering was affecting my whole person—body, mind, and spirit. I was unproductive and felt guilty for it. I was exhausted and cranky.
Worst of all, my unproductive days had a common explanation: a healthy first-trimester of pregnancy. I couldn’t claim that something unusual had sapped my strength and fogged my brain. I was simply experiencing what thousands of women also endure.
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 that I, and others like me, often have trouble responding to: common, hard things—situations that are difficult but seem minor. Morning sickness, college exams, relational stresses, financial uncertainties, low-level anxiety. These, and many other trials, seem like mundane, run-of-the-mill troubles. And while some 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 them?
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 on our trials. We hear reports of war abroad, see injustice in our country, and watch as people face terminal illnesses in our churches. 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 is that Jesus does care about common, hard things, and he showed it when he walked on this earth. 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, but Jesus performs a miracle, feeding 4,000-plus with seven baskets of leftovers.
I’d heard this story countless times before I, experiencing a common but hard heartbreak, picked up Jesus’s motivation for multiplying the bread and fish: “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).
Jesus, who’d fasted for 40 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 wouldn’t 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 40; you should be able to survive three.” He had compassion on them. And in the same way, he has compassion on us.
God Uses ‘Common’ Hard Things
God doesn’t just care deeply about our trials; he 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. They remind us of God’s infinite mercy and power.
If God were finite, he’d need to divide his attention between global crises and personal requests. As finite creatures, we feel this tension. The news cycle and our resulting “compassion fatigue” show our limited human capacity to care, much less act, in response to the suffering we witness in the world.
We often wrongly assume that God is like us, triaging the needs of billions and prioritizing the urgent ones first. But our heavenly Father is big enough to handle requests for his kingdom to come and for our daily bread. He is powerful enough to shoulder our troubles and the burdens of the world.
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 he provides in small ways that matter to me, and as I’m thanking him, I’m a little embarrassed. I’ve even called these requests “dumb” in my own mind. Recently, though, I’ve been trying to stop thinking of them as dumb and instead as “sparrow” requests, granted by the Father who cares for lowly sparrows and numbers the hairs on my head (Matt. 10:29–31).
Because God is infinitely powerful, no burden is too heavy. Because he is infinitely merciful, none is 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. They 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: serious illness, death of a loved one, persecution, and the like. But at times it can be harder to minister to people when they’re not as strong as we are, not “getting over” things as quickly as we would, or not adopting the attitude we think they should have.
We grow impatient with such sufferers. Perhaps we’re tempted to roll our eyes at a teenager’s heartbreak or wave off a younger mom’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 doesn’t dismiss our relatively small problems. Rather, because he was tempted in every way as we are, our High Priest sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).
3. They humble us so we can receive grace and give him glory.
The common trials of parenting have shown me how impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty I can be. But the most humbling thing hasn’t been seeing my sin; it’s been realizing how I’ve pridefully judged other parents for appearing impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty.
If my trials were uncommon and my suffering extreme, I might find a way to excuse my behavior. But being put through the daily, common temptations others face—and repeatedly failing—has humbled me.
Common, hard things have exposed my pride in my ability to resist temptation. 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 distracting myself with a screen. I didn’t think my ability to be reasonable and patient was rooted in my good health. And I didn’t think there was so much pride and judgment lurking in my heart.
The most humbling thing hasn’t been seeing my sin; it’s been realizing how I’ve pridefully judged other parents.
“God opposes the proud,” Peter writes, “but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). It’s scary to think about being opposed by God. But as children of God, we can take comfort in knowing our Father loves us enough to humble us. He disciplines us not just to put us in our place, but also to give us grace: grace to depend on him, grace to seek his forgiveness, grace to grow in holiness. 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 his grace and to display his power (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.
Are you facing some common, hard things today? Bring your burdens to God, and witness the boundless compassion and infinite power of a heavenly Father. Hear the sympathetic voice of Jesus. He’s unwilling to send you away hungry.
A version of this article first appeared at Reformed Margins. Used with permission.