Our struggles tempt us to turn in on ourselves. Luther referred to this as incurvatus in se, or a life lived turned inward. Whether it is a struggle such as depression or anxiety, a battle with an ongoing sin or a difficult relationship, we are often tempted to turn inwards on ourselves.
This inward curving looks different depending on the person. It can be a stoic resolve to muster enough strength to get ourselves through our trouble. It can also be a plunge into deep despair, believing that there is nothing or no one that can help. It can show up as hopeless and godless fear, intense anger, or escape. Regardless of the form it takes, this incurving can be a vicious vortex that continues to spiral when left unchecked.
What is the opposite of this inward curving? I want to suggest three deliberate movements we can all take regardless of the trouble in which we find ourselves. It is important to note that these movements do not make the problems necessarily go away, nor do they always lessen the extent to which we feel the weight of our troubles. Yet they are the fruit of faith, and are things each of us can do as we navigate the struggles of life on this side of the New Creation.
Turn #1–Look Up to the Lord
Pour out your heart to the Lord. Tell him what you are going through, how are you feeling and responding, and ask him for his help. Here are a few verses (of many!):
Psalm 121:1–2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 18:6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
Psalm 120:1 In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.
Turn #2–Look Out Towards Others
First, share what you are going through with others so that they can pray for you and bear the burden with you.
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed
Second, ask how you can pray for them and how you can serve them. The beauty of life in Christ’s body is that we are always needy and needed.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words…
2 Corinthians 13:11 Comfort one another…
Galatians. 5:13–14 Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Turn #3–Look Around at Creation
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Those who know me well know that I am often oblivious to God’s beauty around me. I tend to walk with my head down, and concentrate on the next step in front of me. Over the last few months, I have worked at looking up. I take my dog for an early morning walk, and I have tried to be more intentional about seeing God’s beauty. In return, God has blessed me with sky colors I have never before noticed, rays coming from the sun that I thought only existed in artwork, and even starry skies that have taken my breath away. This beauty has had at least two effects: one, I have been reoriented to the Lord’s glory and strength. And two, I have been reminded that he also cares for me according to the following verses:
Psalm 8:3–5 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Matthew 6:26–30 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Life can be very hard, and it is tempting to turn inwards. But God promises to help, and he promises very tangible mercy and grace in our time(s) of need. This week, in the midst of your particular struggles, might you take time to look up, look out, and look around? These looks will not make your problems disappear, but they will reorient your heart and strengthen your faith.