Your spouse's job was recently downsized, your children are struggling at school and your elderly parents require almost constant attention. Dealing with the tough stuff of life can bring anxiety and even despair. As a parent and pastor, Charles Swindoll is well acquainted with the struggles of life. In his new book, Getting Through the Tough Stuff of Life, he doesn't provide simplistic answers to our struggles, but invites us to meet Christ in the midst of them. Read more from our recent interview.
JC: What compelled you to write this particular book now?
Swindoll: Well I think the common misconception in the lives of those who are initially becoming aware of the message of Christ is that if I will trust in Him, all of our problems are solved and most of life’s difficulties will go away. And as my subtitle describes, it’s always something. There will always be something and even having Christ in ones life does not relieve me from the age-old battle. There will always be something. Obviously I wanted to write to the book and confront them head on. And if you’re not perfect at least Christ is and because you know Him that somehow will rub off and that will make all the bad stuff go away. No more temptation, no more anxiety, no more shame, no more doubt, no possibility of divorce and none of that is true. I wrote it to bring us all back to reality.
JC: Would you say there are some overarching principles that cut across the topics in chapters?
Swindoll: Sure. One is that regardless of the issue, the answer is going to be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s one if the overarching principles that will be true. He will meet you at whatever crossroads you are at in life. Another is no matter how hard your try, how spiritual you become, you cannot and you will not be immune from life’s difficulties. I would say the third principle is being human and going through the problems does not mean you are unspiritual. There may be one more, because Jesus has gone through the whole spectrum of the realm of pain, the reality of misunderstanding and the powers of life, He has an understanding of what you’re going through better than anyone else, so bringing Him into it is not introducing Him to something He’s not familiar with. As a matter of fact it’s tapping into strength and insight and direction that He can give like no one else.
JC: Is there anything that we can do as Christians to prepare us for the tough times in life?
Swindoll: Sure. First is to be aware that they will come, not to be surprised. Peter writes of that, “Don’t take it strange concerning the firing trial is this some strange thing happened unto you.” That doesn’t mean I wake up in the morning and I think ok I wonder how many bad things are gonna happen to me. It means when I wake up I realize I’m waking up in a real world and difficult things are very likely to occur. Living without a difficulty is a rarity so facing that is a helpful thing. I think also when you approach life like that you will not be sidelined or lose your sense of humor or sense of stability when they happen. As a result of telling yourself this will occur, life is like this you’re able to step up and even do well through it if the attitude is what it outta be. Life is 90% attitude and 10% what happens to you. It occurs but how you respond to it is the big part of life.
JC: Can you explain how you came to the particular topics in your book?
Swindoll: All right, there are 14 topics I chose and there are Insight for Living ministry which we have conducted now for over 25 years, I’m in close touch with our counseling team and in 41 years of ministry in a church, willing this year 42 years, I’ve made mental notes, if you will, of the most frequently mentioned issues in life that have been brought to our attention. They have not necessarily any order or importance dealt with them and I’m sure it is not an exhaustive list but these would be the top 12-14 that people will call us about in our radio ministry or talked to a counselor or a pastor about in a church.
JC: How can people get through the tough stuff or natural disasters or unexpected calamities?
Swindoll: It’s curious that you mention that because when the tsunami hit I thought too bad my book is all ready published. We have to address natural disasters. I do talk about disasters in my book about Job, which happened to him. He lost his children; it was a natural disaster that took the lives of all 10 of Job’s children. The first and foremost is the first perspective that God is receptive. His silence doesn’t mean He doesn’t care. God originally established a perfect world, if I could do a little theological sidebar here, and the perfect world was called the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve enjoyed the beauty and the harmony and the lack of conflict. They didn’t even have thorns in their garden. It was perfect. God’s atmosphere was perfect, life was perfect. When sin came our life to a turn in the wrong direction and consequences were set in motion that not even God will remove. With the coming of sin and the dark atmosphere that surrounds sinfulness, there are consequences. You do wrong, you suffer. The nature that is prone to wander, to disobey, there are consequences to go with that.
And in the natural world, there is a curse that has fallen on the natural world and if look at life in the horizontal perspective you’re whole thing is built on a false premise. God should be making me happy, making me comfortable, lining my pockets and protecting me from problems. If you look at life on the vertical perspective I realize it’s not about me. It’s about the glory of God and if somehow in all of this something comes form this that turns to Gods greater glory if nothing more than the awareness that life is out of our control, w e can’t stop it. Nobody could stop those waves. No one can stop the earth from its tremors when the earthquake hits. No one can stop death if it’s our time. So it’s a reminder that God is still in full control and claiming His sovereign presence does at least bring me, deliver me from the feeling that this is just senseless and cruel act of empty fate. And I’m a victim of that, I’ve been slammed in the back by some deity out there that doesn’t care, has a cavalier attitude and all that. You don’t go there when you’ve got a strong faith in Christ.
Let me add here, we don’t know. I don’t know and I can wish to other things why oh why was there a Holocaust? How could that have been? Unfolding and run its course and those millions of lives obliterated, murdered. Elie Weisel says in his book, Night, “Where was God? Where was God?” Well that’s a tough one. He was there and permitted that to happen. It was His permissive will which is beyond us and therefore falls in the category of another book I wrote called A Mystery of God’s Will. It’s part of the mystery, the unfolding of His will.
JC: What are some tough things you have faced in your life and what did you learn from them?
Swindoll: Yes we have had over the years terrible disappointments in our lives. We have gone through the sadness of one of children walking away from a marriage and all the embarrassment and shock and surprise that went with that. Now the good news is this adult has come back to the Lord and probably has never loved Him more than now. So there’s good news there but when you go through the experience of a prodigal you learn what it means to hurt. I would add too that when you’re living in my world, you’re a pretty big target to criticism, you live misunderstood. People jump to wrong conclusions, things are said about you or against you that you can’t make right cuz you can’t get to them. All you could do is take it. You just take and let the Lord deal with it then. All that is healthy, keeps you from pride. It reduces you to a realization that you like everybody else is dependent on the One who can get you through times like that.
JC: Anything else you’d like to add about the book?
Swindoll: The only thing that I would want to make very clear is that a person who isn’t a Christian will still feel comfortable reading this book. You don’t have to be a strong churchgoer or involved in some spiritual discipleship group to appreciate this book. It’s written from the perspective that life’s really coming unraveled. It’s tough, it’s always something. And in light of it there are answers that you maybe haven’t thought of but the book isn’t preachy. It doesn’t make you feel stupid if you don’t agree with every principle. There’s room in it to think on your own, I’d put it that way. I deliberately wrote that [chapter on doubt] defending Thomas. I think Thomas has gotten a bad rap. He’s always known as doubting Thomas. What’s interesting is that when Jesus finally did encounter him and Thomas said to go on record, “If I could touch Him and feel those scars I will not believe.” And when Jesus got to him he didn’t say shame on you, Thomas! He said, “Here touch these scars. Here’s my side, put your hand right here on my side and see, see for yourself.” I love it that He did not rebuke Thomas for his struggle. So the book does not make you feel less about yourself because you go through tough times.
Charles Swindoll currently leads Stonebriar Community Churchin Frisco, Texas, and is chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. For more information about the book, Getting Through the Tough Stuff, visit the Thomas Nelson website. To learn more about Swindoll's ministry, visit Insight for Living. You can listen to a recent broadcast on OnePlace.com