Why Does God Make Life So Hard? And What He Wants Us to Do About It

The early 90’s were a rough time for me. I had moved my family from a difficult financial situation in Minnesota, to a worse situation in Georgia. Our long-term plans died on the vine. I was under-employed working two part-time jobs. Debt and bills were always a problem. We lived paycheck to paycheck. We had two small kids, one inconsistent income, and zero health insurance.

To make matters worse, it seemed like everyone around me was prospering. I remember taking my son to T-ball games and discovering that, apparently, normal Dads of 5-year-olds drive a new Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes. Now, I didn’t envy their cars per sé. But, being around such prosperity was like salt in a wound when, for me, just trying to make ends meet was so…



Then, we received a glimmer of hope. Our pastor told us that an anonymous someone in the congregation wanted to help us financially. They knew we were in transition and struggling financially. That someone asked the pastor to meet with us and assess our needs. We didn’t know what to say. We had numbers in our heads (involving 4 digits) that we thought could solve all our problems, but we didn’t want to say as much. Our instinct was to just wait and see what God would do. You can imagine how high our hopes were.

Then our pastor dropped by to see us again. This time, he had an envelope. He left it with us. We opened it.

It held one, single, hundred dollar bill.


I should have been grateful for this person’s generosity. I should have been humbled. I should have been encouraged that God knew our need and cared about my family.

But, I wasn’t.

It felt like a $100 slap in the face. I felt like God was making fun of me, playing a cruel game. I was so, so mad at God. Instead of being encouraged by this gift, my frustration and depression only deepened.

That was 20+ years ago, and there was a lot wrong with my thinking back then: self-centered, ungrateful young man. But, it’s hard not to be self-centered and ungrateful when times are tough. It’s easy to be absorbed with the frustration you feel every moment of every day.


You know what it’s like: It’s that bill collector, that task you can’t get right, that car that broke down again, that medical condition, that bad temper, that same old stupid mistake, that unreasonable boss, that manipulative parent, that same argument with your spouse, that sin you worry about first thing each morning. Like the so-called Chinese water torture, frustration can be a constant, gnawing, absorbing, dripping ache on your brain.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be rid of it?

Of course, you can’t. Life’s problems are here to stay. They only change; they don’t go away.

But you can learn to respond to them better and enjoy life more. You can learn be less frustrated by your problems and more satisfied with your life.

Here’s a few things that have really helped me live a more satisfied life.


A wise person will admit: frustration is simply part of the human condition. It’s part of the curse of our eviction from Eden. We are in exiles in a difficult world. You can read about it in Genesis 3. The first man and woman trusted themselves instead of God, so God drove them from his protecting presence. The Apostle Paul, reflecting on this, taught that God subjected all of creation to frustration (Romans 8:20). That includes me and you. The Westminster Shorter Catechism aptly calls this our fall into sin and misery. (Click the WSC link and check out questions 17-20.)

Why would God do this?—So we would realize our lives are meaningless and broken without Him at the center of it. The few people who experience only comfort and ease rarely perceive their true need for God. Frustration should cause us to look outside ourselves for rescue from this broken world. It should teach us this simple bit of wisdom: Life isn’t supposed to be this way, and only a return to God will fix it.


Make sure your desires and motives don’t deserve to be frustrated.

Are you:

  • Trying to control or manipulate someone?
  • Pursuing a goal that God forbids?
  • Making an idol of something or someone to the point you feel empty without it?
  • Pursuing the constant win, win, win, as if that’s the ultimate goal in life.

No one gets this 100% right 100% of the time. So, we should frequently re-evaluate our plans, behaviors, and motives. Unrighteousness can creep into our hearts unnoticed, like mold in a damp basement.

And frustration will follow. God will see to it.


What’s the secret contentment?

It is, to see your life in God’s hands and to trust Him absolutely with every detail. Whatever He gives. Whatever he withholds. Whether you consider it blessing or curse. You have what you have in life as God wills, no more, no less. That is your lot. Trust Him. Thank Him.

It’s hard, I know. But it must be done.

Contentment with God’s will is the foundation of happiness and godliness in this average life. Paul spoke of contentment as a tremendous gain to the quality of one’s life (1 Timothy 6:6).

The alternative is resentment and deepening frustration.


Along with contentment, learn gratitude. Learn that everything good is gift. Everything. Even many hard things are gifts.

Gratitude has the great benefit of attracting friends. Friends are eager encouragers, supporters and helpers in time of need.

Only don’t adopt the fake, just for show, hash-tag-blessed sort of gratitude. Real gratitude generates real humility about oneself, real joy in one’s circumstances, and real compassion for others’ difficulties.


Money can alleviate a struggle. Money can make life more pleasant. Money can buy relaxation, comfort, and pleasure. Money can even buy health.

But money can not buy joy in life. That’s pretty common knowledge but we all seem to ignore it. Only humility, contentment and gratitude generate joy.


If your hope is for, as Joel Osteen famously wrote, your best life now; you are doomed to frustration.

God’s promise is for your best life then.

Imagine that God was your genie in the bottle and you had all you could wish for in this life: comfort, pleasures, power, and immortality. You would essentially be the Adam and Eve they dreamed of before that first bite. You would never care about righteousness, holiness, or communion with God. You would look inward for your highest good and believe there was no good other than yours. Your immortal comforts would become ashes and dust to you. They would lose their charms. For you were made to experience ultimate joy and satisfaction by praising the goodness of another: your Maker.

This frustrating life is meant to teach us that. This is why the gospel is so inviting.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you [eternal] rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find [sabbath] rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28–30, emphasis mine

Do you have ears?


You may also find help reading:

8 Life Changing Resolutions for Frustrated Christians

God’s Will and Your Big, Stupid Mistakes

Dreams, Disappointment, Hope, and Why This Blog Is Called “Average Us”

Well over a decade ago, a good friend challenged me with this question:

What do you dream about?

I remember feeling creases deepen on my brow as I answered emphatically, and somewhat bitterly,

I don’t dream. I’ve had enough disappointment already.

This post is about why I stopped dreaming, how I eventually discovered that hope in God is better than my dreams, and why this blog is called Average Us.


Follow your passion.

Pursue excellence.

Chase your dreams.

Dream big.

Believe in yourself.

Be awesome!

Sound familiar?

I’ve heard messages like these most of my life. Advertisements. Motivational Gurus. Preachers. Bloggers. All urging me to chase something which I’m not—but could be—because the potential, they say, lies within me:

The potential to be great.

And my over-stuffed ego believed it. Too much.

Like those who built the tower of Babel, I dreamed of making a name for myself, of leaving my mark on the world, at least, in the church world.


And so, I dreamed the dream of awesome…

but quickly found I wasn’t.

Instead, I found that I was mistake prone (e.g. I made bad decisions), that mistakes have consequences, and that consequences can last for years.

I found that life is hard. Things don’t go your way. You have to pay your dues, and start at the bottom (sometimes more than once).

I found that no one makes it alone, and that I was a poor bridge builder.

I found that I really wasn’t all that. I wasn’t as smart, or gifted, or talented, or winsome, or influential, or confident, or wise, or tenacious, or inspiring, or cool-under-pressure, or stable, or energetic, or great…

as I thought I was.

So, by the time I was in my late-thirties, I was a disillusioned former pastor reluctantly beginning an IT career, wondering miserably who I was. I felt like twenty years of dreams just withered and blew away. The only thing awesome about me was the size of my identity crisis.

And my biggest fear?—was that soon my son would be old enough to realize his dad was a loser.

What do you dream about? my friend asked.

Dream? Ha! I dreamed about not feeling bitter.


I’m not alone am I? Some of you can identify with my disappointment with life.

You and I live in a society of dreamers. That’s pretty much the promise of America: You can achieve your dream. American books and blogs and music and magazines stick awesome in your face and tell you how you can be that, too. In school, kids are told they can be anything they want to be. In church, they hear how God will do amazing things with their lives. In college, the graduation speaker tells them to dream big and make a difference in the world.

But, in spite of what we’re told, in spite of whatever intellect, charm, or creativity we may possess, and even if you don’t fail like I did, most of us have to settle for much less than our dreams promised.


So, what are we supposed to do? Just be that disappointed 40-year-old me who wouldn’t dream? Are we just supposed to give up on our dreams?

We could. For a long time, I did.

But maybe, my dreams were just… wrong?

Since I was 16 I had professed to be a Christian, but my dreams were all about me being a messiah. While saying I belonged to God, I, like Adam and Eve, dreamed of being a god. My dreams were all about who I could be and what I could do. I forgot that I was just a bit-actor on God’s stage.

Instead of dreaming about how I could be awesome, I needed to dream about the One who is. Instead of dreaming of what I could do (or even of what God might do through me), I needed to dream about what God has done, of what He is doing, of what He promises to do.

I needed to embrace my own averageness, placing my dreams and hopes in the truth that God alone is great and awesome.

In fact, I needed to learn that God is great, even when my life isn’t.


I dreamed the dream of awesome, and found I wasn’t. I’m not. I won’t be. And most importantly, I’m not supposed to be.

And if that’s the case, then embracing my averageness and God’s greatness will have to look something like this in my life. You could call these my new ambitions, my new dreams:

1. Significance: I must look for significance in the mere fact that by God’s grace alone I belong to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, and not in anything I can be, or achieve.

2. Contentment: I must learn to be content in every situation He ordains for me, whether joy or sorrow, because I know God is great, and I belong to Him. My achievements, talents, personal appearance, public image, self image, skills, knowledge, influence, popularity, and wealth must have no connection to my contentment in Him.

3. Usefulness: My desire must be to be found found useful to Him in any way He chooses, and to be helpful, reliable, and compassionate to those He brings into my life, whether I receive their recognition or not.

4. Growth: I must become ever more attentive to God’s work in the world, and God’s message to the world, so that I may become more useful to Him, and more helpful to others.


The thing that most helped me to dream these new dreams was a valuable lesson I learned at a men’s retreat:

Whatever problem you face, find a verse in the Bible that addresses it. Memorize that verse. Turn it into a prayer. Write it down. And pray it every single day.

My problem was disappointment over how my life had turned out, but Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 teaches that we can find enjoyment in God’s simple provisions of life: food, drink and work.

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

So, for three years I prayed a prayer which I drew from this passage:

Father, please match my gifts, skills, interests, and education with my source of income, and let me be useful to you whatever I do.

God heard. God answered. (That’s another story).

But it was the praying that got to me.

Prayer was what taught me, slowly, bit-by-bit, to hope in God, not myself; to be content to be average, not dream of greatness.

That’s how I learned to trust

God is great, even when life isn’t.