Updated February 12, 2020
When was the last time you faced a difficult situation?
Do you remember how you felt? Were you afraid you wouldn’t be able to manage it?
Maybe you're dealing with one right now and find yourself wondering if you have what it takes to get through it. At some point, we’ve all encountered something we didn’t think we could endure—something too big for us.
When the economy forced me to close my business in 2010, I filed my final tax return to make it official. There were more than a few sleepless nights as I waited on my accountant to call me with the grand total. And “grand” it was. Seventeen of them, to be exact.
A Dark Cloud Looms
I had no idea how in the world I was going to pay off a $17,000 tax bill. I didn’t have the cash sitting in the bank and couldn’t borrow enough money to buy a pack of gum. Fortunately, the IRS agreed to settle by putting me on a four-year payment plan with monthly installments.
Making that payment each month was painful. I was just trying to get back on my feet and it was all I could do to scrape up enough money to put gas in the car and buy food. I found a job that paid me $600 a week but it was seasonal, which meant I would be out of work at the end of the summer. Of course, the IRS would still be expecting their money each month.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t ignore the dark cloud called Taxes that loomed over me, casting a shadow on every facet of my life.
There was no quick solution to my problem. Many days, I found myself doubting that I would ever breathe fresh air again. I felt like giving up. It seemed that the only thing I had to show for the several years of my life was a tax bill.
A Lesson in Perseverance
It’s not always the desert itself that makes the journey painful, it’s the time we spend in it.
It’s interesting—and unfortunate—that a small thing can become larger-than-life when we’re tired. Big things become insurmountable. Fatigue magnifies the pain and just enduring the circumstances until you the reach the other side of the desert is a victory in itself.
We’ll usually live to overcome most of the challenges we face, but it’s enduring it that often requires much more of us. Let no one convince you otherwise. The desire to give up doesn’t mean you’re a weak person nor should you be ashamed of thinking it. You must have grace for yourself when you get discouraged and want to quit. In fact, wrestling with the idea is part of the survival process but it doesn’t make you a quitter.
During this time in my life, I realized that what I really wanted was to avoid facing the problem head on, just wanting it to go away, despite knowing that it wouldn’t. But sometimes, we have to walk things out, like it or not. God is still good and the past doesn’t define your future, but everyone alive will be forced to deal with difficulties. We will bring most of these on ourselves and be an innocent victim at other times. Nevertheless, none of us are immune.
They say adversity doesn’t define character, it reveals it. I agree but it’s also true that our experiences help shape who we are. Being forced to endure a difficult situation can affect you in ways you never thought possible. It can also help you gain perspective on what’s important and what isn’t.
I saw that debt as a tall, rocky mountain I was forced to climb. The peak seemed so unattainable and the thought of getting started was intimidating. That’s when God showed up.
It was as if I heard Him say, “Just start climbing the mountain.”
You don’t climb a mountain by starting at the top or half-way up. You begin at the base, put one foot on solid ground and pull yourself up to the next point. You keep doing that, again and again, taking breaks when you have to, until you reach the top.
And so, I started climbing.
I got focused on my job and on doing it well. I knew God would provide another one at the end of that season and He did. Though it would take years to pay my debt, I focused on making one payment at a time, making sure the taxes were the first bill paid each month. I didn’t think about how far I had to go, I just kept climbing.
I paid the IRS off in three-and-a-half years. Every penny of it. I had finally reached the peak of the mountain—a place, many days, I wondered if I would ever see.
The next time you’re standing at the base of a mountain, consumed by its shadow, don’t let it overwhelm you. Don’t let it depress you, defeat you, and most of all—don't panic! Take a deep breath and pray for God to help you along the way.
Then, start climbing.
You’ll make progress, slowly at first and then more, which will build the confidence you need to overcome that huge obstacle in your path. Don't worry about how far you have to climb—stay focused on pulling yourself up to the next point and you’ll eventually reach the top.
Trust God with the rest.
There’s not much you can do to prevent the situation after it has occurred. Save that energy because you’ll need it. You never know how long the journey across the desert will be and you will be changed by it, for the better or worse. But you have more control over that than it may seem at first.
Starting with that first day of my climb, I always wondered what it would be like when I got to the top.
But at that moment, I knew. It was peaceful.