It is increasingly common with the millennial generation to joke about their responsibilities, their problems, their failures. Within moments on social media, you're sure to find endless content about the troubles of life cloaked in humor. We use it as an lighthearted avenue to show our friends and family what we are dealing with. We intend it to be funny, but is this the most helpful way to tell others about the realities of life?
What is Struggle Culture?
A dear friend of mine recently coined the term "struggle culture" to describe this epidemic and allowed me permission to write about it in this blog post (thanks Bella!). Struggle culture is essentially the act of romanticizing problems for a laugh or attention.
So, let's look a little more closely at this culture growing amidst young people. Some of you may be reading this with no clue what I am talking about. Here are a few examples, though it's certainly not limited to this:
What is the Problem?
I am not writing this as an attempt to fix or eliminate struggle culture in our generation. This is virtually impossible to accomplish and ultimately is not my concern.
I am writing this because there are young people who have been reconciled to God and know Him as their Lord and Savior, but choose to immerse themselves in this struggle culture regularly. And, I am most definitely not above it! I know I have glamorized my “struggle” more than I'd like to tell, for the sake of making someone laugh. Maybe you have fallen prey to this sin, and maybe you have not. However, we've all seen it somewhere.
Partaking in this romanticized complaining is sin for many reasons.
You may argue that it's harmless. However, struggle culture dishonors the Lord because when we focus our energies on expressing what has gone wrong in our lives, we are simply not focusing our energies on worshiping Him. In fact, we are (in subtext) complaining that He has not done enough or is doing us a disservice. You also may argue that since struggle culture is not technically negative, it isn't detrimental to your mindset or the mindsets of others. However, when we joke about bad situations, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are being positive about them. This is not necessarily the case. Christian, hear me out: it is not a sin to acknowledge your problems, but you must ask yourself where your heart lies when you share these problems publicly. In most cases, we partake in struggle culture with one goal: attention. Our motives are to get others to see us, to think we are hard-working, or strong, or funny. In no way are we pointing others to Christ when we do this. And when it comes to Him, our words and actions are either pointing others to Him or away from Him. There isn't a gray area!
Why is This Bad For the Christian Life?
God is holy, and we are not. We had been separated from God because of our sin, and faced His wrath. But, in His great love for us, He came in the form of man and died for our sins on the cross. Those who believe in God, confess Christ as their Savior, and repent of their sins will have eternal life and right relationship with Him. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Christian should turn from his or her old ways and live a life that worships God. Though the Christian will fall short in this, the Lord is all-sufficient and will sanctify the Christian in His perfect timing.
With all this said, there are some truths we must remind ourselves when we face the temptation to partake in struggle culture (I will spend some of my energy here referencing what God’s Word says; in some cases, I will not explain what the verses mean because I feel there is no explanation needed):
1. We are explicitly commanded by God to refrain from complaining.
Paul writes in Philippians that we are to "do all things without grumbling or disputing...." (Phil. 2:14). He also writes in Colossians, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Col. 3:17)
2. We are called to be set apart from the world.
Though we are surrounded by it, we must not succumb ourselves to the sinful nature of man. We are called to think, speak, and act differently than those who don't know Christ.
Second Timothy 2:21 says, "...if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work."
Peter writes to persecuted and estranged Christians in his epistle to encourage them that they are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)
Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your mind on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth."
In his letter 1 John, John writes, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15)
James warns against worldliness: "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:4)
3. We have a witness to uphold.
Emphasis on our problems for the sake of attention does not express a difference between those who love God and those who do not. When you are adopted into the family of God, your life is no longer your own! In beautiful submission to Christ, you must share His goodness with others. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus himself speaks to the crowds, saying, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
In short, because we have hope, we have no place complaining about the woes of life.
However, let me be very clear about what I am not saying.
How Can I Express the Realities of Life Without Partaking in Struggle Culture?
Life is difficult. We all experience brokenness, fear, struggle, and failure in various capacities, even as Christians. And it is okay to experience it and talk about it with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are commanded in scripture to call on the Lord in times of trouble. This is seen in Psalm 55:16-17; "But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice."
In 1 Peter 5:7, it says "[cast] your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."
The author of Hebrews writes, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
Our Savior wants us to go to Him with the woes of life. He should be the first thought when life gets rough, our first refuge in the wake of a storm. He knows what we face, and he loves us.
Not only are we commanded to look to Christ with each tribulation, but we are told in the Scriptures to seek community with the saints so that we can confess our sins and share our troubles. We were not created to be alone in this life; therefore, I want to be clear that there is a line between partaking in struggle culture and sharing your pain with the saints. It is good and healthy to talk about what ails us or afflicts us with close brothers and sisters who love us and will build us up.
Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."
Proverbs 28:13 says "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed."
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!"
We must also remind ourselves that the Lord is perfectly sovereign and in control, and uses our struggles to sanctify us. James 1:2-3 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers when you endure trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." When we reflect on that, our temptation to complain transforms into a desire to boast in the Lord.
If you know Christ, look to him at first sight of struggle. Lay your troubles at His feet and reflect on who He is and what He has done. If you do not know Him, I pray you would trust Him as your only hope and salvation today.
Whichever camp you are in, I pray you don't take my word for it. Search God's Word for yourself and know what it says about how to receive the struggles of life.