When I worked with Cru in college ministry, the staff would have a summer assignment in some other part of the world every year. I got to go to California, East Asia, Bosnia, Colorado, and Orlando. Others went elsewhere. Every two years, all the Cru staff went from their summer assignments to the staff conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. Meeting up with old friends, the conversation inevitably went like this:

“Where did you go this summer?”
“I was in Newport Beach.”
“Sweet!  How was it?”
“Oh, it was hard… but good!”

The “hard but good” line became a staple in conversation. I’m not sure how much of the line was an effort to try to gloss over what was hard (Christians are notorious for pretending like life with Jesus is always easy), and how much of it was surprise that it had been hard. At least for me, it was probably equal amounts of both.

I live in privileged circles where the fact that life is hard takes us by surprise. We get to adulthood and think, “Wait! I didn’t sign on for having trouble paying my bills and doing all the fun things in life I want to do! I didn’t sign on for relational difficulties that show me in full color how sinful I am!  I didn’t sign on for having to work long hours that make me exhausted!  I didn’t sign on for __________!”

I’ve thought a lot about expectations for life ever since a counselor challenged my expectations for Nagib when he and I were dating. The counselor told me that I couldn’t have any expectations for my then-boyfriend, because unmet expectations kill relationships.

I don’t agree with that assessment entirely, but I do think we would all be happier if we had more realistic expectations of one another and of life. Basically, expectations for constant brilliance will always be disappointed, and then you have an additional weight of shattered expectations to carry along with life’s burdens.

Because yes, life is hard.

Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter how privileged you are; you cannot escape life’s difficulties. And your expectation of life will shape how you are able to respond when life is hard. Are you shocked when it’s painful? Your shattered expectations will quickly lead you down the road of depression and bitterness. Are you surprised by this route of hard but not surprised that life has dealt you something troublesome? Your expectation that life is hard will have prepared you to deal with this difficulty.

We live outside the Garden of Eden. We are not yet in the new heavens and the new earth. We live in a time of redemption that is both now and not yet. No person is exempt from suffering in one way or another. The good news is that if we let it, suffering connects us to Christ, lifts our eyes to see his much greater glory (than our own petty desires for glory), and matures us to learn to live in compassion and love like our beautiful Savior.

The sooner we privileged people come to grips with the fact that life is hard, the sooner we will find that life is also truly, deeply glorious – and something even more glorious awaits us. Hard really can produce good.