In recent years I've noticed a sharp increase in the language of "struggle." We don't say that we have "sinned" in a particular area; we say we are "struggling" with it. Whether the increase is actual or just my perception is a question I will leave aside for the time being. What interests me is identifying what this word actually means in religious discourse.
I suggest that the meaning of "struggling" lies somewhere between "sinning" and "suffering."
To struggle is not the same as to sin. That should be obvious. But what is confusing about the two terms is that "struggle" is often used in conjunction with particular "sins." For instance, it is not uncommon for someone to say they are struggling with pornography. Assuming pornography-use is a sin in some sense, what could it possibly mean to struggle with pornography? Does this mean someone is using pornography? If so, would that action not be a sin to confess? But to say one is struggling with pornography lessens the blow. This way one is not confessing a sin to be forgiven; rather, he is sharing of an aspect of his journey.
To struggle is not the same as to suffer. That too should be obvious. But it is confusing again because the term "struggle" often refers to situations of suffering. Following the same example, someone says they are struggling with pornography in the sense of an addiction. Sure, they may be using pornography. But the focus is not on the behavior in this case. The focus is on the fact that they are trapped in an addiction and trying to work their way out of it. But it is easier to say one is struggling because "suffering" sounds so weak and helpless. This way one is not admitting to suffer at the hands of another; rather, he is sharing problem which he is in the process of overcoming.
The alternative category of "struggling" is certainly helpful, especially because it makes it easier for people to be open to one another. We proud folk prefer to not admit that we are sinning or suffering. We don't want to look bad or weak. More importantly, such a category creates space for certain behaviors which fall short of the ideal Christian life but may be permissible as stages along life's way. Addictions in particular are good candidates for this kind of alternative category. Whether the example of pornography should be placed in this category is another matter. What can be affirmed is that "struggle" is at least a logically plausible alternative category to "sin."
The problem is that the language of struggle threatens to overextend its use so that sin and suffering language disappear altogether (or at least are relegated to extreme cases). Without both the language of sin and suffering, we will be left to ourselves as "strugglers." Why? Because sinners and sufferers need salvation. Sin and suffering imply a dependency on someone else to solve the problem. Not so for strugglers. Strugglers do not need saved. Strugglers do it on their own. Even when they ask for help, they are in control of the situation. Struggling is ultimately about me, my problems, and my solution to those problems.
So I conclude that the language of "struggling" can be a useful category between sin and suffering, but should not be allowed to swallow up these other two indispensable terms.
How do you use the language of struggling, sinning and suffering?
Would you differ with my description?
Do you see any additional advantages to the language of struggle?
Do you see any additional disadvantages to the language of struggle?
What else is lost by the decreased use of sin and suffering language?