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Discipleship During Difficult Seasons: Following Christ's Example in Suffering

A Note from Mary Margaret West: Discipleship isn’t easy. Lindsay reminds us to look to Jesus as we lead girls, no matter the circumstance. It would be really easy for us to unload more than we should on them under the guise of transparency. As you keep your eyes fixed on Him, ask for wisdom and discernment, especially as you navigate difficult seasons.

Here is how I wish to write the formula for discipleship:

My season of sunshine days and smooth waters + Whatever situation or struggle my girls walk through = My full capacity to shoulder their burden and provide Biblical wisdom without fatigue

I hope you did not make it far past the fourth word in that sentence without pausing. Because, of course, the equation for discipleship looks nothing like that formula. Often, it is messy, lacks structure and the only thing it’s guaranteed to add up to is God’s strength glorified in my weakness. Sometimes my very weak, weakness. This month – my very weak, weakness.

Recently, in conversation with a close friend, I asked her opinion on authentically sharing disappointments and trials with your girls without passing them any share of the burden.

“How do we do this well?”

I wanted a plan.

She reminded me of the perfect example.

“Look at what Jesus did.”

Of course. (Small grin. Faint chuckle.) And then, I did.

For the days (or weeks, or months) when your discipleship formula has flipped and twisted in ways you never dreamed, let us, together, look to Jesus’ example of suffering and discipleship.

I am encouraged that Jesus invited His disciples into the untidy in-between. He could have kept them in the dark until the victory of resurrection, but He did not. He gave them glimpses of the suffering ahead, although they did not understand fully, at that time. He invited them to follow in His suffering and anguish, not just parade in His triumph. There is value here that I don’t want to miss. I could wait until a trial passes to tell my girls anything, but I think we miss opportunities to point them to Jesus when we present this filtered view of our own lives.

In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus is moments away from his betrayal and arrest, and the disciples are WITH Him. As we read this passage, we see the disciples did not add much support to the situation, in fact Jesus tells them multiple times to stay awake. The disciples must not be present to resolve a circumstance but to watch Jesus.

Jesus is sharing this moment to show them how to depend on God in the midst of suffering, and He is intentionally sharing this moment:

“And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37, ESV)

Jesus did not turn around and gasp in shock to find his disciples nearby. He did not put on a stoic face, embarrassed for them to see emotion. He intentionally invited them along, honest about his emotions, but He never asked them to carry part of His burden. Instead, He goes to His heavenly Father in prayer.

“Jesus went further with the Lord than he took any man.” (Matthew 26:39)

Ladies, we can’t miss this truth or we will quickly entangle our girls in burdens not meant for their shoulders! The Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ prayer-soaked moment in the garden this way, “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.” (Luke 22:39, ESV)

Sister, we must have a regular habit of making the Lord our first and ultimate confidant when confronted with suffering. Under pressure, our habits will flow freely into a situation. If venting to a human being is our first response to a trial, we cannot expect our good boundaries to hold forever with the girls we disciple. We must have a regular discipline of carrying everything before our Father, or we risk a great chance that we lay a burden on our girls that is not theirs to carry. Discipleship requires discipline.

Jesus could safely bring His disciples with Him, because He knew His safety and security was wrapped in the arms of His Father and not any man.

So, how do we do this well?

We follow Jesus’ example. We bring those we disciple close enough so that they can see us going fully before God with the weight of our suffering. We bring them close enough to see it is our custom to go to our Father in honesty, not pretense. We bring them close enough to see God carry our sorrow, so they understand that the shouts of victory are gifts from God alone.

We invite them to “share in Christ’s sufferings, that [they] may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13, ESV)

Lindsay Smith is a follower of Jesus living in Texas. She is the wife of a football coach and the mom of a precious son, who joined their family through the miracle of adoption. She is a writer, coffee connoisseur, and “expert” shoe shopper. For the last decade, she has been discipling teenage girls and believes God is doing a mighty work in the next generation. Connect with Lindsay: Instagram