A few years ago this phrase was co-opted to make fun of “first world problems”; per the Urban Dictionary:
Tom: I had to walk to class today because my bike got a flat tire.
Adam: Must’ve been real hard, man.
Tom: Yeah. The struggle is real.
The phrase originated in the biblical Genesis. Jacob was fleeing from his father-in-law because of wrongs he had committed. In the dark, exhausted and alone, Jacob has the fight of his life with an angelic stranger. They wrestle until daybreak, at which point the stranger inflicts upon Jacob a blow that disables him for the rest of his life. For Jacob, The Struggle Is Real. Christians believe Jacob’s wrestling with God that dark night reminds us of this Christian truth: As believers in Christ, we may well struggle with Him through the loneliness of night, but by daybreak His blessing will come.
But when I saw this little poster, with those words, I didn’t know about the first world meme, or Jacob and his struggles. I thought about how much we minimize or even dismiss the very real struggles of people who are not like us. Perhaps we don’t do this deliberately, but we do it nonetheless, because it is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and disconcerting to recognize the struggle of, say, women who work to have a voice and to be safe among men, or people who work hard yet still battle poverty and ill-health, or families in distant places who are caught up in bloody conflict not of their making, or the often dangerous discrimination that gay people deal with daily, not just in fundamentalist communities but in homes, schools, and workplaces.
These struggles are not conceptual or imaginary. They are not just editorial articles of passing interest, or injustices to be filed away in a tidy corner of our mind, or something we push away because we feel it is out of our control. Maybe, like the biblical Jacob, we can wrestle through the night, our selfish impulses vs a life of actual good works, and let the good win.
We are capable of understanding and taking action, because the struggle is real.