Be Careful What You Wish For
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope doesn’t put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. - Rom. 5:3-5
If we could, most of us would choose to avoid pain, never face disease, avert loss, crisis, difficulties or problems. We’re sure that would go a long way toward making our lives “perfect.”
And the philosophy of our culture today would agree with us. In fact, it would push us to do everything possible to achieve our own personal peace and comfort, regardless of the cost of our actions to those around us or to our own integrity, ethics, morals, standards of conduct, or to who or what we’d become.
Basically, today we’re told to ditch, scuttle, abort, remove, divorce or avoid whatever is a bother, burden, heavy work or hindrance to whatever kind of freedom we want to pursue, so we can do whatever it is we feel like doing.
Even when we pray, for ourselves or others, our prayers generally include petitions to remove us from situations or circumstances involving pain, disease or discomfort. We wish we could just eliminate these things from our lives. We don’t like to suffer.
(And certainly, there is some suffering in this world – that which comes as the result of great evil, cruelty and abuse, that should never have to be faced, never have to be endured, never have to be named on this earth and which destroys in the most heinous manner the lives of those it touches. That’s not the suffering I’m talking about here.)
Truth is, though, we only learn certain lessons and develop certain character traits through the sufferings we experience.
A butterfly, if helped from its cocoon by human hands in order to eliminate some of its terrible struggle, emerges stunted, unable to fly. Leprosy, that dreaded disease which results in deformed and misshapen bodies and the castigation from society of those who contract it, is, at its core, a disease which attacks the nerve endings in the body and eliminates sensations, including the sensation of pain. So, when injuries occur, the brain doesn’t recognize the danger, and the body reaps the consequences.
In heaven, God tells us there will be no more tears, no more pain and suffering. But, here, on earth, we grow, we learn, we become, through the things we suffer. Without suffering, there’s never a need to learn endurance, patience, longsuffering, forgiveness, selflessness, compassion, mercy, tenacity, diligence, the ability to overcome or any of the other character traits we so admire and which make our world a better place to live.
In all of nature, the things we most value, find most beautiful, treasure most, are the result of pressure, suffering, difficulty or trial – not the result of what’s perfect, easy, pressure or care free. Coal becomes diamonds through years of intense pressure. Sand becomes a pearl because of the irritation it causes the oyster. Strength, whether physical, mental or spiritual, comes from continually working the muscles, mind or spirit, denying them the comfort they seek and forcing them past the limits they think they can endure. Waterfalls, gorges, canyons, new growth on plants, smooth and precious stones … all are the result of pressure, death to something, the chipping away of edges or rough spots through continual sanding or interface with another substance that rubbed, wore away, eroded or reduced.
Without suffering and the things it produces in us, we stay shallow in our thinking and character, self-centered, one-dimensional, stunted, unable to think about anyone but ourselves, prickly and full of rough edges. Without suffering and pain, we never realize how fragile, needy and desperate we are or reach up to find God, whose grace is sufficient for all our need.
So, be careful before you wish away what may produce the most beautiful, satisfying, deepest, most accomplished parts of you yet. Instead of praying for God to simply remove the pain and suffering from the life of someone you love, think about praying for Him to accomplish the most good possible for that person through the pain and suffering being experienced, so that he or she emerges from it better for having gone through it.
And be grateful … grateful that suffering isn’t for nothing, that it can have purpose and meaning and can produce something far beyond the pain you may be feeling at the moment.