We were visiting family in Iowa for Christmas. My Florida kids don’t often experience snow, so my in-laws suggested we go to a nearby ski area.
Everyone picked out their equipment and headed for the slopes. After numerous disastrous attempts to remain upright for more than five seconds at a time, I was tired of falling on my frozen backside. I wanted to end the public humiliation. So I set a wonderful example of perseverance for my children and retreated to the cozy comfort of the ski lodge and sipped on hot chocolate.
I really did want to ski. I just didn’t want to learn how to ski. I wanted to bypass the pain and go straight to ski slope princess.
My daughter, on the other hand, was a completely different story. After a few semi-successful snowboard runs on the bunny hill, she headed for a steeper, longer course.
After about 15 minutes, I realized that my girl was still slowly, painfully, making her way down the hill. Mostly on her behind. But she refused to give up.
At first, onlookers were pointing and laughing. But as they continued to witness her tenacity and perseverance, amusement turned to admiration. They started clapping and cheering her on until she finally, finally made it to the bottom of the hill.
With a big smile on her face, no less. She learned something about herself that day. She was not a quitter. The pain was worth the payoff.
Why do those satisfying moments of victory always come at cost? Personally, I’d rather skip the pain and just get to the payoff. But Romans 5:3-4 tells us that there’s no other way:
“… but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...”
Suffering leads to hope? What? It doesn’t make sense, does it? We often think of suffering leading to depression and despair. And, believe me, I know that’s usually part of the journey.
But it’s not where our journey has to end. When we choose — moment by moment — to put our trust in God as we walk painful paths, He reveals unexpected gifts. We learn things about ourselves. We learn things about Him. He leads us to hope:
Hope in who we can be
In Judges 6, God calls a man name Gideon to lead the Israelites into battle against an enemy that wants to destroy them. Gideon wasn’t the most likely choice. Look at his response: “But Lord,” … how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”
But do you know how the Lord addressed Gideon when He came to him? “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12) He calls him “mighty warrior.” At this point do you know how many battles that Gideon has led? Zero. Zip. None. Nada. But God saw who Gideon could be.
Growing up, I saw myself very much like Gideon. I didn’t feel like anyone special. I am the youngest in my family. I was shy, fearful and unsure of myself. I certainly didn’t feel equipped to fight lengthy battles of chronic illness and pain. I didn’t feel prepared to meet difficult, sometimes overwhelming challenges in my family life.
Slowly and patiently, He developed endurance and perseverance in me. He’s built my character. I thought I was weak. But over many years and many battles, He has developed a “mighty warrior.” Not because of my strength, but His.
Barnes Notes on the Bible says this: “… long afflictions borne patiently show a Christian what he is; they test his religion, and prove that it is genuine. Afflictions are often sent for this purpose, and patience in the midst of them shows that the religion which can sustain them is from God.”
Hope in Jesus
We have very little ability to control or fix the circumstances and/or people that bring us pain. I’ve learned that the hard way. You probably have, too.
Fighting battles and persevering as we suffer builds our endurance and our character, but ultimately it brings us to the end of ourselves.
Over this last year, I have gradually realized with an depth of clarity I had never before experienced that my only hope is in God. Doctors have failed me. My own efforts have fallen short, time and time again. He is my Provider. He is my Healer. He alone can give me what I need to continue to walk this path of pain and uncertainty.
Hope for others
Just like Molly inspired others with her tenacity on the ski slopes, we inspire others as we persevere and endure through pain and difficulty. We also give them opportunities to cheer us on along the path.
I know two women in my church who are facing excruciating battles with cancer. One is fighting for her own life. The other is fighting for her child’s. Their circumstances don’t give them a lot of reasons to hope. Yet, in every interaction they radiate the light of Jesus. Their hope is in Him and not an outcome.
That kind of faith inspires me (and many others). It’s a beautiful picture of what hope in adversity looks like. It shows me that drawing on the power and love of God will allow me to endure as well.
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
It sometimes seems impossible to keep walking the bumpy path we’ve been given. Keeping going, my friend.
Hope is coming.