A man was trying to cross the street. However, when he stepped off the curb a car came screaming around the corner and headed straight for him. The man walked faster and tried to hurry across the street, but the car changed lanes and kept coming at him. So the guy turned around to go back, but the car changed lanes again and was still coming at him. By then, the car was so close and the man so scared that he just stopped in the middle of the road.
The car then swerved at the last possible moment and stopped next to the man. The driver rolled down the window. Lo and behold, it was a squirrel driving the car. And the squirrel said to the man, “See, it’s not as easy as it looks, is it?”
No, it sure isn’t. No matter how fortunate any of us may feel and how virtuous we are, there comes a time when our luck runs out and life slams us in the face. We feel like a squirrel trying to cross a busy street and it seems like there is nowhere left to run. Some of you have already been through such times. Perhaps you’ve lost a job, or a loved one, or experienced a horrendous illness.
The apostle Paul deals specifically with such difficult life situations in today’s Epistle from Romans: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
How can we possibly glory in our sufferings? Sufferings hurt. Sufferings are inconvenient.
But Paul says that bad times can make us stronger.
Ever heard of YAC? It’s a football statistic. It means “Yards After Contact.” This phrase was coined by legendary Monday Night Football analyst John Madden. It is a measurement that counts the number of yards a runner gains with the ball after an opposing player hits him. When hit, a good runner doesn’t just fall down. He doesn’t just stop. No, he keeps his legs going when he gets hit, he keeps moving forward; he keeps heading toward the goal line. The best runners in the NFL make their most important yards after they have been hit.
That’s what God means for His people to do – to keep moving forward when life strikes us a blow. That is how we become stronger. That is how we build up the spiritual resources we need to successfully deal with life. Bad times are not designed to destroy us but to make us stronger.
Times of adversity also make us wiser. They help us take stock of our lives and make changes that can propel us forward. As Paul writes, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.”
Let me tell you about one such person. When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. Now endurance is endurance, but you’d think this guy would know when to give up. But he didn’t.
At 37, after two defeats, he was elected to Congress. Two years later, he tried for re-election and was defeated again. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and … he lost. At 47, he failed as candidate for vice-president of the United States. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name, of course, was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader this country ever had.
There have been many people who have discovered that a time of pain, adversity or suffering marked a turning point in their life . . . for the better. A time of adversity or suffering can be a time of emotional and spiritual growth. We can endure more than we think we can. With God’s help we will survive. Of course, for some of us, this truth will not be real until we actually go through a difficult time. Then we will know for certain that with God’s help we can make it through terrible storms, and we will be better people for it. “Suffering produces endurance; endurance, character; and character, hope.”
You could make a very good case for the proposition that without difficulties in our life, we would remain spiritual and emotional infants. You could make a convincing case that parents who make life too easy for their children do them a great disservice. In a sense they are stunting their growth. We learn our greatest lessons and experience our greatest growth during times of testing, during times of pain.
Marilyn J. Abraham wrote a book titled First We Quit Our Jobs. In it, she makes a fascinating observation. She says that she once signed up for a group hike along with a ranger. This ranger told her group a remarkable thing. “When a tree’s life is threatened,” he said, “stressed by the elements of fire, drought, or other calamity, it twists beneath its bark to reinforce and make itself stronger. On the surface, this new inner strength may not be visible, for the bark often continues to give the same vertical appearance. Only when the exterior is stripped away, or when the tree is felled, are its inner struggles revealed.”
The tree becomes strong as it overcomes adversity. St. Paul says the same thing. Even though life can sometimes hurt, we can embrace those hurts if we understand that God is using them to make us into a new creation – one fit to live with Him forever in the Kingdom of God.
Monica Dickens, in her book Miracles of Courage, tells the story of David, a 3-year old with leukemia, who was taken by his mother to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to see Dr. John Truman who specializes in treating children with cancer and various blood diseases.
Little David had to have a spinal tap – a painful procedure at any age. It was explained to him that, because he was sick, Dr. Truman had to do something to make him better. His mother told David, “If it hurts, remember it’s because he loves you.”
The procedure was horrendous. It took three nurses to hold David still, while he yelled and sobbed and struggled. When it was almost over, the tiny boy, soaked in sweat and tears, looked up at the doctor and gasped, “Thank you, Dr. Tooman, for my hurting.”
There are some hurts that you and I may experience for which we will never be able to find any good purpose. We will never be able to say “thanks for the hurting” in this life. But Scripture tells us, don’t give up. In the world to come, our understanding and perspective will be opened up and all of God’s graces will be revealed.
None of us understand why God created a world in which there is suffering. But in Roman 8:28, Paul says that “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Maybe we will find out someday that in our struggles God was seeking to do something wonderful in our lives. And when that day comes we just might be able to whisper to our Heavenly Father, “Thank you for my hurting.”