Romans 5:3 We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance…
I spent yesterday driving the boat, teaching newbies how to wakeboard. I am no expert, yet there I was, giving instruction and watching the inevitable process of fall after fall with gradual improvement. I did my best to provide helpful hints (trying not to laugh too much) but as we decided, there is no substitute for just trying and failing. A lot. After many trials and errors, every newbie got up and truly wakeboarded. I think if you asked them, it was worth it, though they did not enjoy each individual fall. Face-plants, even in water, are painful.
I can certainly identify. I have spent my time drinking lake water and doing back-flops. As in wakeboarding, most of my suffering in this life has been self-inflicted. I have, in the pursuit of me, caused a fair amount of devastation. I have often wondered then, if Paul’s teaching here applies to the pain I have caused. When James tells me to count it all joy when we encounter various trials (James 1:2), he does not specify whether or not I caused the trial. He merely insisted that pain is how I grow and learn. Falling down is part of learning.
Pain and suffering is the tool God often uses to get our attention and provoke transformation. Most of us can look back and see that our times of suffering have coincided with our most intense pursuit of God. Likewise, we can also look back and see the apathy and laziness that has come from success. When we need God, we seek him. When we are comfortable, we seek ourselves.
God, working on his own agenda, seems more concerned with my obedience than my comfort. Continually trying to teach me to follow him, He allows me to suffer in this life to shape me. It would be easy to conclude then, that all pain, is my fault. God must be punishing me for something. To be sure, I have closed my ears to God, followed myself and suffered the painful consequences, but not all suffering can be directly attributable to my bad behavior.
What then is to be my response to pain? As in anything in life, I can respond by focusing on me, Poor me! This isn’t fair! Or, I can turn my gaze to God, asking him what his will is. What do you want me to do, God? What can I learn from this? Neither Paul nor James explicitly taught that every trial is purposefully inflicted by God to teach us a lesson, but both insisted that God uses pain to teach us faith. It would be a tragedy for pain to come and go and to learn nothing. This would be like attempting to wakeboard, falling over and over, never improving, never growing and never getting any closer to actually wakeboarding.
The difference between growth and futility is in my attitude. Do I look to God for guidance or do I wallow in self-pity? The right attitude does not mean that suffering becomes pleasant, but it does give me a new perspective. I can now look back at my devastation with sorrow, while still being thankful for how God has used it. I can truly say that I am better off now than I would have ever been without my addiction. My failures have caused me to see my need for God. My desperate pain caused me to desperately pursue him. I know God better for my falls.
As I will not be perfect in this life, I may still expect that there is pain ahead. In life though, as in wakeboarding, falls are part of the experience. I would however, prefer not to learn the same painful lesson over and over, so daily, I must turn my gaze to God, seeking his will above all.