We live in a world that seems to be terribly adverse to discomfort of any type. We fiddle with thermostats endlessly. We search 100’s of television channels for just the right viewing option. We live in little internet bubbles never challenged in our views on even the most minor of issues. Painkiller addiction has become a sufficient problem in this country that legislation is required. Moreover, we have begun to define down our understanding of “discomfort.” Things that we used to accept as simply a part of life now demand radical action. We rush to the doctor for anti-depressants when we feel the slightest bit of melancholy. If we feel left out we assume we are being “discriminated” against and demand laws change.
The problem is that as we run away from our discomfort, we run away from hope. Think about how our bodies work. Building muscle requires experiencing resistance. There is nothing comfortable about exercise and it can hurt, but it is the road to health. If we hope for health we endure it. Physical pain tells us something is wrong and needs to be fixed. When we mask it, the problem remains unfixed. Emotional and spiritual discomfort leads to emotional and spiritual growth and health. As is so often the case, scripture codifies what is common sense:
Romans 5:3-5 – Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
That turn of phrase is extraordinary, “rejoice in our sufferings….” Given our current aversion to discomfort, I cannot help but think that most people who hear that phrase would react with shock and denial.
Paul, the author of that Biblical quote above, is not the only scriptural author to advise us to accept pain willingly and with joy. James:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
I wonder if the aversion to discomfort that currently so permeates our culture is rooted in a desire to run away from God. What if when we experienced melancholy, or anxiety, or whatever we turned to prayer instead of the pill? What if when we felt discriminated against we examined our own behavior and confessed to God our misbehavior rather than blamed the world around us? What if when we suffered, we rejoiced and allowed the suffering to produce endurance which produces character which produces hope?
I have lamented before about the lack of hope in our current culture, particularly from the left. If Paul is right, we lack hope at least in part because we are so adverse to difficulty and discomfort. Or is it that we do not want what lies between endurance and hope – character. Do we love our guilty pleasures, our little lies and our internet porn so much that we are willing to sacrifice hope to them?
This is a nation built on hope. People have migrated here for centuries hoping to build a better life. We started an experiment in governance in hope of building a better nation. We have children in hope of giving them a better life than we have. But somehow we have perverted this last one, we now assume that difficulty, pain and suffering are not a better life and we protect our kids from it with such fervency that they never learn to hope.
God has our back, we can endure our pain, and from our pain we can learn once again to hope in the God that has our back.