Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. Character produces hope. That’s probably deeply true in the spiritual sense. But in a physical sense, the main thing suffering produces — at our house — is an immediate desire for a Band-Aid. There is no perseverance, unless you count the persistent insistence on getting that Band-Aid, even for the tiniest of scratches.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
When you’re young — and I’m not quite sure when this stops being true, but it’s got to be later than your eighth birthday — the Band-Aid is one of the two main components of comfort in the wake of mild trauma. The other component is a reassuring hug from a parent. But usually the Band-Aid has to come first. Even if it serves no medicinal purpose, it represents the first step on the road to recovery.
When you’re old — and by old I mean old enough to know a Band-Aid has no magic healing powers, so nine could be old — you likely are nostalgic for the days when a Band-Aid and a hug could make almost any hurt go away. With the power to reason comes the power to be hurt — deeply hurt — emotionally as well as physically. And while physical pain can be agonizing, even incapacitating, emotional pain can be the same or worse, except not everyone can see you suffering, which can complicate and deepen the struggle.
(Certainly the very young can be deeply scarred emotionally as well, and I have no intention of overlooking or making light of that truth. The point is more so that for a good chunk of childhood, even for those who have endured mental trauma, a slightly skinned knee can go from a Code Red medical crisis to something entirely forgotten, all through the magic of a Band-Aid and a hug from mom.)
I am in a great place emotionally. I would not say I am emotionally suffering about anything at this moment. Sometimes I feel guilty about being blessed with such a wonderful, healthy family. So it’s easy for me to consider how “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” and be completely empowered, secure in the knowledge that even if dark days arise, they will only improve me spiritually in the long haul.
Conversely, if I were asked to provide any sympathy or guidance to someone who is in a dark place emotionally, I don’t know if I’d hit them with the idea of how their current suffering builds character. Frankly, it sounds like the kind of thing a high school gym teacher might bark at his students who lag behind the class during a two-mile run. In fact, some football coach might do well to print up T-shirts for his team with the message, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” It would underscore the approach of a team coming off a losing season and perhaps inspire the boys to play beyond their abilities. But what do I know? I played cymbals for three years in the marching band.
Point being, I find it difficult to address someone who is dealing with the inevitable human suffering by directing their thoughts to that which is not human. I worry such an approach does not afford them the proper respect for whatever they’re enduring. Further, each person responds to spiritual or mental anguish in their own manner, at their own pace and with their own ideas. There is no one approach that soothes every concern.
This is one of the many reasons I’m glad I did not feel called to pursue ministry. I have no idea how chaplains or church pastors can encounter so many different people with so many different things and manage to find the right words and thoughts to use in each situation. That said, many folks have stories about a clergy encounter that did not go well. I once heard a funeral sermon that could have been said about anyone, the minister probably just filled in some blanks with the decedent’s name and read a few obituary details.
Those who are gifted in such work probably feel called to serve in this specific area of ministry. I assume they regularly are deep in prayer and try their best to channel and discern God’s will and learn what type of discussion a person needs to have during difficult times. No one will be right all the time, but the best will remember to treat each suffering person as an individual case independent of any other person they’ve ever counseled.
Some day my boys will have real suffering, and no amount of Band-Aids will help. When it gets real bad, hugs won’t do any good either. We’ve started to enter that territory with Jack as he has some difficulty relating to peers — we’re deep enough in to know how truly powerless you feel when your child has hurt feelings and you can’t to anything to make him feel better or address the situation.
In that way his suffering is our suffering, which means we’re trying to ride the train to perseverance and hope as well. It is good to know such hope does not put us to shame, for we’ll come to rely on it an awful lot as the years roll by. But for now, we have three young boys and lots and lots of Band-Aids.
A prayer for June 28:
Lord, your love has been poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit. May I share that love with those in need, that they might persevere through their suffering. Please help me be aware of times when I may be your voice in the world, and help me determine the right way to reveal your love, to speak your truth and to testify to your saving, amazing grace. I pray especially for help with my children, that when trouble arises I might always be a source of comfort, security and love, all through your power. Amen.