Monday, December 7, 2015

Struggle Today, Strength Tomorrow

From time to time we read about machines that can enable us to lop off pounds simply by standing on them as they shake us all about. Kind of like doing the hokey-pokey, but with even less effort.

Fad diets promise to make us svelte within days, cancelling out months and even years of bad eating habits and poor lifestyle practices. “Take these pills.” “Eat this menu.” “Try this regimen for just five days.” This, we’re promised, will free us of inches and pounds without so much as breaking a sweat.

Sounds great, especially at this time of year when temptations of lavish holiday meals, seasonal treats, Christmas cookies and other high-taste, high-calorie offerings bombard our senses through New Year’s Day. I know this all too well – my body still hasn’t recovered from last year’s onslaught of Thanksgiving Day, a trip to Walt Disney World, and Christmas, and already another year-end round of festivities has arrived. Laying waste to your waistline isn’t a good thing!

Recently a sign caught my eye that fits all of us hoping to survive the holidays without turning into human replicas of the famed Goodyear blimp. It might bolster our determination when we try to return to sane eating within the next few weeks. It said, “Struggle Today, Strength Tomorrow.”

The problem is most of us seem allergic to struggle. We like shortcuts, pain-free living, anything but struggle and strain. We hate the adage, “No pain, no gain.” Instead, we want the gain without the pain. Easy does it – the easier the better. Overindulge? Sure. Overwork? No way.

But in reality, what the sign stated is true. Struggle today often does lead to strength tomorrow. Take, for example, the little caterpillar struggling to fashion a protective cocoon, then at the right time working and straining to get out of it, transforming into a beautiful butterfly through this wondrous, strenuous process.

After open-heart surgery in 2006, I resolved to go through the recommended rehab program, which included healthier eating, taking prescribed medications, and embarking in a regular exercise regimen several times a week. Nine years later I’m still taking my meds faithfully and exercising 5-6 times a week. I’ve slipped a bit on the eating part, but aim to get back on track there, too. The point is, it hasn’t been easy. Every day I go to the rehab center thinking, “I hate to exercise.” But at the end of the session, I honestly love to have exercised. And my overall physical health has benefited. The struggle indeed has resulted in strength.

Apparently this is why we’re often reminded in the Scriptures not to underestimate the value of the struggle. The apostle Paul, no stranger to adversity of many kinds, wrote, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

In case we missed it the first time, another apostle – James – revisits this idea in his letter. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Many of us long to possess strong, overcoming faith. These passages tell us that without it being tested by the fires of struggle, our faith will never exhibit the strength we would desire. Because faith, being “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), becomes confirmed only when struggles give us no alternative other than to exercise it. And sometimes over a long, arduous period of time.

So I think it’s right to say, no pain – no gain. No struggle – no strength. 

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