It’s seems we’re increasingly living in society where people want everything pain-free, strain-free, maybe even brain-free. They want rewards without commensurate effort, results without having to experience any difficulties. If we were dairy farmers, our motto might be, “We want the milk without the manure.”
Alas, that’s not how life works. We don’t become physically fit by sitting in a recliner watching exercise videos. We don’t excel in school and get smarter without the hard work of reading, studying – and thinking. We can’t experience the joys of parenthood without putting up with dirty diapers, messy rooms, unanticipated expenses, and the variety of maladies kids acquire. And we can’t succeed in our careers without experiencing setbacks, disappointments, and if necessary, investing longer hours on the job than we’d like.
My friend, Mike Landry, recently published a book, Advancing Through Adversity: Turning the Worst of Times into the Best of Times, in which he details the struggles he and his family endured over an 18-month period after he was wrongfully sued by a company he had started. Even though he didn’t want this adversity, Mike discovered it would become an excellent teacher, providing important, life-changing lessons he couldn’t have learned in any other way.
He writes, “During tough times, most of us pray for a way out, or plead for our troubles to end. We want answers, resolution, or healing…. If all we do is focus on the given situation or the other people who are involved, concentrating on fixing it or getting through it, we could miss how God wants us to use the circumstances to teach and change us.”
Mike’s right. So often when confronted with difficult problems, all we want is to “fix it” or to “get through it.” But as I’ve found repeatedly throughout my life and career, we gain the most while in the midst of confounding challenges. Adversity can teach much about patience, perseverance, humility, coping with disappointment, compassion, and, perhaps most important, it serves as a wonderful resource for testing and strengthening our faith.
This truth is revisited frequently in the Scriptures, including Proverbs 14:4 which points out, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes from the strength of an ox.” Stating it in other terms, without the manure – putting up with the mess – we can’t have any milk.
Another friend, Ted Sprague, casually cited this verse years ago in Atlanta, Ga. during a crucial civic planning meeting that had taken a decidedly negative turn. After he quoted a paraphrase of the passage, “Where no oxen are the stables are clean,” the room fell silent for a few minutes. Then someone responded, “You know, Ted’s right!” The tone of the meeting instantly shifted, taking on a much more positive focus, and important decisions made then influenced the course of the city for many years afterward.
There were problems to be faced, but the benefits from being willing to confront those difficulties far outweighed the drawbacks. That’s why today a plaque behind Ted’s desk quotes the verse along with a concluding statement, “There’s a price to accomplishment.”
The apostle Paul, who knew adversity as an almost constant companion, wrote, “we also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Not to be outdone, another apostle, James, urged his fellow believers to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
If we never had to wait expectantly for something, we’d have no need to be patient. If we didn’t have to deal with struggles, we’d have no need for perseverance. But when we face hardships through the eyes of trusting faith, confident God is with us and using them to mold us into the people He wants us to be, we can indeed “glory in tribulation.” We can “count it all joy,” even when we never would have asked for the circumstances that beset us.
Yet another friend from years ago, Dr. Gerald Durley, encountered racism as a young African-American coming to the South for the first time. The mistreatment he experienced was undeniable and unforgettable. Nevertheless, years later he could look back upon the pain of prejudice and rejection, recognizing how God had used it to shape his character and equip him for a fruitful career later in life. And he could say, with all sincerity, “Thank you for adversity.”