With the earth tilted just enough to bring the warm air consistently into our area, our kids have grabbed their bikes in order to ride outside until the sun sets. A recent rainstorm chased them inside, but it was no surprise that once the light again broke through the clouds, the kids were back out the door to their bikes. The only problem was that neither is adept at riding in wet conditions. So, lo and behold, the moment my son turned on his favorite curve, he skidded on the gravel, his wheel came out from under him, and down he went.
When my son came in the house, battered and bruised, clearly suffering from humiliation and pain, his father didn’t say to him, “Suck it up, son. Get over it and stop your whining.” No, his father asked him if he was OK. He comforted him. He bandaged up his knee and set him on his way to play again. Later, I spoke with our son about the mechanics of riding when it is wet outside—basically, we have to go slow. I told our son how exciting it will be to ride together when it is dry again. I wanted to encourage him to endure, to learn to keep going and not give up in the face of adversity. After I finished my encouragement, he said to me, “I can’t wait to ride with you!”
Although my son’s small bike incident was inconsequential, life regularly provides opportunities for us to reflect on the Lord’s teaching and, in this case, on suffering and endurance. As I thought about how to help my son, I was reminded of Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired words in Romans 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” (vv. 3–5).
We might read these verses and think that the command is for us to be happy and excited about suffering. Yet the thought of rejoicing in suffering is preposterous to many. Others might think that it’s an ungracious, unrealistic approach to the real challenges of pain. We might even quote the Bible back at the Bible: “You mean mourn with those who mourn, right?” But Paul doesn’t say, “Rejoice in suffering because suffering produces glad and happy feelings.” No, he tells us to rejoice in suffering because suffering produces character, namely, the character of Christ. The funny thing is that this sort of character transformation produces joy, but our rejoicing is always based in Christ and not in how we feel.