Okay, so it’s not even winter yet. But it feels like it – at least in that we have already been hit with all sorts of winter-type illnesses. Over the last few weeks, pink eye, a double ear infection, colds, and two different stomach bugs have taken up residence in our home.
Also, just as I was finishing the laundry created by the first stomach bug, our washer breathed its last, so we are currently without in-house laundry capability.
In the midst of those circumstances, it’s easy for me to settle into a season of discontent, winter or not. Elisabeth Elliot defines suffering here as, “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” Under that definition, this is certainly a time of suffering in our family. I certainly don’t want to be holding my daughter’s hair back as she dry heaves over a bowl, nothing left in her little body to throw up. I’m not particularly interested in being awake for 3 hours in the middle of the night with a baby whose stuffy nose prevents him from sleeping, nursing, or experiencing the comfort his pacifier would bring.
As I settled into bed last night, I was reading 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.”
My thoughts have continued to return there throughout the day today. It seems obvious that suffering produces endurance. As a mom, I have no real options. Whether I want to be awake at 3:00 a.m. or not, that’s the path set out for me, and there’s no choice but to walk in it – put one foot in front of the other, sing one more song, add one more load of laundry to the pile awaiting the delivery of our new washer later this week.
And endurance does seem likely to produce – or, at the very least, reveal – character. Forced to persevere in difficult circumstances, we can become bitter, or we can grow in our ability to endure, to press on, and to work through adversity.
I pondered throughout the day, though, how it would be that endurance would produce character and character produce hope. On the surface, hardship and suffering seem more likely to lead to discouragement than to hope. Bitterness is a distinct possibility. Verse 5 in this passage seems to be key – we can grow in hope, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We can live in light of God’s love, in dependence on the Spirit in us.
Throughout trials, I can remind myself of the truths God speaks to us in Scripture. I can remember what Moses tells the Israelites as he bids them farewell – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). God is with me and with my suffering children always, just as He was with the Israelites thousands of years ago. I can trust that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and I need “not fear though the earth gives way” (Psalm 46:1). I can pray for His grace as I comfort my oldest in her misery, as I seek to coax my baby back to sleep, and at the end of the evening as I want nothing more than to relax on the couch but really need to lean in toward my middle child, who is seeking reassurance of my love and care for her in the form of the attention she’s been missing all day long as I’ve cared for her sick siblings.
It’s not a given that suffering will produce endurance, character, and ultimately hope. But I pray that I will live – and suffer – in a way that makes it a reality in my life.