“You cannot earn your crown of patience without some struggle. If you refuse suffering, you also refuse the crown.” Thomas ẚ Kempis
It seems we are all caught up in the idea that suffering is bad. Not only that it is uncomfortable, but that we should not be suffering. Culture encourages us to flee from suffering and avoid it any cost. We should be happy, relaxed, and having fun. If not there is something wrong, and it needs to be fixed.
Think of the implications for a young man who finds things like hard work, discipline, and delayed gratification boring and painful.
I’m not lobbying for masochism. I don’t think we should go out of our way to chase suffering down, but I do think it’s inevitable and beneficial.
My son is suffering from boredom these days. It radiates off of him in tangible waves that will make you sick if you get too close. Ironically, he’s bored because he consistently choose to avoid all the “boring” stuff his dad encouraged him to embrace. Instead he reveled in the astounding entertainment and short term pleasures the world offers. As a result he has fewer options and far less freedom. Eli stands chest deep in the swirling waters of choice. He’s not thrilled with the bitter fruits of self-indulgence, but he can’t stand boring stuff like humility, sacrificial service, and delayed gratification. It’s a real dilemma.
In time, Eli will figure it out. Eventually the pain and suffering of a lifestyle focused on self-gratification will override his aversion to patience. He will move closer to a healthy balance between frivolous fun and productivity as he recognizes the long term advantages of hard work and discipline. He will choose that far more positive form of suffering and perhaps even grow to find joy in striving toward a worthwhile end.
I know he will, of course, because I’ve been there.
I am no stranger to the joys of giving in to temptation. I lived that life with total abandon for years. I spent decades learning the lesson Eli wrestles with now. That fight left me running from suffering, but in a very different direction. I bare the painful scars of my failures. I know full well how inattention and lack of effort can damage me and the people I love. As a result, I don’t handle downtime well. I see semester breaks, holidays, and weekends as opportunities to work ahead, cook for the freezer, pray with greater focus, experience something with the family, or perhaps even steward the material possessions God blesses me with. Idle time invites uncomfortable reflection and painful anxiety. Staying busy keeps me safe from standing naked in my own inadequacy before God.