Hope Amidst Struggles
Many years ago, the magazine of the defunct PACE Airlines, shared this story: “The scene is the campus of the University of Florida in the early 1960s. The football team is in practice session. They are running wind sprints for conditioning. One of the large linemen, Jack Katz, who played tackle, had proven himself to be the fastest lineman on the team. Katz walked up to coach Ray Graves and asked if he might run sprints with the faster backs. Permission was granted. For the next several days, Katz managed to finish last in every race with the backfield runners. Nobody was surprised. The coach asked if Katz wouldn’t rather be a winner with the linemen than a loser in the competition with the backs. Katz responded, ‘I’m not out here to outrun the linemen. I already know I can do that. I’m here to learn how to run faster; and if you’ve noticed, I’m losing by a little less every day.’”
Katz had his attention focused on more than just being the fastest lineman on the team. He set his focus on becoming the best football player he could be. Indeed, Katz became one of the heroes in Florida’s upset win against Alabama in 1963 and was voted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.
If our goal in life is to be as comfortable as possible or to live a life that is perpetually happy, then we resent struggles that come our way. But if our goal in life is to become a better person—a person who is becoming more Christ-like and whose character is in keeping with the fruit of the Holy Spirit—then we look upon our struggles as opportunities for growth.
At least that is the outlook of James 1:2-4: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
The struggles that come our way are not fun, but if the struggles can help us to become better people, it is worth it to us to embrace them.
Consider what adversities have done in the lives of others: Bury a person in the snows of Valley Forge, and you come up with a George Washington. Raise a person in poverty, with multitudes of setbacks throughout his life, and you get an Abraham Lincoln. Strike a person down with a paralytic disease, and you get a Franklin Roosevelt. Take away a person’s ability to see and to hear, and you get a Helen Keller. Raise a person in the cruelties of slavery, and you get a Washington Carver or a Harriet Tubman. Lock a person in a prison camp for sheltering Jewish neighbors during the Nazi regime, and you get a Corrie ten Boom. Lock a person in prison for 27 years for striving against apartheid, and you get a Nelson Mandela.
Adversities are never fun, but in the midst of adversities we gain strength and wisdom and fortitude which are needed for us to become the best that we can be.
Booker T. Washington sums it up well, “No one should be pitied because every day of his life he faces a hard, stubborn problem…. It is the one who has no problems to solve, no hardships to face, who is to be pitied….. He has nothing in his life which will strengthen and form his character, nothing to call out his latent powers and deepen and widen his hold on life.”
Rick Warren adds words of hope in the midst of our struggles: “God never wastes a hurt! In fact, your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt. Who could better minister to the parents of a Down syndrome child than another couple who have a child afflicted in the same way? Who could better help an alcoholic recover than someone who fought that demon and found freedom? Who could better comfort a wife whose husband has left her for an affair than a woman who went through that agony herself?…. If you really desire to be used by God, you must understand a powerful truth: The very experiences that you have resented or regretted most in life—the ones you’ve wanted to hide and forget—are the experiences God wants to use to help others.” (The Purpose Driven Life, p. 246-247)