The other day, I was venting to a friend about some of the obstacles in my life and my knee-jerk responses to them. She let me pour out my thoughts until I suddenly sighed and ended with “But if I’m frustrated with it, I’m aware of it. And if I’m aware of it, I can fix it.” She nodded, miles ahead of me (she’s very wise, you see), and already seeing and knowing what I was only just coming to terms with.
I wanted an easy response to my troubles. One that came neatly prepackaged and ready to use. Something I could pull out in a moment of struggle and launch at the problem. If I was experiencing fear, I wanted to reach into my bag and lob a courage grenade at the problem. But in that moment, the realization was that there’s no such thing as a prepackaged, ready-to-use characteristic or virtue.
True, some of us may be naturally disposed with certain attributes. Someone else might not have had the same struggle with fear that I was by being a more naturally fearless person, but that alone does not equip someone for hardship. That doesn’t automatically give them the tools they need. The characteristics we crave most desperately in our lives are not handed to us ready to use.
Our best characteristics are forged through our absolute need for them.
If you want courage, you will find yourself facing down your fears. If you want compassion, you will find yourself presented with people who are difficult to love. If you want patience you will be given long waits that seem pressing. If you want strength, you will be given obstacles to overcome that are just a little harder than the last you conquered.
Life knows no other way to operate than a completely hands-on, sink or swim approach. The more we try to convince ourselves otherwise, the more caught off guard we will be when hardship comes calling. For the believer, this is not some hideous, unfair mistake but just one more way God makes a way for us through the struggles of life. As Paul puts in Romans 5: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3-5)
The things you are going through now are forging the person you will be tomorrow. Your reactions to that refinement determine who that new person will be. You get to choose. That’s part of the whole “free will” package. It’s that straightforward and that terrifying.
Our responses are not prepackaged, they are built in the moment and improved upon through repeated use. They start small and build to something better and more reliable. The early days of use will see you stumbling or getting it wrong, but a return to the effort will see improvement and quicker responses. You have to keep coming back to it to get results. And you will get results.
Out of your fear, courage slowly emerges. From impatience, endurance. From self-centeredness, compassion. You will be able to take in the nasty things the world offers and, with God’s grace, taste good, wonderful things. It will take time, but it is possible. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.
Paul didn’t write those things because he was a glutton for punishment. He wrote them because he understood what so many of us either fail to grasp or have to teach ourselves time and time again:
Hardship doesn’t have to bring out equally hard results.
There is so much beautiful choice that God gives us in hardship. We’re not bound to be just as bad as the thing happening to us. We don’t have to be the next turn of the same sad wheel. We have the opportunity to hand it over and be part of making it into something new. We have the choice to be different from what’s happening to us.
The time and effort it takes to let God make us into something better is far more worth our time than leaving ourselves behind in the same old cycle of lacking. No prepackaged virtue needed.
Let’s find some joy,