By Jason Rodenbeck
I sit in my home, enjoying the late afternoon with its deep yellow sunlight and long shadows. Outside our neighbor’s little girl trudges up the walk, fresh off the bus. It’s been a long day at school, and there isn’t much daylight left before she’ll ready herself for one more day of imprisonment before the weekend.
I remember those days, trying to focus on numbers and sentences while the sun shone, the birds sang, and the cool whether promised that there were adventures to be had. Meanwhile my teacher talked about participles and dependent clauses. I thought then, How am I supposed to make it through a school day with my sanity intact? How will I endure to the weekend? How can I possibly survive till the summer?
Longing for Freedom
As a teacher, it’s hard for me to admit that I hated school. School was something to be endured while I longed for freedom. And the way I endured it was by remembering the promise that someday it would be over and I would be on to bigger, more fun things. I looked forward to being free of school. It got me through.
The truth is, life after school did not suddenly free me from the drudgeries of responsibility, the stress of deadlines, or the pressure of performance. In fact, as we all can attest, those realities of life became all the more real. On reflection, a healthier attitude would have been not to see graduation as release from school, but to see school as preparation for life. I wish I’d have learned to enjoy the time I had rather than just survived it.
Though there are moments of fullness and joy, my life didn’t turn out exactly like I’d imagined when I was daydreaming in school. There are worries and threats—moments of panic and desperation. There are bills and debts. There are lost dreams, unfulfilled expectations, and failures. There is doubt and anxiety and pressure. There are broken relationships and regrets. There is sickness and aging. There is loss. There is pain. And, as depressing as it sounds, down the road waits the finality of death.
Wrestling with Hopelessness
I realize that often I am still just waiting. And it’s not just me. We all wrestle with the feelings of emptiness and hopelessness that come with being mortal people in a broken place. I feel solidarity with the mad and desperate rush of the people around me to achieve, acquire, improve, succeed—to make something important happen or at least find something to enjoy in this life before it is over. I sympathize with (and often succumb to) the temptation to seek comfort in distractions and pleasures and to push back against anyone who might interrupt them. I feel like I can hear the whole world groaning . . . like it is giving birth. But to what?
Into our hopeless fray came Jesus. Though from God, he came with no promises of immediate relief or prosperity. He came preaching suffering and self-sacrifice. He came preaching perseverance, a life lived for others in the face of the apparent hopelessness around us. He said those who are truly blessed are the poor . . . those who cry . . . the meek . . . the oppressed . . . the merciful . . . the pure . . . the peacemakers . . . the persecuted . . . the insulted . . . the talked-about (see Matthew 5:1-12).
He preached the cross—a cross that he was willing to endure. And he called us to endure it with him.
I love this Jesus, but sometimes I wonder if he was insane. I wonder how he expected me to follow him on the way of the cross, to continue denying myself in what little time I have, to persevere peacefully and quietly while my life dwindles away. Why waste my time with forgiveness, generosity, peace, mercy, and justice in a world constantly trying to deny me those things? Why persevere? Why not escape? Why not just get it over with? Why not succumb to my fears?
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8 that the Spirit we receive from Christ does not make us afraid; it makes us children of God and heirs with Jesus—if we will endure suffering with him. He went on to say that he was convinced that the glory of the resurrection that waited for us was unspeakably greater than the suffering we endure now. He said that the whole earth was indeed groaning—waiting with us. He said the world itself was in bondage and waiting to be reborn.
Paul grounded his ability to endure suffering in the hope that someday things would be better. The earth will be reborn. Wrongs will be made right.
Questioning the Perseverance
Just like when I was in school, this hope has its own tension. Some believe that looking forward to the resurrection is a way of denying the work of the cross now. They think that if we spend our time looking forward, we’ll miss the opportunity to be like Jesus and make things better now. Others believe that doing the work of the cross now is a way of denying the resurrection. They think that if we spend our time making things better now, we won’t be preparing people for the resurrection.
One day a church I was involved with wanted to put together a Thanksgiving meal for the poor in our community. One man became angry and frustrated, “What sense does it make to feed the poor if you can’t feed them every day? Let’s just hand them a Bible and get on with our lives.”
At the time, I agreed with him. Why persevere? Why bear this cross? Why continue with this Jesus life at all? I assumed that suffering to feed the hungry was pointless because we don’t have the resources to end all poverty. I thought that life as a Christian meant simply trying to make the best of things while waiting for the end. I interpreted it as eating and drinking and resigning myself to dying tomorrow (Isaiah 22:13). And because I thought that, my attempts at perseverance made me feel like I was back in grade school, staring out the window and listening to the clock ticking.
Enduring with Christ
But listen to Paul’s words: we are “co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). To Paul, we don’t endure here simply because we are waiting for something better. We endure here because we are sharing in Christ. We are living for Christ. We are practicing being his body.
We feed the hungry because Jesus blessed the hungry and fed them. We feed them because our lives are lived sharing in Jesus’ burden for the people around us. We feed them because our lives are a witness to the truth we believe: that Jesus has ended our spiritual hunger, and the world will finally realize that in the resurrection.
For Paul, the resurrection meant that our suffering here, our perseverance, is not merely sitting bored and watching the clock tick away the remaining moments of our lives. The resurrection means that our perseverance is about being like Christ and being with him. It means enduring with him in the now as a witness to the way we expect the world to be in the then. Paul said the resurrection gives our perseverance meaning.
So in our painful and desperate moments, we must remind ourselves that our suffering produces character and that character produces hope (Romans 5:4). We endure not because it is our lot to endure—but because our endurance is a sign of the good things to come, a witness to the hope that there is something better coming. It has been brought to us by Christ himself.
We persevere because we know that what we endure is not meaningless but is preparation for the life we will live in the resurrection. Our perseverance is an invitation to the world to join us in that resurrection.
Jason Rodenbeck is the Director of Academic Services at Point University in West Point, Georgia.
Share Stories of Hardship
We don’t enjoy talking about times when we’ve struggled and suffered, but talking about them can be immensely helpful and encouraging to others and to ourselves.
Planning in advance helps us become more comfortable and effective sharing our stories.
1. Consider a time of hurt that you’d be willing to talk about with others.
2. Describe what life was like before that time, during that time, and after that time.
3. Describe your relationship with God before that time, during that time, and after that time.
4. List specific ways your suffering produced perseverance, character, and hope. Don’t be afraid to admit how long it took these values to emerge—or to admit that you’re still in the midst of pain.
5. Practice talking through your story with a friend so that you feel more confident and can better anticipate what parts of the story will be most difficult for you to talk about.
6. Be ready to share when you sense God’s Spirit leading you.