Lessons From Suffering
More than a hundred years ago, a lonely, poor boy from Germany came to the United States. His first job was for four dollars a week as a helper in a tiny store in Ohio. Since the owner allowed him to sleep at night in a big packing case in the store without paying any rent, he was able to save one dollar a week.
His next job at a bank paid him eight dollars a week. Here he slept in a loft over the bank office and continued to save all he could.
One day he saw some musical instruments for sale that reminded him how he and his friend back in Germany used to make such instruments. So he sent his life's savings of $700 to his friends in Germany and had them ship a supply of their instruments. The first shipment sold very quickly. He sent for more and was on his way to becoming a successful businessman.
The business this boy started eventually manufactured such musical instruments as pianos, organs, music boxes, and player pianos. It became a multimillion dollar business. The boy's name? Rudolph Wurlitzer.
Chances are, had this boy not started out lonely and penniless, he wouldn't have achieved what he did. His difficult circumstances generated the motivation that made him successful.
Life's like that. Difficult times, economic hardships, business setbacks, sicknesses, sorrows, heartbreaks, and crises come to all of us at some time. When they do, we often feel like we've struck out and failed. However, the only real failure in life is not to get up one more time than we've been knocked down.
One means danger; the other, opportunity.
The Chinese have two characters for the word "crisis". One means danger; the other, opportunity. How right they are! In every crisis there is a danger of being defeated or the opportunity for growth.
The question is: How can we turn crises and suffering into opportunities?
First, we need to realize that we have a choice. Our difficulties can make us bitter or better. They can become a stumbling block or a stepping stone. They can make us resentful or we can see in them an opportunity to be creative. The choice, however, is ours.
In ancient times people used an instrument called a tribulum. It was used to beat grain in order to divide the chaff from the wheat. It's the word from which we get our word "tribulation." In the development of human character it's tribulation that divides "the chaff from the wheat."
In the Bible it says, "We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." 1
Second, we need to accept and master our problems - not run from them.
Most of us remember the story of Daniel being thrown into the lions' den because of his religious convictions. Imagine what might have happened had Daniel denied his problem, or if he had rebelled - and justifiably so - against being thrown into the den and then struggled desperately to get out. The lions probably would have torn him to shreds in short order.
Daniel didn't even try to defend himself - against the authorities or the lions. As terrifying as it was, Daniel accepted his situation. I can imagine him thinking, "I'm in this predicament. I can't escape. How can I make the best of it?"
Undoubtedly, it was the acceptance of his situation as well as his faith in God that saved him. Note, though, his faith didn't save him from the lion's den. It saved him in it! That's the stuff of growth and maturity.
It is human nature to want to escape or run from suffering, but doing this doesn't help us grow and sometimes we learn too late that what we escaped to is worse than what we escaped from. Unfortunately, we rarely change or grow unless we are hurting sufficiently. This is why James wrote in the Bible, "Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." 2
Third. We need to face the causes. If there is one thing in life that I have learned, it is this: the problem is never the problem!
That is, what we blame our problem on is rarely the true cause. Often that's the symptom. For instance, my criticism of someone else may be caused more by my jealousy than by what that person did. My hurt feelings or anger at another person may be a reflection of my insecurity or unresolved hostility. I may unconsciously be looking for a peg to hand my anger on; that is, an excuse to blame somebody else for my unresolved problem.
Only as we become truly honest with ourselves and face the actual causes of our difficulties can we begin to resolve them. Jesus Christ expressed a universal principle when he said, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." 3
Fourth. To turn our crises into opportunities, we need to ask the question, "What might God be trying to say to me through my adverse circumstances?"
Remember, because he was in prison John Bunyan wrote his literary masterpiece, Pilgrim's Progress, and through rising above her severe handicaps Helen Keller became a great inspiration to millions.
And so it is with each of us. No matter what happens to us, God wants to use our suffering to strengthen us, to mature us, and to make us better persons.
If you are going through a time of sickness, sorrow, depression, financial setback, a broken relationship, or feel you have failed in some way, can you accept that God wants to use your suffering to help you grow and become closer to him? Can you ask him to help you see what you might be contributing to your situation, for the courage to do your part in resolving it, and through it help you to grow?
After a long winter, spring eventually comes and with it new leaves appear on the trees in all their refreshing beauty. In the summer they thrive. In the fall they die. But in dying their beauty is greater than in the spring. But the tree doesn't die. The falling leaves just make further growth possible. And that's the cycle of life-struggle, pain, beauty, growth.
Apparently, in his later years, Renoir, the famous French painter, suffered badly from arthritis. On one occasion his close friend, Matisse, questioned him, "My friend, why do you keep on painting when you are in so much pain?" To which Renoir thoughtfully replied, "The pain passes, but the beauty remains!"
For all who trust their life to God and ask him to use their struggles to help them grow, their pain, too, will pass, but their beauty will remain - forever. "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." 4
Be sure to invest your pain. Don't waste it. Invest it wisely in your own growth and in the growth of others.
1. Romans 5:3-4, NIV. 2. James 1:2-4, TLB. 3. John 8:32, NIV. 4. Psalm 55:22, NIV.
Copyright © 1999 By Dick Innes