How do I keep going? At some point, all of us will probably ask this question as we face one situation or another that seems to go on and on: the challenging marriage, the noisy neighbors, the work or the pain or the child or the pager that keeps us up all night.
How do we hang in through the challenges and let them do their work in us, not breaking us, not making us bitter, but pushing us closer to Jesus and deeper into God’s love?
There’s a place for discernment: Am I being asked to stay in this situation? Is there some change I’m being invited to make, some attitude or belonging or position I’m being invited to let go of at this time?
But often the challenges come in work to which we’ve been called, a relationship to which we’ve committed, or a situation that arises unbidden and must be lived: the illness, the eviction, the normal phases of personal and family life.
How, then, do I learn endurance?
I’m surprised by words in a passage I long ago memorized. How have I not noticed them before?
“[I]f we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (2 Cor 1:6, italics mine).
I’m learning what Paul knows: Determination might be able for a while to produce gritting-my-teeth endurance, but only the comfort of being loved and accompanied can produce patient endurance, that kind of love-based endurance that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13:7).
The startling implication keeps rolling around in my head: We develop endurance not by trying harder but by learning to receive Love’s comfort.
I usually think of endurance as the opposite of comfort. I endure discomfort of one sort or another, and when comfort finally comes, I would no longer say I’m enduring; it feels more like relief or pleasure. But this is one more place where God’s thoughts are not mine, where he turns my perceptions and assumptions up-side-down. Or, rather, right-side-up. The world’s comfort is a comfort that cannot co-exist with suffering. It has to drown it, fix it, or remove it, and therefore it leaves me alone and helpless in the face of suffering, still fearing suffering and trying desperately to fix it. God’s comfort, on the other hand, comes from finding myself loved and accompanied in the suffering. The worst part of suffering is its loneliness, so the more deeply I know I am loved and accompanied, the more fear releases its hold on me.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23).
How, then, in my real daily life, do I learn to receive God’s comfort?
Often it’s a matter of just showing up. When I make the space to come, I find Jesus waiting to comfort me through a few words of Scripture, a lightening of the burden as I hold it out to him, or a simple sense of his presence.
But sometimes there are other barriers: my own fear or anger or sense of failure, or a sense of God’s absence without me knowing why. What then helps me receive God’s comfort?
- Reminding my heart that God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3). I’m not bothering him, not being wimpy or a failure when I come again for comfort. He wants me in his arms.
- Being honest with myself and God about my emotions. I can’t receive comfort if I’m trying to hide. (And when it feels too hard to be honest, I can at least be honest about that and receive Jesus” gentle love in that place.)
- Paying attention to the small things. God is creative and often sends comfort in the hug of a friend, the words of a song, or a few quiet moments with a mug of lemon-ginger tea. As I notice and savor these small gifts, writing them down and turning them over in my memory, I settle a little more deeply into trusting His love that is new every morning.
- Asking God how he wants to meet me in this place. Sometimes the answer comes through the memory of Jesus’ own suffering and the reminder that someone who understands is walking with me. Sometimes it comes through a few words of Scripture that stand out, or a picture that shapes itself as I prayerfully ponder whether there’s a picture that portrays how I’m feeling.
Over these months as I’ve been waiting to find my new home, I’ve felt like the ground beneath my feet has been removed. (Apparently at least some of where I was finding my security wasn’t so solid!) A picture came of myself suspended in midair, with nothing beneath my feet, my arms clinging to God because he was all I had to cling to. But as I sat recently with the friend who helps me listen, she wondered aloud whether there might be further gift for me in that picture. We sat in silence together, asking Jesus if there was a gift he wanted to give, and my attention was drawn to new parts of the picture. Before, I’d noticed only my arms clinging to Him; now I could now see His strong arms around me. I’d been so focused on the empty space beneath my feet that I hadn’t noticed that I was held, nor realized that I am much safer where I am than standing alone on my own small feet. As the search for housing continues and I seek to learn patient endurance in this place, I’m returning often to this picture, listening again and again to God’s comfort, “It’s okay, little one, I’ve got you.”
Photos (in order) by Emma Simpson and Echo Grid on Unsplash.
This Post Has 8 Comments
Love these thoughts about receiving God’s comfort being the secret to endurance! And remember the second verse of Day by Day (by Karolina Sandell-Berg)? I think it contains the same message.
“Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He’d gladly bear and cheer me, [orig. “he fain would bear” but that’s what it means]
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.”
Lots of love and prayers, Dad and Mom
Thanks Mom and Dad. Yes, I think often of those lines, “The protection of his child and treasure is a charge that on himself he laid.” I’m so glad!
I love this….”how do I receive God’s comfort?” It’s a matter of showing up.
I love this…the sense of expectancy.
May I reprint and distribute this post to my small group (with full credit to you and your website)?
Your use of a mental picture to clarify your thoughts and feelings on your current situation is something I will use. Especially looking for the gift or grace from God inthe picture.
I’m so glad you found it helpful, and yes, you’re most welcome to reprint and share with your small group.
Powerful post! I’ve often thought endurance was the opposite of comfort as well. Love these lines. “Determination might be able for a while to produce gritting-my-teeth endurance, but only the comfort of being loved and accompanied can produce patient endurance, that kind of love-based endurance that ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ (1 Cor 13:7).” Great insight!
Oh, to be that baby in the picture! What you said about him wanting us to be in his arms reminds me of the story of the prodigal son which I read this morning.
That is so powerful that the world’s comfort is so much different than God’s comfort. I hope to share with many people the quote you shared in a different post about suffering, and maybe also this concept if you don’t mind?!
So often our focus is on the wrong place, eh, like in your picture! I pray I too can focus on being held and God wanting to hold me! wow!
Of course, Bonita. You’re welcome to share whatever you read here. We all long for real comfort in the context of suffering, don’t we?! May you know yourself held today. Carolyn