The surprising secret to learning endurance


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.”

 
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Photos (in order) by Emma Simpson and Echo Grid on Unsplash.

When you need a little comfort

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Shots fill the air and a bomb shatters. Death stalks and life has been changed forever. And we grieve. Or we stand feeling helpless. Or we turn away from the pain, back to our small lives that might feel a little more numb and grey, or a little more like a treasured gift, or a little more ringed and laced with fears and questions and uncertainty.
Sometimes a whole city is shaken, or a whole nation, or the whole world as we watch bombs and shots and hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring like rivers from country upon country. Sometimes all it takes to unsettle us is one patch of black ice or one diagnosis. Shock shakes our self-confident independence. Trauma brings out the child in us, awakens us to our vulnerability and makes us want to run into safe arms. Sometimes it takes even less than a diagnosis—just a few words I wish I could take back and all of a sudden I need to hear again that sin (my own and that of others), and death (of hundreds or of my own overblown ego), neither had the first word nor will have the last.
Before sin, love blessed us; after sin, love remains. The love that spoke this world into being and, from dust, shaped living, breathing children to be like Him, will never let go. We are His, and no matter how dark the darkness, it cannot overcome the light of that love.
“God our Father has a mother’s heart toward us,” Pastor Tim Kuepfer reminded us yesterday. “He not only births us (John 3:5-8; Acts 17:28; 1 Peter 1:3), he nurses us.”

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

I can’t get away from the picture of God nursing us, from the picture of us as newborn babies “craving, demanding, gulping the pure milk of God’s love”; our pastor’s words offer me space to press in close to Jesus again and again, hungry for his touch, his gentle eyes, finding him always ready to feed me with his fullness.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

I love the image. Then I begin to wonder about the clause, “so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Shouldn’t I have grown by now beyond needing to gulp God’s love? Does growing up in our salvation mean being weaned from this craving for God’s love, from being allowed to come close and drink as often as I need?
But I think of Brother Lawrence whose growth into maturity was a growth into awareness of God’s presence every moment. I remember Jesus’ own invitation, “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love” (John 15:9 The Message). Jesus paired the invitation with a declaration of the way things are: “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. . .” (John 15:5,9 The Message).
Once more I see that this world has everything backwards. In Real Life, the only kind of life that works, maturity is never about growing independence, but about deepening dependence. Maturing from milk to meat doesn’t mean moving on from needing God’s tender love, but settling more deeply into it. It means having learned and lived the details of sin and faith and baptism long enough that we can chew and savor the many-layered love-gift of righteousness, that right relationship that God gives us with Himself and, through him, with creation and others and ourselves (Hebrews 4:14-6:2).
No, we’re not meant to grow out of needing the tender mother-love or the protective father-love of God. So enjoy, friends. Settle in and make your home in the arms where it’s safe to be small and hungry and needing comfort, where you will always, always be welcomed and loved.

“Listen to me. . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

Why you can rest—even in the middle of the mess

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There are those days when your country is burning around you and your heart within you. When your eyes sting from smoke, or shame, or emotions you can’t even name. When you wonder if you’ll ever see the end of the mess in your body, your soul, your world, and you’re not sure what tomorrow will hold.
What then? Just this. Where to rest? Just here—here in this one answer, this single thing to remember, to hold to, to live in. Here in this answer that’s big enough to hold you:

“Q:What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong, with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head, indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. . . .”

I struggle to write the final lines:

“. . . Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.” (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563)

I struggle, not because I’m not assured of eternal life, but because—honestly?—I can’t say I’m always heartily willing and ready to live for Him. I want to be, but there are layers of self-centeredness and desire for control that keep rising like smoke within me, clouding the horizon and obscuring the truth of God’s goodness.
And so I return again to the beginning, because it’s precisely in the middle of these smoky moments that I most need to remember that I am not my own, that my security does not depend on my ability to hold it all together but on the love of God who has made me His and sets me free and preserves me even when giant parts of me are trying to run from His love.
I go back again and again and there is always comfort in knowing that I am not my own—that when I can’t fix the mess in me, I’m still His, still held, still loved and wanted and safe.
And when I’ve sat long enough here in this love that keeps on loving no matter what, slowly the willingness returns and I can say, yes, I want to love this gentle, gracious God with my life. And finally I can see the gift in those last lines too. I haven’t made myself willing and ready to live for Him any more than I’ve made myself His. I couldn’t, and He never expected me to.
Thank you, Jesus. Please keep doing in me what only You can do.