But time does have a way of changing our perspective on pain (physical, mental or emotional) we’ve experience in the past. As parents, this is all too easy to see. A child gets a little scrape on the knee from learning to ride a bike. To them it’s the end of the world, at least for a minute. A little time goes by and they completely forget about the scrape. It’s not just the physical pain either. A child gets in trouble and is angry and devastated with the discipline they’ve now received. But in not much time, things are back to normal as if it never happened.
Of course the amount of time it takes to change this perspective depends on MANY things. The extend and depth of the real pain, the prior experience of that person going through the pain (have they experience it before), the overall personality of the person (generally negative or positive). But despite all the variables, time always, eventually, changes our perspective on things.
I remember the emotional pain I felt when the budget cuts rolled down to cadets in the Air Force ROTC. I was on my way to becoming a pilot in the USAF. We knew that slots were being cut and every Monday morning I would look on the board to see if my name was there. For 6 weeks I walked away with a smile on my face (seeing sadness in other’s eyes). but then mid October, I see my name on the wall. I felt the stab as my dream was pulled away with no fault or control of my own. I was helpless to do anything about it. I was devastated. The shift in direction took a few years from there, to recover and learn my new path. But at some point, almost 5 years later, I was happy and excited about the new rewards I had in life. That previous suffering I had experience was no comparison to the joy I now had.
When Paul is writing to the Romans (8:18), he is telling them the same thing (at a much larger scale). The suffering I had was no comparison to what Paul experienced. But the new joy he references is likely further out than 5 years as well. But the concept is the same. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The point I’m trying to make is this. We need to be more forward thinking about this. My examples and even my story were both situations where we looked back and saw the suffering we experienced just didn’t compare to the new joy. That didn’t help me get through the suffering but it did eventually change my perspective about the suffering.
What Paul is saying is that we don’t have to wait until that point. Here he was, in the middle of his suffering, looking forward to the wonderful glory that was to come. He was able to make it through his suffering by focusing on the prize. Paul tells the Philippians in 3:13-14 “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
So what can we take away from this? If we’re to hold on to these incredible words of faith, from a man who knows suffering very well… we need to keep our eyes on the goal, the eventual reunification with Christ in Heaven.
Jeremy Camp says it well in “There will be a day”
“There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face. But until that day, we’ll hold on to you always”