There’s a saying that goes, “I was sad for I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”. It’s very humbling to be facing your own suffering, and get really down from that suffering, only to learn of someone else who’s suffering far surpasses your own.
There’s also another way to look at suffering, and that is to compare it to the reward at the end. Back when I was a runner, I had set a goal to break the 5 minute mile. It was summer training for Air Force ROTC and we would run a 1.7 mile course daily. That meant I had to cross the finish line under 8:30 to average below 5 minutes per mile. I remember the pain I was feeling when I just knew I was running faster than ever. I was running in the top 5 positions and had never been that far in the pack. I was cramping up but didn’t care. I knew that I would cross that line in under 8:30 and no amount of pain would compare to the joy I would feel hearing that number. You see, I was looking at my suffering, and then comparing that to the reward at the end. This did not take away the suffering, it still hurt. But I just knew I would soon forget the pain but never forget the reward. When I crossed that line (and nearly colapsed) I thought I heard 8:54. But before disappointment could set in, I heard the next time after me was 8:28. I had crossed the line at 8:24 and beat my goal.
It’s not always easy to focus on the goal when you’re in the midst of the suffering. The further away that goal is, the harder it is. But this is what Paul was saying in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”. He’s not even saying, go ahead and compare, you’ll see the reward is worth it. No, he’s saying that the suffering of this present time are not even worth comparing to the reward. And I’m pretty sure that his sufferings were WAY more serious than anything I’ve ever had to face.
When I go through times of trial, I get down like everyone else, it’s kind of hard not to. There have been sufferings that have brought me to tears, engulfed me in fear and challenged my convictions. But the fact is, in every case, He has eventually come through, and usually with something better than I expected. I know that His answers are not always during this lifetime. I recognized that the “thorn in my side” may remain there for my entire time on this earth. But that thorn reminds me of the areas I simply need to rely upon Him even more.
Lord, help me to remember this fact in the thick of suffering. I sometimes ask you to lighten my load when in fact I need to ask you to strengthen my back. Give me that strength to endure as you continue to prepare me for the next chapter you have in mind.