Growing Up

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, 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."  James 1:2-4

The weather here in our neck of the woods has been pretty great of late.  The trees and flowers are popping (along with all the allergens), and these are the scents that usually call me to a baseball diamond.  I played alot of baseball growing up, and now my two boys play alot of baseball (and I watch/coach alot of baseball as a result).  I just love the game.

A few years ago, my oldest son was learning to pitch.  He was pretty natural at it, and he is a southpaw to boot.  On this particular spring day, however, things weren't going his way.  He was on the mound for his team, and he was getting mangled.  He was walking guys, giving up big hits, and getting no help defensively.  Now he was crying and looking longingly at the dugout where I and another coach were - that look that said "Please, for the love of all things beautiful, take me out of this game."  So, the other coach asked me if he should go take him out.  I said, "No chance."  And though I don't always have these crystal clear moments as a parent - that day I knew I was on to something.

Maturity only comes with perseverance, and perseverance only comes from adversity.

So, believing that to be true, I told the other coach, "Let him get pounded - don't take him out for any reason.  We have no chance of winning, the game is not on the line, and this will be an opportunity to really grow.  He is going to thank me for it someday" (though it was killing me to do it).  Now, a few years later, I think if I asked him he would say he really did grow from it (he is still pitching at least - instead of laying in the fetal position sucking his thumb and asking for some applesauce).

That may be a simple example - I will concede that.  But the underlying principle, it seems, is what James was trying to communicate.  We are going to face trials, struggles, adversity - so thank God for it because if we will give ourselves to the process, then God will mature us as a result.  This isn't just the maturity that comes naturally to everyone - it is maturing in our growth in Christ.  When we humbly persevere in faith through trial and adversity, we will be more like Jesus.  What concerns me, though, in our culture, is our distinct distaste for pain and even greater distaste for delayed comfort and gratification.

I am not a pain fan.  Not even close.  But I am appreciative of the role of pain (which can come in the form of delayed comfort or gratification) in our spiritual formation.  C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, wrote: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

In our culture, people don't want any delayed gratification (pain).  If they want to have sex, they do - why wait for what I can have now?  If they want to buy something, they do - it doesn't matter if they have the money, they will just use credit because they NEED it.  All that the attitude of "pain and discomfort avoidance" fosters is immaturity in every aspect of the word.  Maybe that is why we have more adults living with their parents longer, why the average age for first time marriage is rising, and why the average age for first time cosmetic surgery is decreasing.  We can't grow up until we learn to face and embrace adversity.

I struggle with this myself.  Personally, it is always tempting to want to shortcut the process that God wants to use to grow us.  Professionally, as a Pastor, it is incredibly difficult to know when to step in and when to step out.  Sometimes, the reality is that we need to let the discomfort and pain that people feel take its course, because it is what God is using to teach them and shape them.  Ultimately, it will mature them in Christ.

And maybe they will end up thanking us for it someday.