Monday, September 26, 2016

Toughness isn't just about being able to take pain, it's suffering with satisfaction.

I recently posted this meme to my Facebook account which resulted in a discussion about where toughness comes from. I fell asleep thinking about it and woke up this morning thinking about it. I feel that this warrants a bit more explanation to really dive into this issue not just in the context of parenting but of living.

I once asked someone close to me who was struggling to find purpose in their life this question to help them work this out on their own: “What are you willing to die for?”

I know this sounds melodramatic when you first consider it, but the profundity of this question is critical to our assessment of the meaningfulness of our lives. The problem with asking the question, “What are you living for?” is that people often are wrestling with answering this question when they are looking for purpose or meaning. We often find ourselves unintentionally living for something less significant than we wish we were living for. The trend to tell people to pursue their dreams has recently faced a lot of scrutiny because of the shallowness and lack of pragmatism in that pursuit. But, it’s not for the fact that they are your dreams that this platitude is being criticized, it’s the fact that often these dreams are too small, too self-serving and too unrealistic.

We have, as a society, built an ideology around the pursuit of happiness that boils down to one small individualized endeavor, personal satisfaction with life. Satisfaction comes and goes, I’ve found. There are times when I feel exceedingly satisfied with my life. I feel that my work has meaning, that my relationships are fruitful and mutually beneficial, and that I have the world on the proverbial string. This is a feeling, and as with all feelings, it tends to be fleeting. I find satisfaction in my time in prayer, spending time with my kids, fishing with my dad, gardening, and having deep conversations with my wife. I find satisfaction in being productive at work, writing, fixing something in my home and when my favorite hockey team wins. If you were to rate these things on a scale of 0-10 of significance, they vary greatly.

So it’s is difficult to delineate what truly makes you satisfied with life based on these things because the satisfaction is momentary with each of these. So what about true satisfaction? Where does that even come from? How does this relate to toughness?

Let me pose a scenario to you. 

Imagine that you are a highly trained soldier. You have a General that you ultimately answer to and this General makes orders to which you dutifully follow. You believe, like any good soldier, that you have a duty and responsibility to die if need be to follow-through on those orders, like any good soldier would.

Why do you follow this General? Because he’s a good man? Because he is always right and you have no will of your own? Or do you follow Him because he has a broad meaningful purpose to which he makes these orders, whether that is to maintain peace, protect you country, or to offensively acquire new land or resources?

You would likely find it difficult to follow orders of a General whose purpose wasn’t in line with what you also believed was a good purpose.

Now imagine that this General and the purpose for which you are fighting just ceased to exist. What does that make you?

On one hand, it may just mean that you are without the larger support of this leader and the organization that follows these orders with single-mindedness, making your commission as a soldier meaningless. At this point, you may cease to even be a soldier.

On the other hand, you may find yourself looking for another general to fight for, or fight for your own personal agenda. As a soldier this may mean becoming a mercenary, a soldier for higher with the ability to shift allegiances if the price is right. Either way, you are either self-serving or meaningless if you don’t have something greater purpose to fight.

This is why directionless young men can be so easily drawn into hate-fueled terrorist organizations like ISIS and the KKK or gangs like MS-13 and Hells Angels. We need something to serve whether it is a way of life, an ideology or a grand purpose. Young men aren’t choosing to be evil, they are choosing to serve something, and the fact that something is evil takes a back seat to a need to live for something with some significance, a life with some sort of purpose. These men are willing to die and suffer for these things. They are willing to endure hardship, even at the hands of these organizations through initiating rituals, training and even abuse because they believe that it is for something bigger than them, bigger than their pain.

So what can prevent this finding purpose in something evil? My presupposition is that at the most basic level, everyone is looking for purpose. If they aren’t, they are then nihilistic and are in turn, serving themselves, which is just finding purpose in serving themselves. Some people may seek to just serve their families, which is good and right and to be willing to live and die to the good of your family is very virtuous. But to what end? Why is your family significant enough to warrant your sacrificial devotion?

The Importance of Ideology.

This is where I find that an ideology is critical to provide direction. We need a goal, an end. Without this end-goal, what we do with the harsh realities of life in a world filled with evil people, systems that oppress us and when we suffer is falter under the weight of it. We can develop a degree of toughness that in turn becomes callousness toward the suffering of others because you’re just trying to survive and avoid the pain and suffering that seems inevitable in life. An ideology, a good and righteous ideology, allows one to endure these things without turning to cruelty and evil. That ideology should be formed as early as possible in our lives that we may evaluate and hone our vision of it so that we have something substantial that will help us retain a since of purpose even when life gets really hard.

We need to form in our children a view that they can and should attempt things to make the world a better place. This should be an encouragement to live for something greater than them. They need to have something to live for beyond selfish pursuit of riches and pleasure because that will eventually still boil down to avoiding pain and suffering at all costs, which we know is impossible. And when that pain and suffering comes, where do they turn? What is there to maintain a vision to just soldier on?

I teach my children an ideology based in the grandest of all purposes, to serve God who has a plan for humanity, His creation, for His pleasure and our good. He has given us, through His Word, a framework for finding meaning in our lives and the inevitable suffering. This framework includes sacrificially serving others, loving our enemies, telling others about His love for humanity, by the gift of salvation and satisfaction in Him through grace.

When we realize that pain and suffering, both physically and emotionally, are inevitable in this life, we also realize that enduring these things is required to propagate life. Even the noted atheist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche noted this in his writings (although he never could come up with a meaning for the suffering) when he wrote, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” We can endure begrudgingly or with satisfaction.

Our satisfaction with life, not just fleeting moments of happiness, then requires a more broad view that we are living for and suffering for something important. This is what drives people to attempt great things, like the Medal of Honor recipient who faces certain death to defend his country or military unit, like the firefighter who risks his life to go into a burning building to retrieve a child that may or may not be alive, and like the doctor that moves his family to a developing country risking illness and insecurity to bring healing and hope to those who would otherwise never know it.

I for one am raising my children to know the importance of living this way. The greatest legacy and inheritance I can leave my children is a since of purpose for their lives rooted in the serving and mitigating the suffering of others, even at great personal cost. This is what makes life worth the pain and suffering. I can suffer for my children, I can suffer for other people’s children and I can even suffer for those who hate me because I am serving my Savior who promises an eternal life without pain and suffering freely by first taking the pain and sin of the world on His shoulders at Calvary. One person that I’m not willing to suffer for is myself. It’s not self-hatred, it just isn’t pragmatic. If I were here just for myself, I would avoid suffering at all cost. If suffering is inevitable, then I have two options, embrace that suffering with a grander purpose to serve Christ and others through the suffering or suffer without purpose at all and possibly ending my own life due to the meaninglessness of it.

A willingness to suffer and possibly die for one’s ideals is true toughness and it is the kind of toughness that does not falter when life reaches a point of perceived hopelessness, where escape from this pain and suffering is impossible.

So, in closing, I’m going to post some important quotes that I often think of when facing tough decisions and inevitable suffering:

“I would rather die now than to live a life of oblivious ease in so sick a world.” – Nate Saint
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  - Helen Keller
“A season of suffering is a small assignment when compared to the reward. Rather than begraudge your problem, explore is. Ponder it. And most of all, use it. Use it to the glory of God.” – Max Lucado
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
“Wherever you are – be all there.” – Jim Elliot
“All of us suffer some injuries from experiences that seem to have no rhyme or reason. We cannot understand or explain them. We may never know why some things happen in this life. The reason for some of our suffering is known only to the Lord.” – James E. Faust
“And people who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.” – Nate Saint
 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for on’s friends.” John 15:13
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” Philippians 1:29
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church.” Colossians 1:24
“If God would grant us the vision, the word sacrifice would disappear from our lips and thoughts; we would hate the things that seem now so dear to us; our lives would suddenly be too short, we would despise time-robbing distractions and charge the enemy with all our energies in the name of Christ. May God help us ourselves by the eternities that separate the Aucas from a Comprehension of Christmas and Him, who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became so poor so that we might, through His poverty, be made rich.” – Nate Saint
“Some want to live within the sound of Church of chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” – C.T. Studd
“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” – C.T. Studd
“The ‘romance’ of a missionary is often made up of monotony and drudgery; there often is no glamour in it; it doesn’t stir a man’s spirit or blood. So don’t come out to be a missionary as an experiment; it is useless and dangerous. Only come if you feel you would rather die than not come. Don’t come is you want to make a great name or want to live long. Come if you feel there is no greater honor, after living for Christ than to die for Him.” – C.T. Studd
“We are frittering away time and money in a multiplicity of conventions, conferences, and retreats, when the real need is to go straight and full steam into battle, with the signal for ‘close action’ flying.” – C.T. Studd

“Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

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