Recently I talked with a pastor about potential life-changing decisions, and she said that one option would be very difficult, so she seemed to pass by this one and discuss the easier options. I interrupted and said, just because it won’t be easy doesn’t make it wrong. I suggested that possibly the most difficult option would be the best one for eternity.
I think it often is.
First, let me suggest that simply because something is difficult doesn’t make it right. The challenging option isn’t better than an easier option because it is more painful. For centuries various sects within Christianity believe that sleeping on nails or depriving oneself of necessities were signs of godliness. The more painful something is does not make it godlier. There are many difficult or painful options that are just plain stupid. If you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes on YouTube watching videos of “stupid decisions.”
At the other extreme is the prevalent perspective of our culture which accentuates the easy route to be the best route. In other words, the decision with the least pain would be the best one. Most choices in our world today are intended to make life easier. From the meds we take, the drinks we consume, the homes we build, or the cars we buy, the goal is to make everything in life easier. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life. I drive a nice car and live in a nice house. However, when pleasure or ease becomes a primary driver in life, we are on the road to a shallow life of little significance.
I have noticed, as I have aged, that I have become more accustomed to taking the easy route. It seems as one ages, there is a gravitational pull toward complacency. People want to take it easy. They feel like they paid the price early in life, so now they can just enjoy life. The more complacent they become, the less they grow (except their waistlines). The less they grow, the shallower they lean.
Regarding this, let me suggest four principles of life I am learning:
- Change involves loss1
- Growth involves change2
- Maturity involves change3
- If these three are true, then maturing involves loss
Loss isn’t easy. Loss is best processed through grief. We often need to grieve what is left behind. Grief is painful, difficult, and sometimes arduous. It is best processed intentionally. This means we must intentionally acknowledge what we have lost or are losing. We must face the consequences of this loss. Finally, after counting the cost of the loss, we can intentionally choose to focus on that which the loss has replaced. Spiritually, this is often what God would desire for us.
This isn’t new news to those of us who have been maturing in Christ for more than a decade or two. Growth is painful but fruitful. We all grow so much more in challenging times than we do in abundant times. Ask anyone who has ever tried to build physical muscles. Muscles only grow through pushing them to and beyond their limits. No Gain without Pain is the mantra in the gym. The process is the same in all venues of life. The Bible tells us this in several New Testament passages.
In Romans 5 we read:
3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.Romans 5.3-5
In James 1, we read:
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.James 1.2-5
If you lack wisdom to know how you can grow through your pain, this passage is pretty clear that we need to seek God’s perspective on it through prayer, and he will give you insight to see what is being developed through your loss.
If you want to mature in Christ, look for direction through pain. Don’t take this to the extreme as the ascetics did in the dark ages. I am not suggesting we always take the difficult option. However, let me suggest you take the option which will require growth and lead you toward maturity. We are called to lead a full life, and often this may require making painful choices because you will have to give up something you have depended on to change, grow, and keep maturing.
I know too many people who die at 65 and are buried at 95.
1 Jack Shitama—If You Met My Family, You’d Understand, William Bridges—Managing Transitions, Edwin Friedman—A Failure of Nerve, & Murray Bowen—Family Systems Theory
2 This is as true Spiritually as it is emotionally, mentally, relationally, & physically
3 Spiritual maturity by necessity requires us to grow in areas where we change and leave things behind, which is a loss