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There’s an interesting passage in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome where he encourages his readers to rejoice in their suffering. I’ve always struggled with this idea, because it seems out of touch with reality. I don’t know anyone who likes to suffer. When I’m suffering, I want to get through it as quickly as possible. I want to move on to better times. I might be able to endure suffering, but rejoice? That seems impossible.

Suffering is Inevitable

We all suffer at some point in our lives. Maybe you or someone you love is suffering right now. Maybe you’re dealing with a scary diagnosis, a failing marriage, or a child who is making poor decisions. Even if things are going well for you right now, life has a tendency to go up and down. Suffering knocks on each of our doors eventually.

How can we engage our suffering in a positive way? Does Paul have anything to teach us about how to do suffering well?

How to Engage with Suffering

I think it’s important to read on in the passage where Paul talks about rejoicing in suffering. Here’s what he says: “Not only that, but 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).

There’s a step-by-step process here for how to engage with suffering. Each step is important.

  1. Suffering produces endurance. When we suffer, we build endurance. Our capability for holding difficulty and struggle increases. It’s similar to building our muscles in the gym. In order to get stronger, we have to put our muscles under strain. In a similar way, when we suffer, our endurance for dealing with difficult things increases.
  2. Endurance produces character. As our endurance increases, our character develops. Our character involves our tendencies to engage in actions and behaviors in a consistent manner. For example, if a person has a character of courage, they tend to respond with courage in the face of danger. As you endure over time, your character begins to be shaped. You start to look more and more like Jesus.
  3. Character produces hope. Paul writes that character produces hope. When you develop your character, you experience hope for the future. Hope involves believing that you can move forward toward your dreams and goals. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all your problems will go away. But you experience hope that you can move forward toward what God wants you to do.

Paul also says that hope will not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. In other words, our hope will not be disappointed, because God loves us and has given us his Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be difficult to understand, but basically it means that God’s presence is always with us, even in our suffering.

Discussion: What do you think about Paul’s encouragement to rejoice in our suffering? Is that even possible? What have you found to be most helpful when you are going through a difficult time?