Why we do difficult things

Parenting is hard. This is the eternal truth I was pondering as I rubbed the back of my ankle right after my older son slammed into it with the grocery cart. You give them a chance to prove themselves, such as saying that they can follow behind you up and down the aisles with what amounts to being a metal battering ram, and sometimes they disappoint you. Being a parent can be a really tough job, but that doesn’t make me want to quit.

 

We have a saying in our house (by we, I mean and by saying, I mean homework time mantra): “When things are hard, we try harder.” It works for memorizing multiplication facts and learning to ride a bike. When a task just seems too difficult to complete, I tell them, “Rossers don’t quit.” Those are my standard pep talk declarations.

 

Other than the obvious reasons not to give up (“Multiplication is something you will actually use your whole life! You just have to learn what 8 times 6 is!”), there are other, ongoing reasons not to quit. Each time we conquer a fear or accomplish a new skill, we add another layer to our confidence. These successes strengthen our resolve, making the next hurtle a little less daunting.

 

I love stories about people who truly overcome adversity to do really great things, people who don’t quit even when things seem impossible and the world tells them they’re no good. An example of this kind of insane rise against all odds is the story of Dr. Ben Carson, famed neurosurgeon and current HUD secretary.

 

Dr. Carson grew up in poverty in Detroit, and he was at the bottom of his class academically. The key to his eventual success was his mother. “I was fortunate enough, you know, to have a mother who believed in me when everybody else was calling me dummy,” he said in a 2005 NPR interview. “She prayed and asked God to give her wisdom. What could she do to give her sons to understand the importance of academic achievement, because we were doing terribly in school. And she came up with the idea of turning off the TV and making us read books…You know, it did incredible things for me because, you know, between the covers of those books you could be anybody, you could go anywhere, you could do anything. And it begins to broaden your horizons. And, you know, within the space of a year and a half, I went from the bottom of the class to the top of the class.”

 

Cresting that hill made the next one seem climbable, and the next one, and the next one. His mother wouldn’t let him and anyone else define him as a “dummy.” She made sure he knew it would be hard work, but it was within his grasp.

 

You have to assume that if we only do easy things, growth will be minimal. And besides, our most important tasks (like parenting) are just supposed to be difficult (like parenting at the grocery store), but we’re not alone. As C.S. Lewis said, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”

Elastic

A new study finds that very tiny chameleons—like the ones from Tanzania that can sit on the tip of your thumb—compensate for their small size with incredibly long and incredibly fast tongues. They may seem like harmless, little lizards but bugs should consider themselves warned. Scientists assumed there would be some sort of adaptations for these tiny creatures but they were surprised by what they found.

 

When I heard about those chameleons and their super-stretchy tongues, I thought of that feeling you get when you’re stretched to the limit. One more thing, even something as small as a stubbed toe, would push you tumbling head-first over the edge.

 

It also makes me think of my friend who received bad news about her daughter’s health last week. There has been physical and emotional pain, sleepless nights and difficult choices. My friend has been stretched to the limit and beyond. She saw the sign THIS IS YOUR LIMIT as she passed it then kept on going.

 

But the truth is she does have a limit. We all do. We hear well-meaning people tell us that God won’t give us any more than we can handle, but I’m here to tell you that sentiment just isn’t true. In fact, it’s a lie disguised as a scripture you won’t find in the Bible.

 

The Book of Psalms is full of people who were given more than they could handle. For instance: “I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.” And then there’s: “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” This is not from a person who is in control of the situation. This is definitely someone who cannot take it another moment.

 

My friend has been like the Apostle Paul, suffering hardship on top of hardship. When Paul said, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself,” he thought they wouldn’t survive.

 

So if there are times when we’re given greater burdens than our capacity to bear them, how is God good? Maybe our understanding of goodness isn’t Biblical either.

 

God never promised this life would be easy but He did promise He would never leave us. Again and again in Scripture He says: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

 

So my friend is allowed to be mad. She’s allowed to do the very Biblical act of crying out to God. She’s allowed to ask “why?” And through it all, the Lord will never leave her. He’s a mighty God. He can take a few accusations and some angry finger-pointing.

 

He will send comforters, both spiritual and physical, to meet her needs, also both spiritual and physical. He will weep with her and rejoice with her.

 

And His Son will say to her: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

My friend will be stretched farther than she ever thought was possible, and if the tension becomes too great and she snaps, God will be there for her at that moment, too.