Weathering a Storm: The Unsung Virtue of ENDURANCE

Posted on February 02, 2014 by Katherine Ruch


Just the other day my two year old and six year old received some Santa stickers in the mail.  My six year old was cutting out the face of Santa to make it into a Grinch.  My two year old was running around the house screaming, "He is cutting Father Christmas! He is cutting Father Christmas!"  He began to attack his brother to protect Father Christmas.  Now I observed all of this and realized there was nothing I could do to appeal to Becket's "higher self," except to insist that he stop pounding on his brother.  In his mind, he was being a valiant protector of Father Christmas.  We would all have to endure this phase in our two year old.  He was incapable of understanding how creative his brother was being and how nothing harmful at all would happen to the real Father Christmas (hmmm...another layer of complication).  So we extend grace to Becket and weather the storm.  Some trials we know will pass, such as a developmental phase in a child.  And yet, these trials must still be endured.

Certain seasons of my parenting have required more coffee than others while I stay up and wait for the developmental change to arrive and relieve all of us--such as the "child hates bathing phase," when we have to spend precious emotional capital and get wet all over every time we decide we can't put off the bath one more week.  Or the night fears, or the night waking.  Or the child who is deeply hurt in a friendship.  Or what about the phase of "My Do It"?   Every task becomes a power struggle and a clean-up.  Or the phase of fighting every diaper change?  Many times my husband and I have looked at each other and said, "Oh, that phase.  How long does that last again?"

I have been reflecting on this virtue of endurance for awhile.  Normally when we talk about "enduring" a season or something painful, we make it sound like we simply grit our teeth and wait for the tide to change. This is definitely a part of it.  We are withstanding a trial, in other words, we are doing all we can simply to stand in a storm and not cave into our baser natures.  But the good news is, when we endure and simply feel like we are waiting for this to pass, great inner transformation can be at work.  In some ways, it is as if God is helping us grow up, taking us through developmental stages of maturity in which we do not have the capacity to see the whole picture, and he weathers it with us.  Otherwise, why would Scripture tell us that endurance produces character, and eventually hope, which actually opens us up to love and the Spirit of God?

"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 out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3)

According to the Webster dictionary, endurance is "the ability to do something difficult for a long time," or "the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time."  Enduring great trials over time builds character.  

And it takes character to live in hope.  It takes character not to look to the present to meet all of our desires and needs and truly to believe that this is leading to good.

We have all heard of the process of refining gold and silver, and how it requires sustained heat over time.  Somehow certain aspects of our character only change when we are pressured over time, and slowly, as we submit to the trial, we find we become stronger, more mature in our ability to handle difficulty.  We grow muscles that can carry more.

In endurance, we are forced to go deeper, beyond immediate reactions, and face into the reality of the journey, including our own expectations, limited resources, and immature responses.  If we must be in this for the long haul, what must change in us to make that marathon possible?  It is almost like we as children exhaust our ranting and raving and finally quiet down to hear what we're being told.

Most of the trials that make up our lives are the trials that will prepare us to endure the big trials.  This is the stuff of everyday--an illness, a child who is struggling, an unresolved argument, lack of sleep, a financial difficulty, an abscessed tooth (I reference this because that was my trial a few weeks ago).

But some trials require an extra amount of endurance.  These are the trials that often go for years.  It is the years of lack of sleep, the long term illness, the child who will always be suffering, the loss that is ever present, some constant inner battle, a parent who is deteriorating, a deep betrayal, single-parenting, political chaos.  Endurance on this scale puts the other smaller trials in perspective.  For instance, I have a dear friend fighting breast cancer while still trying to raise a family and plant a church alongside her husband.  When my sister's newborn baby was diagnosed with a brain tumor, they knew that some aspects of the years that would unfold would simply exercise their virtue in endurance, and it did for eleven years.

My husband and I watched a documentary on the underground Chinese church.  Some of these leaders had been imprisoned for years at a time and were interviewed.  We kept looking at each other and saying, "Who are these people?  What rare Christians--so full of hope, joy, and complete surrender."  One interview has continued to stay with me.  It was with a man who had been in prison for eleven years, out for a few, and then arrested again.  He said that the second time in prison he was in despair, crying out to God, "How long?  Just tell me how long I will be here so that I can brace myself. Is it as long as the first time?"  He said he felt alone and that God was silent.  When he finally said to the Lord, "OK, you don't have to tell me how long this will last.  I will simply trust you and be here in this place with you," the joy of the companionship of God Himself flooded him.  He didn't have to know.  God was with him in the dark.

Endurance requires stepping into, not away from, the trial.  It means entering into the unknowns of the trial--"I really have no idea how long this will go on and what will happen to me along the way." It means getting out of the boat in the storm to meet Jesus. The temptation in trials is to distance ourselves from God, who we see as responsible for not removing this trial.  This pulling away will strip us of all the grace to endure.  Instead of wasting our time being angry at God that he has allowed a storm, we need that attentive voice to hear Jesus saying, "Come to me on the waves in the storm.  You will find that you are walking toward me regardless of the storm."

The Lord brings all kinds of unexpected grace when we walk with him in a storm or valley.  Gifts abound if we live in acceptance, instead of bitterness and resistance.  We must put away all self-pity and complaining if we are to receive the help he is providing. Some of the graces I have found in trials involve: humor; coffee and other simple pleasures; surprises in relationships; an awareness of inner change; unexpected encounters with the Lord in Scripture, prayer, and the Church; prophetic words from others that are sustaining; nature and the beauty of the outdoors; music; wonderful story through books and edifying movies.

Gratitude for the small blessings is also a vehicle of grace.  I keep a notebook of gifts that I might otherwise miss, such as "the oak leaf hydrangea in full bloom," "Becket's little voice and his hand on my cheek," "Madeleine crocheting on her great, great grandmother's bed." "Boys in the snow," "Gillian drawing mice."

When you accept that you must step into a trial and draw close to the Lord, hope begins to stir.  God gives more expansive vision for your life.  Where you once just wanted relief or comfort, now you want meaning, transformation, connection, a deep settledness that is not so easily over turned.  You want to be more rooted in love so that the storms do not sweep you away.  A gift of perspective is imparted, and you find yourself maturing.  In looking back after having endured a trial, you realize you are different now.  You have been transformed. My sister and brother-in-law just lost that child of eleven years who had had the brain tumor.  Jeff says that reading Scripture now he finds himself weeping for joy for the hope he has in Christ.  They endured and found the gift of hope.

Some people feel their whole lives have been one long road of endurance, and that all has been drained from them simply to be able to stand against wave after wave.  I have met some of these people, and those who have stood with Christ don't even realize that they have been seasoned by storms, and a time will come, if it hasn't already, when what they have to offer to others will be something as solid as smooth stones weathered to perfection, unmoved and unimpressed by roiling waters.  These people, even if hidden to us, are a testimony beyond this world even to the spirit realm, as Job was to the darkest of creatures.  We have no idea the cosmic reach our endurance achieves.

Next time you realize you must simply endure something (which is not so simple), consider the opportunity provided to get closer to Jesus on the waves.  As you stand firmly, facing Jesus with a wave about to take you under, you might just find yourself walking on the water.

Verses on Endurance:

Luke 21:19:  "By your endurance you will gain your lives."

Romans 15:4-6: "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Colossians 1:11: "May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance, patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light."

Hebrews 12:1-2: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

Revelation 13:10: "If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes;  if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.  Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints."

II Timothy 2:12: "If we endure, we will also reign with him."

Hebrews 10:36: "For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised."

Hebrews 12:7: "It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons..."

I Peter 2: 20: "But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God."