The discomfort of struggle

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“NO!  DON’T TOUCH IT!”  I remember quickly intervening before my four-year old son “helped” a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.

“You have to let it come out by itself,” I instructed.

“But it needs help!” he demanded.

“No, it doesn’t.  It needs to struggle its own way out, or it will die.  It needs to get stronger by working itself out of that cocoon – if it doesn’t, it won’t be strong enough to fly away.”

Obedient, but dissatisfied, he relented and watched the grueling struggle as the wriggling, writhing thing slowly – ever so slowly – finally emerged and spread its wings to dry.  With revelry, he squealed in exaltation when “his” butterfly finally took flight, under its own power, and left the safety of our observation tank.

But there was another butterfly in our collection that had yet to emerge, and I did not catch my son before he gently “helped” the next one out.  That butterfly never spread its wings.  It never flew away.  It never did what butterflies were meant to do.  We found it on the floor of the terrarium, dead, not long after.

I knew what had happened without him confessing, but I asked him if he’d tried to “help” his other butterfly.  Embarrassed, he denied it at first, and then with tears he said, “I just wanted to help him!  He couldn’t get out!”

So many times I am tempted, like my son, to take a short-cut through the struggles in life.

I want to “help” my kids figure things out.

I want to “help” myself by bypassing the hard things.

I want to “help” the friends and loved ones in my life out of the pain and suffering they find themselves in because I don’t want them to struggle.

But when I look back at the times in my life when God has revealed his character to me best and deepest, I can point, without exception, to the painful and difficult struggles I’ve gone through.

I could not have known God the way I know him without them.

Why then do I insist on looking to avoid the uncomfortable struggle of getting through them?  Would I trade knowing God deeply and richly for an easier life?  God forbid that I would ever say so… but isn’t that exactly what we say when we try to escape the hard things?

I know that there is joy when the hard things are over.  And there is a depth of gratitude that comes when seasons of pain are memories and no longer daily realities.  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but love cannot cease to will their removal.”

But the joy and the gratitude are impossible without the pain that precedes them.

I would not be able to know how sweet joy can be without knowing the bitterness of bone-grinding difficulties.  And my gratitude grows as deep as the plumbs of my despair when I have suffered loss and seen that God is good.

The struggles we face – and we watch others face – can, indeed, be uncomfortable to watch, to endure.  But there is such beauty ahead if we will wait with patient anticipation of the strength and character he will mold in us through them, if we will just trust Him.

By all means, help when it is necessary – but only when it is absolutely necessary.  And that is likely much later than we are typically comfortable with.

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