I got'ta hand it to my little guy. He’s had health issues since he was a toddler. Lots of doctors never diagnosed his condition. The most obvious issue, of many, has been his weight, which reached a crisis proportion this last year. Obesity is hard, and it’s harder in a world that judges, criticizes and mocks the person struggling with it. It’s even harder when you’re just a little kid.
Each year of his 9 year old life, more problems developed for him. His weight increased. He has four older siblings, and none of them had this issue. There was talk of rare genetic and metabolic causes since he had other health concerns. He was often anxious, often sick because of problems with his immune system, he had sleep apnea and developed frequent migraines. They found a cyst on his brain, but removal was held off due to the complexity of his diagnosis.
Then a truly amazing and wonderful thing happened! We believe that God healed our son through a combination of events and the answer to so, so many prayers. We praise God that our son’s regular migraines are gone. Other symptoms have faded. He still deals with more than many kids, but he’s beginning to surface after a long period of infirmity. The enemy stole a lot from him beside his health, and God is beginning to restore those things, too.
God healed something in my son’s body that is finally permitting him to lose weight. He’s already lost a significant amount. Thank you, Jesus! I was walking with him yesterday, something that still requires tremendous effort from him. He was working hard, harder than most kids could appreciate. He rested intermittently on a “resting rock” (one that is a natural seat) when he needed, or sat on the side of the road in brittle leaves with sticks, stones and tiny tufts of kelly green grass for a scratchy, bumpy rug. He complained, but then he would get up and persevere.
My heart has broken with a persistent rhythm as I’ve seen my little guy suffer over time. Much of it has been physical, and as much of it has been social and emotional. He asked me why he had to eat so little when other kids eat regularly. I explained to him that God healed him, but that a lot of damage had been done, and that has to be undone. He understood, and hefted himself up to climb the next hill.
In church this morning I asked God why my son had to suffer so much. We want to shelter and protect our kids from suffering. It’s awful to see them hurting. I didn’t expect the lightbulb that poofed over my head, but it came. God instantly answered me. He simply said “Character.”
Victory over struggles changes a person.
Romans 5:3-5 delineates a remarkable spiritual process. Paul explains;
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, 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.”
You can’t skip the suffering in the process of developing perseverance, character, and finally, hope. Suffering can also be worded hard pressed, persecuted or rubbed together (thlibó [thlee’-bo] in the Greek). Suffering is significant. It’s not inconvenience, or discomfort. It’s more than that. It’s something you can’t escape, that’s closing in on you.
Perseverance can also be worded endurance, steadfastness or patiently waiting for (hupomoné [hoop-om-on-ay’] in the Greek). We persevere by waiting, enduring our suffering and standing firm. Faith is required to persevere. You need to believe there’s an end to the struggle, that the wait is for a reason.
People who haven’t developed character blend in with the crowd, and often follow it.
Interestingly, the Greek word for character is dokimos (dok’-ee-mos) which means approved, acceptable, tried. To possess character one must have passed tests in the form of perseverance and trials (thus having been tried). Cushy, easy lives contain no trials, no tests to pass. Character is back bone and requires the strength that is earned by endurance.
Character isn’t earthly approval, although it can lead to favor by man. The approval is ultimately God’s approval. Christian character comes from a close relationship with God. Through our trials, we learn over time that God is faithful. I Corinthians 1:8-9 says;
“He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Hope is knowing that our good God will come through.
This is why we are told to glory in our sufferings (Romans 5:3). They will ultimately produce a harvest of hope. True hope and fear are mutually exclusive. There is freedom and joy in hope. We know there’s going to be a good outcome to our trials. When we are mature in our relationship with God, we can endure our sufferings. But what of the suffering of those we love? Does our faith extend to cover them when all we want to do is take away their struggle and hurt?
We’ll instinctively work, pray and do everything we can to eliminate suffering for our loved ones. We need, however, to be able to claim the promise of character and hope for those who suffer and persevere. That’s one reason why we are told to “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) We have the honor of walking alongside brother and sisters in Christ as they endure trials. There will be burdens. They are part of life. In 16:33, Jesus said;
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Yes, my little guy has a long road ahead of him. It’s not fair, as many things aren’t. God showed me today “why” He is allowing so much struggle and required perseverance in his short life. The enemy sought to “steal and kill and destroy” (see John 10:10) but God is restoring. In the process He is a potter molding my son’s character to be more Christ-like, and He is in the process of developing hope in his heart. Tomorrow, when I reach out my hand to help him heave himself up off the ground for another mile, I’ll remind us both to “Take heart!”