Romans 5: 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
Each February I’d compete in a 50km X-Country Ski race in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, and I could usually count on the conditions being miserable. A race rule was that you couldn’t start the race until it had warmed up to at least -23C (about -10 Fahrenheit), and this particular year we had to wait about 3 hours to reach that level. You always faced a quandary before the gun went off. You wanted to wear enough to stay warm, but not too much because you would sweat too much in the forest (especially during the 1km uphill climb after Meech Lake). Sure enough, I didn’t get that balance right and after about an hour of general uphill climbing I had sweated up my under-layer and racing suit. As we got out onto the parkway (a multi-lane roadway in the summer) the wind whipped up the hill. On the downhills, I’d get in a tuck position which I’d sometimes have to hold for two to three minutes. I recall getting to the bottom of a hill section and my joints were so cold that I could barely stand up straight, let alone ski again. I have never been so cold. I also found that my energy was being zapped faster than ever and I bonked (hit the wall) already about half way into the race. I staggered to a rest station (my balaclava frozen to my cheeks and neck), took on food and warmed up for a while and then continued. A race that I had completed in the past in around 2 ½ hours took me 4 ½ hours that day. I suffered like never before, but there was no way I would join the throngs of people getting snowmobile rides back to the start. I was committed to persevere through the suffering.
I have often found that athletes have a particular ability to endure hardship more than the general public. Anyone who has done running intervals or suicides to the point of puking, well beyond when your brain was telling you that you could do no more, generally has the ability to also persevere the trials of life. I find that Christian athletes are also able to better understand Paul’s words penned to the church in Rome. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5: 3-4)
As an athlete why do you put up with running lines on the basketball court until your lunch comes up? Why do you swim an hour of decreasing intervals before half the world even wakes? Why do you skate lines on the ice to the point where your quads feel like they are on fire? Why do you punish your body in the heat, in the rain, and in the cold? At any time, you could just call it quits. Why do you persevere? Because you know that as you persevere through your suffering in training, you will be ready on the day. When the suffering comes in the game or in the race, you will be ready. When your mind says you can’t go on, you say: “yes, I can, because I’ve persevered through my struggles in the past, and I made it out the other side”.
Paul is encouraging the church in Rome in the same way. Life has a way, at times, of handing us tremendous suffering. It can be relational heartbreak, death of a loved one, or persecution by the world. That same voice that screams at us to quit our workout is yelling “it’s not worth it; being a disciple of Christ is too painful; leave Him!”. But it is in these times where the athlete in you needs to roar. You must declare that your suffering will produce perseverance which will in turn create the Christian character that God desires, and in that place, there is hope! Are you suffering today? Persevere my brothers and sisters!