Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Escaping Adversity

We (Americans) are a culture obsessed with comfort and convenience. We spend inordinate amounts of time and money trying to make ourselves more comfortable. Before the advent of electricity and the appliances it powered, mankind had adapted to the hardships and inconveniences of “life”. We accepted the realities of our existence and took pleasure in simple things: what we made with our own hands and shared with others. Today, however, the “simple life” has been replaced by the frenzied pursuit of more comfort and more convenience. Our present “reality” is artificial- a distraction from the interactions from which we formerly derived our sense of purpose, joy, and fulfillment. Interestingly, the present generation has more comfort, less stress, more “things”, more time to pursue leisure activities and more information available that at any time in history, yet we have the highest number of suicides and numbers of people on anti-depressants.

Many of us are drawn towards the promise of “the simple life”. Retirement is sought after as the time in life when we can slow and “smell the roses” (although my retired friends say they work harder than ever). We pay big bucks to take “primitive” vacations where we camp in the woods, ride horses, take canoe trips, hike miles of nature trails, and in short, take ourselves out of our comfortable bubble, and place ourselves in a relationship with nature. For many of us, that is very soul-satisfying. I personally derive great satisfaction from laboring hard to create something useful from the sweat of my brow, so to speak. I agree with the admonitions of my forefathers who taught that hard work was not to be avoided, for built strength of character and self-discipline. Our Founders taught us that self-government was ONLY fitting for self-disciplined people.

My father was a minister. He often told the story of a man who was sitting on his porch one afternoon, witness a butterfly attempting to escape his cocoon and take flight. The butterfly would struggle awhile, make some headway, then appear to rest for a bit before trying once again. The man, feeling a bit sorry for the plight of the butterfly, took a razorblade and slit the cocoon so as to hasten the escape of the butterfly. The butterfly emerged from his former prison but was unable to fly away. Soon, an army of ants discovered the disabled butterfly and set upon it with violence. Unable to escape, the butterfly was killed and devoured by the hungry ants. The man learned an important lesson. You see, it is in the struggle to escape the cocoon that butterfly’s wings are strengthened. Fluid is forced into the tiny capillaries at the extremities of the wings by the exertion of the butterfly. Without the exertion, the ability to fly is never developed and the beautiful butterfly becomes easy prey for its natural enemies.

I maintain that one of the primary reasons for the dysfunction of our present generation is we have become slaves to convenience and comfort. Parents cannot say NO to their children’s requests (demands) and then they wring their hands when their children wreck the cars that they didn’t have to pay for, or waste their college opportunities, or won’t leave the home when they graduate from high school. It seems that people in general urge (demand) that government intervene to lighten their load when they experience failed expectations. We expect government solutions to problems created by our own poor choices. Abortion is one example of irresponsible people seeking an easy escape from the natural consequences of their bad choices. Public assistance to the poor has NOT created incentive for people to work harder. Rather, it creates disincentive for people to work at all.

If you think life has dealt you unfairly, take it up with God. Try to understand the Divine Purpose for the things that are going on in your life instead of looking to parents, government, or immoral behavior as the “solution” to your circumstantial dilemma. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” That means that IF we love God, and will accept that our lives are to be lived according to HIS purpose, then we may rest I absolute conviction that ALL THINGS work together for GOOD. If, however, we try to remove God from the equation, and attempt to remain in our “comfort zone”, then we have no excuse when the natural consequences of our actions bear fruit.

Friedrich Nietzsche (who said a lot of stuff I agree with, and a lot of stuff I do not) said, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has." Jeremiah Burroughs (Puritan Scholar, 1600-1646) wrote "You will not find one Godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it. Though for a little while he was shaken, yet, at last, he was better for an affliction. But, a great many Godly men have been worse for their prosperity."

When I was in Basic Training with the U.S. Army, I was pushed to physical and emotional extremes that I had never previously experienced. Yet I knew that countless others had gone before me and I was experiencing nothing that had not been endured before. Besides, I also knew that combat would be the greatest challenge of my life, and I HAD to be as prepared for that as I could be if I wanted to survive. It is this framework that must define our approach to, and understanding of, adversity in our lives. Sin causes adversity and it intends to destroy us, but God uses that same adversity instead to make stronger, draw us to Himself, and perfect our Relationship with Him. Our avoidance of accountability, disdain for disruption, and pursuit of pleasure, weaken us and will destroy us as individuals, and as a nation. What was intended to become a beautiful butterfly will be eaten by the ants.

Dr. John Sterling

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