Watching a five-month-old baby go through teething is quite an amazing and surreal experience. Babies cry, run temperatures, get irritated easily, throw up, and more – all so they can grow four pearly white teeth.
All that hassle for teeth!
A part of me so desperately wanted to rescue this infant from the throes of teething discomfort but what good would that do? I would only be delaying the inevitable and doing him a disservice.
The Fruit of Pain
This led me to reflect on the nature of growth in the Christian life. A famous preacher once said when something hurts, it means you are growing. When it stops hurting, it means you have grown and are now enjoying the quality, virtue, discipline (or in the case of babies, teeth) you have developed.
There is something about pain that seems to cause growth and maturity. Pain usually precedes the pleasure derived from growth. Like that irritated five-month-old baby, sometimes you find yourself in circumstances that are totally uncomfortable; it hurts so bad, you can hardly stand it. Friends, family, and well-wishers tell you ‘it’s natural’, ‘it’s part of life’, ‘everyone goes through it’ but the truth is that as familiar as pain is to the human body, no one ever rolls out the red carpet for its arrival. We despise pain, and rightly so. As familiar as sickness and death are, they both retain the ability to shock, awe, and cause deep despair.
So, what do we do?
If pain is an inevitable part of living on this side of eternity, how can we learn to live with this uncomfortable bedfellow? I have one word for you – endurance.
Endurance is the ability to withstand hardship or adversity for a lengthy period without giving way. It is a potent mix of faith, hope, patience, and expectation that surely there is an end. The word conjures up an image of gritted teeth, strained veins, and clenched fists. Endurance is not a pretty sight. It simply is not giving up even when every breath is drawn with pain.
Endurance is hard and therefore must be upheld by a really good reason. Without a good reason, endurance is a futile exercise in martyrdom. Why would a mother endure the trauma of labor? Why would a long-distance runner endure the crippling pain roaring through his muscles? Why would a baby endure the discomfort of teething? The reward of birthing something new (a.k.a growth).
Whether it’s growing in your relationship with God, learning a new skill, attempting a career change, or navigating a rough patch in a relationship, endurance is the necessary thorny road we must all walk to experience the satisfaction of the outcome we desire.
I recently took up running in a bid to keep fit during this period of forced inactivity and I can tell you that it’s a feat of endurance. Every fiber in my body screams as I forcibly awaken muscles I didn’t even know I had all in the bid to get my desired goal. Though it hurts like hell, I know that there are no shortcuts to growth; it’s either pain or watching the needle rise on the scale.
Maturity sometimes only comes after being grounded by the crushing stone of pain and discipline. We cannot truly empathize with others until we have scars of our own. Pain is usually a fertile ground where new virtues, strength, fruit, disciplines germinate, and grow.
That five-month-old baby might ask: “all this inconvenience just to grow teeth”?! Yes, after all, who wants to be toothless at the age of 20? There’s no way the baby is to know that the teeth he is painfully cultivating now will let him conquer bigger challenges like eating meat in the future.
The pain and challenges you endure today qualify and equips you for the next round of your journey. As tempting as it might be to run away from the fight today, please don’t do it lest you arrive at the next mountain ill-equipped to overcome it.
Growing hurts, but it’s sure worth it.