Here in Mexico, many middle-class people spend a significant amount of time and money reducing suffering and the potential for suffering. I suspect Mexicans are not alone in their engagement of this pursuit. (I’m using ‘suffering’ in a very broad sense here—anything from ‘annoyance’ to ‘effort’ to ‘persecution’.) For example, here in Mexico, you can perform many tasks in ‘drive-thru’ mode to reduce the ‘suffering’ of having to get out of your car and walk. Buying lunch, going to the ATM, buying the paper, buying new windscreen wipers (!) and taking your kids to school are all activities it is possible to undertake in a suffering-free manner.
Many people have house helpers, drivers, gardeners, car washers and others who help reduce the suffering caused by having to do menial domestic tasks (although it’s not as simple as that because some families I know employ people for these tasks as a way of helping the poor in their neighbourhood.)
On the other hand, many activities (like visiting a new place or trying a new activity because it may be unknown or difficult) raise the possibility of future suffering.
I’m all for making life easier and more convenient. There’s no sense in suffering unnecessarily just for the sake of suffering. Or is there? What are we saying if we spend so much time and effort in reducing or trying to eliminate suffering?
As I look at our culture of suffering-avoidance, I’m starting to wonder what consequences this attitude might bear. I wonder, for example, what message we are sending our kids when they experience a life that is convenient and easy, with it all laid out in front of them and cleaned up after them once they’ve finished.
Reading Romans 5:3-5 the other morning was a catalyst for further thought on this issue. Here Paul is not a member of the ‘suffering avoidance’ club; instead, he rejoices in his sufferings. Whether these ‘sufferings’ are specifically persecutions for the faith or the sufferings of living in a fallen world is up for debate, but Paul’s response is not. He rejoices in them.
Why? It’s because of the consequences that follow—endurance, which in turn produces character, which in turn produces hope—a hope that does not disappoint because of God’s love through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Notice the flow. Suffering—generally thought of as negative thing—produces highly sought after results: endurance, character and hope. I suspect that most of us can look back on our lives and see how a period of either momentary or extended suffering has brought these three positive outcomes. Perhaps for some who are in a period of suffering now, these positive consequences seem a long way off. I hope that if that is you, Paul’s words here offer a distant, but distinct light in a thick darkness.
So what about the kids of middle-class Mexicans, Australians, Americans and many others? Surely as Christian parents these three outcomes—endurance, character and hope—are traits we want for our children. I realize that suffering is not the only means by which these traits are developed, but I wonder if, when we keep on taking away the opportunities for suffering—whether it be minor day-to-day irritations and efforts to bigger things, like allowing our kids to take some risks—are we actually preventing opportunities for our kids to develop into robust Christian servants with a mature sense of endurance, character and hope?
If we continually ensure their future path is as smooth as possible, are we making it more difficult for them to make costly decisions in the future—for example, moving house into a difficult neighbourhood for the sake of growing the church there; making the ‘risky’ career decision for the sake of evangelism; and living a less convenient life for the sake of giving more money away?
So do we need to specifically manufacture risky situations? No; in most cases, I don’t think so. With a bit of discernment and wisdom, I think we can make choices that allow an element of risk in the door, and thus allow the potential for endurance, character and hope.