Today’s Reading: Hebrews 5
In talking about the power of mentoring, UCLA’s great basketball coach, John Wooden wrote:
“[President Abraham] Lincoln fiercely believed in self-sufficiency, and in the maturity and character that struggles and hardships can bring. This lesson is so important for teachers and parents. It is only natural for us to want to shield our students and our children from anything that might possibly cause them hurt or to suffer or even to be uncomfortable. But some degree of pain is necessary for a person to become suited for the responsibilities that lay ahead.”
Pain is necessary. Those are true but tough words to swallow. In today’s chapter we encounter a topic that is not often discussed in our culture. The writer of Hebrews speaks of a classroom that is often overlooked but more so avoided—the classroom of suffering. And we see that Father God was doing exactly what Lincoln and Wooden spoke about with His Son Jesus: “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
Suffering and learning. These are words we don’t normally associate together. Suffering and learning are partners, and they are integral in the life of Jesus.
Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the great British Christian writers, did not come to faith until later in life. His words on suffering and learning are powerful:
“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.
Amy Carmichael can attest to that. Carmichael was a missionary to India in the early 1900s. She was the originator of the safe house, rescuing young girls at a time when the world did not know about the horrific exploitation of them. She did this at the risk of her own life.
In 1932, Carmichael was badly injured in a fall, which broke her leg and twisted her spine, and which left her mostly bedridden and in constant pain for the next twenty years until her death. Rarely did she sleep through a night without waking up in pain. However, while bedridden, Carmichael wrote sixteen books that are filled with awe-inspiring revelation. All coming from a fall, sleepless nights, and back pain. We could learn from her suffering.
Helen Keller said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” Those are the learners. We try to avoid pain instead of learning from pain, which leads us to where we waste our pain. A. W. Tozer was spot on when he said: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
Our Daily Bread tells the story of A. Parnell Bailey who toured an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken down. The season was in a drought, and the trees were beginning to die. Next Bailey visited another orchard where irrigation was used sparingly. “These trees could go without rain for another two weeks,” the man giving Bailey the tour told him. “When they were young, I frequently kept water from them. This hardship and pain caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now mine are the deepest-rooted trees in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at a greater depth.”
That’s what happens in pain, we learn to go deeper in God. Pain takes us deeper so we are not hurt by the pain but have learned to draw our resources from a place of depth. As Mildred Witte Struven explained: “A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.”
I want to be porcelain. I want to come out of the struggle with depth and value that wasn’t there before the struggle and pain.
Robert B. Hamilton’s poem called “Sufferings” captures it well:
“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.”