My phone brightly flashes the number 01:03 as my 4-week old son’s eyes begin to close. He’s been drowsy for what seems like hours now. He can’t be hungry and his diaper is definitely clean. The sound of two ladies discussing Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole echoes from my computer. I’ve listened to 11 episodes of this podcast so far tonight while feeding, changing, and rocking this little guy to sleep. The ladies inform me that Scott decided to use ponies instead of sled dogs for his trip when my son’s eyes flutter open. He starts to shimmy and shake like he’s in a dance contest – make that a dance marathon. His mouth opens and utters a deep cry. Face scrunched up, eyes wide open, and I can’t take it anymore. “Just go to sleep! Please!” I plead with him. “I know you’re tired and sleep would feel so good.” I could be talking to either one of us at this point. I’m frustrated and ready to give up.
Why am I so frustrated? He’s 4 weeks old and this is what 4-week-old babies do. My wife does this almost every night and she’s so patient with him. I have him this one night and I’m already done with it. Maybe I’m frustrated because it’s so late, but I’ve stayed up late before and I don’t get this frustrated. Maybe it’s because he won’t do what I want him to do, but I don’t seem to care about that during the day as much. It’s just so hard! I want taking care of my son to come naturally. I want to rock him to sleep in one hand while flipping burgers in the other. “Look at him go” the imaginary people will say, “he makes it look so easy!” And my wife will respond with grateful cries of agreement. Oh, if only life were so easy!
The easy road and the hard road
What I’ve found is that there’s a little scale in my heart that measures value based on how hard or easy something comes. If I find something difficult, I decide it’s probably not worth the effort, so I might as well give it up or choose something easier. While my scale works well for some things, it ultimately falls short. For example, I chose my university degree using the scale and ended up doing something I was good at and enjoyed. I was attracted to my wife partly because she was so easy to love. Loving her came extremely easy and often still does. In fact, that’s how I pick my friends too. I hang out with people who are easy and fun to hang out with. I think most people do that. The problem comes when I’m faced with situations where I know that the harder thing is the more valuable thing. Like spending time with someone who most people generally find hard to love. Or trying to get my child to shut his eyes before I go insane from sleep deprivation.
When I consider my desire for an easy life, I’m forced to admit that my desires align more with my culture than with God’s word. Years ago, Staples had an ad campaign about an “easy” button. The idea was that you could get everything you needed at Staples (even a button that said “that was easy”) and didn’t need to go anywhere else. Now, thanks to things like Amazon Prime, I can order almost anything from the internet and as long as I have the energy to go to my front door, I’ll get it within a week or less. I’m all for making life easier, but it makes it difficult to read certain passages in scripture. What am I supposed to do when Jesus tells me to rejoice in persecution and hardship (Matt. 5:11)? Or how about when James and Peter both talk about the joy that comes from trials (James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6-7). Peter even tells us that the result of these trials, namely faith, is more precious than gold! Here I am, excited that I can now order McDonald’s straight to my door, while at the centre of our faith we have Jesus being beaten, tortured, and killed for a crime he didn’t commit. The contrast is jarring.
The goodness of hardship
My problem is that I have taken a good thing, comfort, and turned it into an ultimate thing. Instead of using comfort as a tool for productivity or rest, I have pursued it above everything else, including God himself. I’ve assigned a value to it that it does not deserve and cannot live up to. Comfort was never meant to be the ultimate thing in my life, and neither is hardship. God uses each as a tool to shape me into the image of Christ. Comfort tests whether I will depend on God when everything goes my way, or if I’ll chalk my easy life to my morality or hard work. Hardship tests whether I will depend on God when everything comes against me, or if I’ll try to persevere on my own strength or turn away from God completely.
So praise God for my crying son! It may be counterintuitive, but when I realize that I’m overvaluing something so much that I put it above God, I can thank him for pointing that out. It’s only by God’s grace that I can even recognize this deep-seeded problem in my heart. The worst thing for me in this situation would be for God to give me an easy life. If God really wanted to hurt me he would give me a sleepy son, a photographic memory, and unlimited resources. How would all these great things hurt me? They would affirm my false belief that comfort is good and hardship is bad. They would feed a terrible lie that prevents me from experiencing hard, but sweet dependence on God. If everything came easy I wouldn’t know that I need God. That’s God’s grace – doing whatever it takes to help me experience the true and limitless value only he provides, even when it hurts.
Praise God because he has suffered the worst hardships on our behalf! I have such a sweet example of the joy behind hardship because of the work of Jesus Christ. I pray that instead of seeing hardship as something to be avoided, I would view it as something I can use to grow my faith. I hope that one day I will see hardship coming and smile because I’ve experienced the joy on the other side. No, I don’t want to be a masochist, loving pain just for pain’s sake. I want to be like an athlete, enduring hours of gruelling workouts and countless failures so that at the end of my life I’ll still be going strong.
Praise God because he is far more satisfying and brings more peace than my easiest day! Instead of pursuing the fleeting joy and peace that comes from an easy day, I can look to God for full joy and endless peace. An easy life is not the best life. Now if only I can remind myself of that at 1 am.