Watching a baby go through teething is quite an amazing experience. Crying, developing temperatures and throwing up are all part of the process just so they can grow four pearly white teeth! It can be tempting to want to rescue an infant from the throes of teething discomfort but what good would that do? It would only be delaying the inevitable and doing her a disservice in the interim.
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 and discipline (or in the case of babies, teeth) you have developed.
Pain usually precedes the pleasure derived from growth. Like that irritated baby, sometimes you find yourself in uncomfortable situations that cause immense pain and discomfort. Friends, family and well-wishers may 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, while common, both sickness and death retain the ability to shock and cause feelings of despair.
So, what do we do? If pain is an inevitable part of living 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; a good end to a current difficulty. The word conjures up an image of gritted teeth, strained veins and clenched fists. Endurance is not a pretty sight.
Endurance is hard and is, without a good reason, simply a futile exercise in martyrdom. Why would a mother endure the trauma of labour? Why would a long-distance runner endure the searing pain roaring through her muscles? Why would a parent or carer allow a baby to endure the discomfort of teething? The reward is the birth of something new.
Whether it’s growing in your relationship with God, learning a new skill, a career change or navigating a rough patch in a relationship; endurance is the necessary thorny path 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 we know as lockdown and every fibre 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 so much I’m tempted to quit, I know that there are no shortcuts to growth.
Growing hurts. Maturity sometimes only comes after being grounded by the crushing stone of pain and discipline. We cannot truly empathise with others until we have scars of our own. Pain is usually a fertile ground where new virtues, strength, fruit, disciplines germinate and grow.
If she could talk, the infant might well ask: ‘All this inconvenience just to grow teeth??’ And we would reply: Yes! After all, who wants to be toothless their whole lives! There’s no way the baby is to know that the teeth she is painfully cultivating now will help her conquer bigger challenges like eating solid food in the future.
So as tempting as it might be to run away from the fight today, please sit with it, lest you arrive at the next mountain ill-equipped to overcome it.
Growing hurts, but it sure is worth it.
Dammy Olatoye is a youth leader in her local community church where she enjoys leading Bible studies for young people. Read more from her at unvarnished.org and on Twitter