by Rob Tims
“If you think you’re that good at tennis, then walk over to the park and try and beat the backboard.”
These were the words of my mother who was exasperated with both the vast amount of free time I had one summer and the utter lack of humility I had about my tennis game. I marched off in search of a victory, but returned all too shocked at my inability to keep much of a rally against the “green monster” plywood backboard.
It’s a wall I would return to countless times over, and while I never won, I did walk away with important life lessons about patience … about enduring the relentless onslaught of an unforgiving force … about suffering under the weight of an immovable reality that handily crushed my best efforts to defeat it.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve watched my mother learn this same lesson, only against a more brutal foe named ALS. This horrible disease robbed her of her speech, her strength, her balance and her mobility. It took her life one synapse at a time, teasing her with moments of sudden strength, and then quickly robbing her of all she thought she gained and more.
One of the real difficulties believers face is our call to be patient in the face of suffering. We know that God has revealed certain truths. The future is ultimately secure, and when we die we will go to heaven. We also know that God is going to renovate the earth. He is not going to fail in His promises. In the meantime, however, we suffer, and it is easy for us to become impatient.
The Bible’s answer to us in those moments (in part) is to offer hope. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:18 “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” This is a sustaining hope … a hope that beats the backboard of suffering. It is a confident knowledge that God is going to fulfill His purposes, and that our suffering will not last forever.
Yet it is not only hope that enables us to endure the suffering of this world. There is the Helper. Says Paul in Romans 8:26, “In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.” We don’t just have hope for suffering’s end, but personal help to endure it until our hope is realized.
I hated practicing on the backboard. The hours I was forced to spend there seemed wasted to me until I was much older. Likewise, often when we suffer, it is difficult (ok … impossible) to see how our suffering can possibly be beneficial. No matter how trying the circumstances, though, we can know God is with us in our weakness and bringing about suffering’s end.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.