The Trouble With Trouble

When hardships come, we are left with a simple choice: Do I quit or endure?

Excerpted From
Before You Quit
By Doug Gehman

Every difficulty reveals how badly we want something and how much we believe in something. When difficulty confronts us, we have two choices: forsake the vision or fight well until the goal is reached. To quit is to abandon the hoped-for future. To persevere is to embrace pain, look disappointment in the face, and press courageously forward until the storm passes and the sun comes out again. But one thing is always true about difficulty: It reveals what we really believe and what we really want. Nobody ever ascended Mount Everest who didn’t want to climb to the top. Nobody ran 26.2 miles who didn’t want to finish a marathon. Nobody ever built a successful business who didn’t want prosperity, and no one has ever conquered alcoholism who didn’t want to be sober.

Do I quit and flee, or do I persevere to victory? These are the two options of every difficulty. The challenge will be tough, yet it is in the difficulty we discover what we really want, what we really believe, and where our motives really are. Do I really trust God? Do I truly want this? Am I willing to press through? At that moment, we decide what to fight for and what kind of person to be.

The great tragedy of our day is the fact that a great good—the life of ease, comfort and safety with which we have become so accustomed—has stolen from us familiarity with difficulty. We simply do not know how to handle disappointment and pain, and therefore struggle when it comes near. Even Christians, who rely on God’s sovereignty and acknowledge man’s sinfulness, are influenced by our culture’s self-assurance. We expect things to go well for us, and we place an inordinate amount of confidence in science, technology and human wisdom to solve humanity’s problems. Prosperity and a relatively long season of global peace has numbed us to the facts of history: Humanity is not yet redeemed; we are still very broken and haven’t changed as much as we think. Without God’s transcendent work in our lives, we find it almost impossible to persevere through loss that does not have an obvious benefit to us.

When trouble comes to us, it arrives as an unwelcome imposition and lays pain and uncertainty at our feet. We question and sometimes even blame God. Difficulty upsets our equilibrium. The pain of the loss is bad enough, but delays, insufficiencies and worry about the future can be just as difficult. Difficulty robs us of or denies us access to something we value, and we either flee the circumstances or fight to endure.

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QUIT OR ENDURE

When pilots are training to fly, they are taught to anticipate emergencies. In addition to mastering a specific airplane’s flight controls and aerodynamic limits, they learn how to control their emotional responses under pressure. Pilots overcome reactive emotions such as denial, overconfidence, resignation and panic by countering them with memorized response statements. For example, the corrective response for resignation is, “Not everything is hopeless. I still have choices.” In every scenario, a pilot learns to fly the airplane!

After 40 years in leadership, I’ve seen this kind of reactive behavior over and over. When people are confronted with difficulty, they quit “flying the airplane.” Too many people squander great opportunity because they can’t make it through the first test. We might make big sacrifices for the idea of a goal: We spend money, deny comfort and even leave a stable life to pursue a dream. But then, when hardships come lurking from the shadows, and things don’t go the way we hoped, the dream gets foggy, excitement wanes and we are left with a simple choice: Do I quit or endure?

REALIZATION OF VISION

We may have a vision to accomplish something, but that is only the beginning. The substance has not yet been realized. Vision will always be tested on its way to realization. Difficulty is the perfect test. It is God’s way of hauling our values out of the shadows into the light. Whether it is a failed life goal or a personal tragedy, difficulty reveals what we really care about, how deeply rooted our faith really is, and how centered we are on accomplishing something God gave us to do in his purposes for our life. Difficulty refines our trust in God and proves our commitment to the task. The power of difficulty is found in the opportunity it gives us to practice determination and learn perseverance.

We must never forget that the attainment of goals (even God-inspired ones), the length of time it takes to get there, and the avoidance of difficulty along the way, is never guaranteed. Achievement of goals and victory over challenges are not endowments. They are won in the crucible of real-world pain and gritty courage, one intentional step after another. The Bible repeatedly reminds us of this great confluence of dreams and challenges in the journey toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Moses lived in obscurity for decades, and then struggled to lead the emerging Jewish nation for decades more before God’s promises to him were fulfilled. Ironically, Moses did not live to see its full realization. Joseph was a privileged teenager when his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. His youthful dream of headship in his family was tested through years of unjust hardship in slavery and prison. It was finally fulfilled when he was 30 years old in ways that surpassed everyone’s expectations.

How do I distinguish between my goals and God’s? The simplest answer is found in a statement made by David in the Psalms. “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Ps. 40:8). When we settle this question about our motivations and make our primary goal in life to follow God’s leading, to allow him to be first in all things and his will to be our delight and passionate pursuit, then we position ourselves to discover a profound freedom. We can hear from him and more confidently walk forward into dreams and goals that he gives us.

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Somewhere between our hopes for a trouble-free life and the reality of difficulties, we can experience God’s grace and forward movement toward his designed goals. The key is in perseverance. Perseverance navigates through the sometimes shadowy and painful gap between unrealized goals and their ultimate fulfillment. The lessons we learn in the gap, on a patient but determined journey, teach us valuable perspectives about the God we serve and his amazing redemptive purposes for the world.

In the gap—whether that time is spent in passive, prayerful waiting like Paul in prison or in active service doing something that is less than we want out of life—God is testing us. Do I really value his ways? Do I trust his sovereignty? Am I willing to wait on his timing and conduct myself as a Christ-follower in the interim? Am I willing to learn and grow in Christ through difficulty and delay?

When delays, difficulties and disappointments happen to us—whether we suffer from a tragic loss, an unexpected setback or a self-inflicted wound by a bad decision—we lose something, and that loss presents us with a “quit or endure” challenge. Most loss fits into four categories: time, fun, treasure and relationships, which we will explore … and consider how we can endure, survive and even thrive through loss to discover what God offers us in exchange.

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Excerpted from Before You Quit: Everyday Endurance, Moral Courage, and the Quest for Purpose by Doug Gehman. (©2020). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.