(I’ve invited friends to share their own stories of endurance or the stories of others. My prayer is that you would be inspired and encouraged as you read each guest post. Learn more about my new book: Sacred Endurance.)
By Susan Codone
Human endurance doesn’t last. Rather, pummeled by life’s events, it jerks to a resentful stop, erupts in a bout of complaints, and then reluctantly reinstates itself to start again. Endurance is not a heroic stream of persistence or a durable march through adverse experiences. A genuine portrait of endurance is drawn in someone who suffers setbacks, protests and complains, but then, while still in the pain, realizes that God is still in control and, fortified, resolves to take another step.
The evidence of endurance comes through reflection; only by looking back can we see that despite the mishaps and troubles of life we trudged ahead, stopping and starting again, heads bent against the winds of adversity and hearts open to God. In seeing how our paths unfolded, we see that we endured.
In the Psalms and in Lamentations, the passages that express the most discontent follow a typical pattern. First, a setback or painful circumstance is described by a plaintive plea or complaint—a lament. Then the writer shifts and makes an abrupt transition, usually punctuated by a conjunction, to offer unexpected praise and confidence to God. It is as if the lamenter, emotionally bankrupt, exhausts himself in complaining and finds that the only thing left after all is God.
My favorite example of this pattern is found in Lamentations 3:19‒23, where the writer, obviously in a downward spiral, turns from defiant complaints to hope.
The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Note the dramatic turn at the word yet. The lamenter has crossed over from complaining to the grateful realization that God’s love never ends; His mercies are greater and He is faithful.
When I was a young teenager, both my youth minister and then my pastor sexually abused me. It began with my youth minister, who abused me for almost a year and a half. Then one night I went to my pastor for help. But instead of helping to free me from the abusive youth minister, the pastor blamed me and began what would become more months of abusing me himself.
What followed that awful night is seared into my memory. I came home, shut myself in my room, and rocked on my bed for hours, completely overwhelmed by the realization that no one would believe what was happening. Too afraid to tell my parents because of the threats of both men, I had nowhere to turn. Alone, terrified, and weary beyond measure, I told the God of my childhood that I didn’t know what to do. I asked Him for help and complained bitterly.
But as I prayed, a small sense of God’s presence lingered nearby, and I knew—without really knowing how I knew—that God was greater than those two men and He would take care of me. I don’t recall my specific prayer. I do believe, though, that my prayer was a lament that turned first into a small measure of confidence that He would help me and then perhaps even into praise.
Like Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations, I will never forget that awful time, and I still grieve over my loss. I’m fifty-one now, not fifteen, and I have lived my adult life stopping and starting, trying one coping strategy and then another, walking forward with my head bent and my heart open to God. Yet I still dare to hope because I remember that the faithful love of my Lord never ends. His mercies to me, and even to those who have abused me, never end. These mercies are new every morning. I am still learning how to lean into the gradual turn from setbacks to the unfailing hope of God. This leaning—this turning in lament—is my endurance.
My friend Trillia Newbell writes in her book Sacred Endurance about these morning joys. Trillia writes, “Our joy may not come in the morning. It may take years before we’re able to rejoice in our suffering.” She’s right. While I recall crying out to God that night at fifteen, joy did not come the next morning—or any morning—for years.
As I’ve dealt with a lifetime of recovery and other adversity, I have found that verses like Lamentations 3:23 sometimes mock my sensibilities. But taken as the entire lament of Lamentations 3, and knowing our human pattern of lament—an exhausted turn and then grateful praise—it makes sense. This is endurance. This is what God implants into us when we commit to a life with Him. He gives us Himself so that when we reach the absolute end of ourselves, the only place we can turn is back to Him. Confronted with both the reality of our circumstances and His power, we remember Him. And yet then we still can dare to hope.
An athlete may train to endure an arduous race. But to endure life, with all that we battle and with all our frequent failures? The only way we can absorb the blows, stop and complain, and dare to hope again is through the turning of the spirit of God within us. This is endurance. In our humanity endurance doesn’t last. But in God’s divinity endurance grows in our dawning realization that God can still be trusted.
Don’t mistake endurance for just sticking with it. Each time we stop and turn back to Him, we are sheathed with a new layer of holy endurance. We don’t endure as much as we grow in our ability to endure. Look back at your trials and your human complaints. He was there, listening to your lament and waiting for your return to confidence in Him.
Our endurance doesn’t last. But His does.
Susan Codone, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning and a Professor of Technical Communication at Mercer University, is a member of Ingleside Baptist Church, and has been married for to her husband George for 30 years. They have three young adult children.
Scripture quoted in this post is from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.