I talked to a man who was very unhappy at the direction of his life, and when I asked him what kind of spiritual practice he engaged in, he said, “Oh, you mean God? I’m angry as hell at God. Where the hell has God been all my life?”
“I suppose it depends,” I said, “on whether you think God’s primary job is to provide you comfort or training.”
“I don’t get it.”
“What do you want out of life?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You wanna be happy?”
“Genuine happiness is a lot more than lying on the couch eating cookies. It means being loving when things are tough, diligently aware of yourself and others, patient when waiting seems impossible, and truly powerful—which means the ability to decide how you want to feel and react no matter what’s happening around you. Do you want that?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“So let’s suppose that God is in charge of training you to acquire all those qualities. If he did nothing but make your life easy, do you suppose you’d learn to be loving when things were tough? Of that you’d learn real patience or persistence?”
“Well, maybe not.”
“No, you wouldn’t. It’s precisely the difficulties in life that give us the opportunity to learn to be emotionally and spiritually stronger and happier. We need those hard experiences to train us, just as athletes require extreme effort and strain in order to get stronger and faster.”
In the U.S. military, selected servicemen receive SERE—Search, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—training. In order to learn how to survive and evade capture, for example, personnel are taught wilderness survival in all types of climate, as well as emergency first aid, land navigation, camouflage techniques, methods of evasion, communication protocols, and how to make improvised tools. The training takes place in difficult circumstances, because the leaders want the trainees to be prepared for actual battle conditions.
The training on how to survive and resist the enemy in the event of capture is largely based on the experiences of past prisoners of war, so it can include serious physical threats, food and sleep deprivation, and intense confrontational interrogation. The conditions of this part of the training can simulate genuine captivity so closely that some trainees are frightened or even injured to the point that they voluntarily choose to quit the training.
To some people this training might seem overly harsh, but in the words of one SERE trainer, “It’s not our job to make these soldiers comfortable. It’s our job to train them to survive under the worst of conditions. It’s our job to save their lives.”
And that’s not unlike God’s relationship with us. Precisely because He loves us, He is willing to allow us to experience discomfort—including illness, pain, disabilities, and more—so He can train us to acquire the best of human—even divine—qualities.
Replace your fear and confusion with peace and happiness.
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