Giving birth is really difficult and very painful. This is second-hand information, to be sure; but I have it on good authority that this statement is undeniably and universally true. Enough said on birth, let me extrapolate the point: things that are difficult and painful can be very good things indeed. For is it not life and new humanity that is the result of those difficulties and that pain?
But our culture is pain-averse and is largely therapeutic. That is, we spend much time and many millions trying to minimise and avoid pain, and though much of this is well-intentioned the truth remains that some good things, even great things, only come to us through pain and through difficulties.
Imagine for a moment the silly scenario of an expectant mother avoiding for years, if she were able, the birth of her child. She waddled around free of the pain and difficulties of child-birth, but no life ever came forth! In this imaginary scenario she avoided much pain, but she also missed out on much life. How tragic!
Or what about the young man who had a passion and a calling to become a medical doctor, and yet he was averse to the pain of study and the hours of research and training needed? Sure, when he came to his exams he had experienced little pain and discomfort over the year in his studies, but then he failed. By now you are thinking of the commonly used phrase “No Pain No Gain”, and so you should be. For reasons known mostly to Himself, God has woven pain and struggle into our humanity in a way that we are fools to always try and avoid pain.
True, some pain must be avoided and fought: the pain inflicted by violence or evil words, the pain inflicted by poverty, the pain inflicted by betrayal and rejection, and the pain experienced through loneliness. But not all pain is to be avoided.
In John 6 we read of a time when, due to the heat and pressure rising in following Jesus, many, yes many, disciples turned away. “It’s too difficult”, they grumbled. “It costs too much” lamented others. The result was that “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Think about that breathtaking statement for just a minute: here they were with the Son of God speaking words of life and bringing in the kingdom of God on earth, and they walked away! And then with the few friends he has left, Jesus turns to them and says “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Only Simon Peter spoke up and said “no”, which wasn’t really very encouraging for Jesus, was it?
Maybe in our culture and society at the moment we wonder if it is too difficult and too painful to follow Jesus. But remember that principle of pain leading to life? Those who walked away from Jesus missed the resurrection, missed the joy of the early church and maybe even missed the kingdom of God. It might be Friday in our part of the world, but don’t forget that with Jesus, Sunday is always on its way.