Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.—Hebrews 12:7-11

 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.  The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”—1 Samuel 17:34-37

This past week I heard a surprising comment from a parent whose son is playing Little League baseball.  As proud parents, we all want our kids to do well, and we all think they’re a little better than they actually are.  We make much of the moments when they shine, and we downplay their errors and shortcomings.  That’s why I was surprised when this mother said, “I think what I’m most proud of is the way he handles it when he strikes out.”

Now, everyone strikes out in baseball.  Even professional baseball players strike out more than they get a hit.  But it’s not any fun.  It’s embarrassing and frustrating.  Learning to handle those emotions is an important part of growing up, but when we’re young they can get the better of us.  This mom was saying that she cares more about her son’s character development than his batting average, and she’s been proud to see that he is learning how to handle failure with maturity.  The little league years will come and go, but controlling our tempers and responding graciously to frustration are skills that will serve us well for a lifetime.

I knew exactly what she meant.  Two weeks ago, our household was turned upside down when my oldest daughter Bailey dislocated her knee and badly fractured her elbow at dance class. After a long night in the ER followed by days of pain and discomfort, she finally had surgery on her elbow at the end of last week.  The surgery ended up being over 4 hours long.  Three plates and 12 pins.  She woke to discover that her body doesn’t handle anesthesia well, so she was badly nauseated for most of the next day, which meant that she couldn’t keep her pain meds down, which meant that they couldn’t get her pain under control…it was rough.

Now she’s home, propping up her arm to an uncomfortable height while it’s hooked up to an ice machine that keeps in constantly cold.  She’s started physical therapy.  Her life has been put on hold, as she can’t write, drive, or work.  Dance, school, her job—everything has been affected.  It’s a lot to handle at 17.

And through it all, I feel like that mom watching her son strike out.  I’m so proud of my daughter.  I’m proud of the way she works at being grateful for the people who help her.  I’m proud of her for all the times she doesn’t let it get the better of her, and proud of her for being honest when it does.  Every time she finds something to laugh at, every effort she makes to do something for herself that she couldn’t do the day before, I see God forming her into the woman He intends her to be.  As she comes to terms with the fact that this will be a much longer process than she originally hoped, I see her becoming stronger, tougher, and at the same time more patient and humble.  As much as I would never have wished this for her, it’s actually beautiful to watch.

But now here’s the hard part:  If that’s true, then it’s also true of the hard things I face in my own life.  I haven’t broken any bones lately, or anything nearly that dramatic, but let’s face it: life is at least a little hard all the time, and some seasons more than others.  And usually, when life is hard, I complain about it, and I get frustrated that God isn’t making the road a little smoother.

This past week in my quiet time, I came across Hebrews chapter 12, where the author says that we should view hardship as discipline from God.  He says that this discipline, while unpleasant, produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.  I realized that while I am constantly trying to hit home runs, and wondering why God doesn’t send me more fastballs right up the middle, my loving heavenly father might be more interested in watching me strike out.  He is more concerned with my character development than my batting average.  He cheers when I get up in the morning and do my best to honor him in the middle of my circumstances, even if I walk with a limp and my arm is in a sling.  While I am focused on getting through the hard times as quickly as possible, he is proud of the person I am becoming because of those hard times.

One hard season of my life came shortly after I graduated from college.  I faced a lot of discouragement and failure for a season, and I was lonely.  In my head I refer to that time as The Bachelor Years.  Sometime in the middle of those years, I was on the phone with my former youth pastor, who had become an important spiritual mentor.  I was complaining about my life and asking the question “what on earth is God doing?”  Tim made a comment that was so insightful I knew it was God speaking to me, and it changed my perspective on what I was going through.  He said, “do you remember when David said he had fought lions and bears, and that’s why he wasn’t afraid to face Goliath?  God had shown David His faithfulness through smaller battles, because He was preparing him for bigger ones.  It sounds to me like God is giving you some lion and bear experiences right now, so he must have some really big things in store for you.”

There is a part of me that wishes my son hit a home run every time he got up to the plate.  I wish my daughters never had to face any setbacks or discouragements.  There is a part of me that wants to take everyone I love and put them in a little bubble and make sure that nothing bad ever happens to them.  But God knows better.  He knows that’s not how warriors are made.  As scary as it is, my children need to feel what it’s like to lose. They need to fight some bears and lions.  There is a certain type of person God wants to make them into, and that kind of person is only formed through struggle.  And it’s the same with me.  I’ve been slow to learn this lesson, but it really is true:  when life gets hard, God has not turned His back.  He’s cheering us on, a prouder Father in those moments than when everything is going our way.  This week, whatever you’re going through, know that your Father’s discipline is not a sign of His neglect, but of His love.

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