One morning, a man in his upper thirties awoke with a strange backache and a sense that something was not quite right. Physically robust, the strong, rising leader was at the top of his social and political life. Like other days when he felt minor aches, he assumed he could push through it and feel better, especially if he pursued a day filled with vigorous exercise. He was accustomed to employing such a tenacious approach in order to overcome ill feelings.
He deliberately went sailing with his family. Following their sailing adventure, he challenged his boys to jog a mile with him followed by a plunge and swim in a nearby bay. With each of these intentional physical exertions, the hearty man envisioned that his strange ache and off-feeling sensations would change for the better. Nevertheless, following his brisk swim in the bay, he slumped on his porch in exhaustion. He felt more miserable, stranger than ever. Telling his family that he was horribly chilled, he went to bed.
During the next two days, paralysis spread throughout Franklin’s body, including intense pain throughout his legs. For many weeks, he was stuck in bed without control of basic bodily functions. He needed everyone else’s support, help, and encouragement. Doctors diagnosed that he was stricken with polio, and they grimly assessed that he would never again stand or walk on his own. It seemed that his career as an aspiring public servant and rising politician was finished.
Nevertheless, Roosevelt remained upbeat and determined. In the months and years to come, he moved forward with the utmost resolve, endurance, and patience of spirit. He doggedly pursued restoration of his health. When everyone else assumed there was no possibility of a physical or political comeback, Roosevelt persevered. Doris Kearns Goodwin concludes:
Franklin Roosevelt’s ordeal provides the most clear-cut paradigm of how a devastating crucible experience can, against all expectation and logic, lead to significant growth, intensified ambition, and enlarged gifts for leadership . . . eventually, the sustained effort Roosevelt directed toward spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical recovery led him to a spectacular, albeit risk-filled return to public life.
Goodwin tells how Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, observed that with each point of personal progress toward recovery, with every small “win,” Franklin was feeling stronger. Eleanor said, “He regained his joy in living, his hearty laughter, his ability to be happy over little things.”
Building Biblical Perseverance
James 1:2-3 exhorts us: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
What if our tough times are really the best times for growing stronger? James explains what such testing of your faith produces. Greater endurance! It’s stick-to-it perseverance. You remain patient in the midst of the suffering. Perseverance means you stand your ground in the trouble. Like Rocky being bludgeoned blow after blow by Clubber Lang in Rocky III. Though he’s exhausted from being pounded, Rocky stays on his feet. He keeps bobbing and taking more of the beating, just waiting for the right opportunity.
Though the Apostle James originally struggled to believe, his encounter after Jesus’ resurrection awakened his own faith (1 Cor. 15:7). Richard J. Foster notes rich insights on James’ emergence in faith. Those early days for Jesus’ family and friends were fear-filled with the threat of persecution. It was here that James joined the fellowship (Acts 1:14). In such a crucible of controversy, as the early church was getting started, James’ own endurance began to grow. Eventually, he became a key leader and was recognized as a “pillar” in the growing movement (Acts 12:17, 15:1-29). Perseverance means you hold on and hold up under the pressure. It’s staying power! We all need such endurance, the grit to persevere, especially in times like these.
What’s typically required for us to thrive under pressure? You only build more muscle by adding weight and repeating more reps. You will likely add distance and improve your running time as you doggedly push up the same painful stretch of hills day after day. You resist your every urge to give up. Stronger character only grows in our lives through experiencing troubles, and continuing to climb.
Choosing Jesus-like Joy
Choose joy when you encounter suffering, and you will build the kind of memory muscle necessary for thriving. You’ll develop greater tenacity in your own soul as well as greater capacity to share joy and thriving with family, neighbors, coworkers, and other friends. Notice what James says next. “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:4).
One of God’s greater aims as we persevere in troubles is to hand-craft our genuine completion, a more thriving maturity in Christlike character. Here’s motivation to fully embrace the work God wants to do in your life through troubles and suffering. Why? The pay-off will be huge! You will become a different kind of person—complete, mature and developed—more like James’ big brother Jesus. You’ll have a deeper inner framework, primed and ready to graciously bless neighbors, coworkers, family, and others.
Live With More Thriving
Serious question: do you really believe your life can look more like Jesus?
Ponder that. Too often, we stay stuck in the troublesome hole we fell into. We just wallow in the mud. When I take personal stock, I am afraid I’ve spent too many days making excuses, hiding behind my sorry circumstances, or collapsing again under the weight of my troubles. James urges us to buy into something richer and wiser. Living with more thriving, Christ-like tenacity can be a reality. But you have to choose joy in your various trials. And keep choosing joy. As you do, you’ll grow that stronger perseverance and be ready to live on mission for King Jesus in greater ways!
What if our tough times can really be our best times for growing stronger? And what if those tough times are used by God to teach us to persevere, to discover pure joy and the capacity to grow stronger for the sake of others?
Editor’s Note: This is an adapted excerpt used with permission from Dr. Pletche’s book, Joy & Thriving: Grow Stronger in the Tough Times!.