My pastor’s recent sermons on trials and suffering, taken from the book of James, reminded me of another way I’ve been stretched, literally, for my own eventual good. I’ve had years of karate training and before every class we began with stretching exercises. It’s every martial artist’s goal to eventually get into a full split with your legs. Not all of us reach that goal, but every serious student will at least try to stretch themselves to their greatest potential.
The interesting thing about stretching is how it accomplishes its goal. When you stretch your muscles to their limit, and a little beyond, the muscles fibers actually tear slightly. Of course, this causes pain. Yes, being stretched to your limits can hurt. But when the muscles recover, they grow stronger and more flexible. Over time, you find that you can stretch farther and more easily, but only after you go through the pain of pushing yourself to the breaking point.
James tells us that God is stretching us towards the goals of spiritual maturity and wisdom. Paul also reminds us in his letters that, like any athlete who trains toward a goal, our strength to persevere won’t come without effort and even some pain. Perhaps when we remember that there is purpose in our suffering, that God is lovingly using our trials to perfect us, we can embrace and better appreciate the necessary pain that comes with it.