Monday, January 23, 2012

I Walked A Mile With Pleasure

I walked a mile with Pleasure; she chatted all the way;

But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow, and never a word said she;

But, oh the things I learned from her when Sorrow walked with me.

— Robert Browning Hamilton
Back in the 1970s my friend Barry McGuire sang a song based on Hamilton's poem...this was after his Eve Of Destruction days. Contrary to the gist of these particular lyrics, Barry had become one of the most upbeat and joyful people I've ever met. Along these lines, A. A. Milne's Eeyore is probably the most beloved pessimist in the world.  Who else responds to a cheery morning greeting by saying: "If it is a good morning... which I doubt."  Or upon being acknowledged at a gathering, replies: "Thanks for noticing me."  Or would offer this gem on his own birthday:  "What are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow."  

Eeyore isn't alarmed by problems.  In fact, when things really do go bad, he's usually the first to see the bright side:  "However, we haven't had an earthquake lately."  Or:  "The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually."  Eeyore doesn't have more problems than anybody else—Rabbit seems always in a pickle, Tigger is a walking disaster zone and Pooh's appetite causes more trouble by lunchtime than most folks experience in a year— while Eeyore really only has two major issues:  his tail keeps falling off and his house keeps falling down.  Neither situation upsets him all that much.  

We don't love Eeyore because he's gloomy, we love him because of his steady persistence in the face of trouble.  The little stuffed donkey must have read his bible at some point along the way, especially the part where Jesus' favorite problem-maker, Peter, wrote the following:  "Friends, don't be surprised when life gets really difficult, as if something strange were happening to you."  We know from history that the troubles faced by those early believers were not trivial.  In Hebrews we learn they were "...tortured, their backs cut open with whips... chained in dungeons... died by stoning... sawed in half... killed with the sword."  Kind of puts my problems into perspective.  And what was the silver lining to be found in those situations?  "They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life."

When we want our kids to learn math, we give them... problems. Like their dad, our daughters struggled to learn arithmetic—sometimes to the point of tears.  This is not pleasant, of course, but when the light finally goes on over their head and a problem is solved, that big smile is a well-earned triumph.  If our highest goal for our kids was that they never experience anguish or frustration, we wouldn't insist that they learn to tie their own shoes.  

Believers in Jesus have, among all people, reason to smile in the face of our troubles.  For one thing, God does take care of us.  Our problems do not completely swallow us up when we walk with him.  And ultimately, we can be joyful because we know the end result—Christ-like character and everlasting good times in heaven.  St. Peter concludes: "Be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced.  This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.  Take it in stride.  Trust God.  He knows what he's doing, and he'll keep on doing it." 

Even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. 
— Hebrews 5:8