Reflections from the Pulpit: When the going gets rough: Hard parts and victory

One of the student counselors at the university where I attended spent his time with students who realized that going to college would be a lot of work and much more challenging than high school. He said “I used to tell them that nobody would play golf if the holes were the size of wash baskets.”

The challenge to accomplish something meant that there would be some hard parts along the way and some sacrifices would be required; but the goal makes it worth all of the efforts required.

I remember John Kennedy’s speech about the space race; saying we’re going to go the moon “not because it is easy but because it is hard.”

There have been times when young persons have told me that they were thinking about a career along the lines where I serve. I would outline how to get there and then remind them “It will be a lot of work to become….” Sometimes the reply would be “Oh!” or I’d get a long silence.

Some professional obligations go on long after college. My professional licenses and Church requirements now include continuing education; to be submitted and documented with indications of keeping up.

Requirements for entry in various fields keep going up and are more “challenging” as the years go on. I remember my offspring telling me that “math is hard.” I spoke to her teacher, a professional who I regarded as a caring and dedicated educator. She told me that she’d be satisfied if my daughter did one page of math a day. “No,” I told her, “tell her you’d be satisfied if she did four pages a day, and when she complains and says ‘Well, can I do only two?’ you frown and say ‘Well, all right’.” My daughter was doing third grade math at the end of the first grade. I knew she was capable, I knew math can be hard, I also knew that it was important to rise to the challenge and develop an attitude of “I can do it!” I tutored and helped along the way; she accomplished on her own.

I attended a first-rate seminary in an academic community known for excellence (Northwestern University) and was able to rise to the challenges required, “…not because it is easy but because it is hard.” Over the years, I’ve come to meet people that have drifted away from former religious commitments. Reasons have varied and many times have centered around having to make some sort of “commitment.” I’ll be the first to agree; faith takes commitment. One of my mentors said “It’s like eating peanuts, once you get started you can’t quit!” That’s been my experience and the experience of others but not everyone. The rewards, though, come with staying the course and going forward “…not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

Anybody can do the easy stuff but dedication comes with a cost. Fortunately, people go back to challenges that they once thought were beyond them, they grow in capacities or they see that doing the hard parts are really going to lead to worthwhile goals.

Often my most dedicated students were the ones who returned to college after some years in the work-a-day world. They saw the value of going on and were willing to happily pay the price.

Jesus is confronted with followers who have found that faith comes with a cost. He talks of abiding in Him, of worship, of becoming one with Him; what leads to eternal life.

John’s gospel reports “Many of His disciples, when they heard it said ‘This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?’ (John 6:60).”

People come to faith with different expectations; those who follow through learn the reasons and joy that goes with believing. With faith comes demands on us; and they can sometimes be seen as “hard.” When Jesus’ followers complained He tells them “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life (v. 63).” He recognizes the going will be hard, but reminds them (and us) that there are some that do not believe (v. 64) but the flesh won’t be the answer and it will have to come from the spirit (v.63).

John tells us (v 66) that “After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him.” Jesus then turned to His twelve faithful followers and said “Do you also wish to go away? (v. 67).” Peter answers with the final insight that reflects the faithful are up to the challenge of doing the harder parts by realizing the gifts are worth all of the work needed; “Lord to whom shall we go?”

Ultimately the questions that confront people are questions about the meaning of life, our purpose for being here, knowing how to act and make choices, knowing that God is involved and behind all of life and gives the purpose to it. Peter affirms this realization and says to Jesus “You have the words of eternal life and we have believed, and come to know you are the Holy One of God. (v. 69).”

I have been called on to answer questions for people when they seek direction; often acknowledging that the more difficult choice is the better one or helping them reflect on the lesser of evils. When hard choices are to be made; God is there to sustain when we search and believe; hard perhaps but with peace in the long run. Jesus’s true followers did not run off; in fact, they changed the world. Peter’s question “Lord to whom shall we go?” has been answered by His disciples and the faithful ever since. Those who follow faithfully know why.

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