“I tried to explain that keeping my eyes on Jesus instead of the constant letdown of the world gave me some hope and a much better perspective on my situation.”
A lopsided, middle-aged man “jogged” past my car when I stopped on Dufferin Street in Toronto. It seemed like half his body refused to co-operate as he pulled it forward. Every painful limp seemed to be his last. Sweat-soaked and purple-faced with exhaustion, he kept punishing his body. Each day on the way to my church, I’d see him at some place farther up Dufferin outside G. Ross Lord Park. His route must have been more than five kilometres. Weeks went by. I saw no improvement, but he was always there. Over each unforgiving metre of sidewalk he forced his aching body forward, looking like he’d collapse any second. Shockingly he plodded on month after month!
Ploughing Through the Pain
His perseverance through the pain is still a mystery to me. Was he a stroke victim trying to restore the full use of his limbs? Maybe he had received strict orders from his doctor to get active, lose 20 pounds, or die an untimely death. Regardless of the reason, lately his tortured image has reappeared in my mind often. Likely it’s because I see the same pained face on people close to me, limping through life but refusing to quit.
One is a burnt-out health care worker who continues to care for her clients when most of the office has called in sick or gone on stress leave. Another is an exhausted pastor striving to do everything the volunteers used to do to provide the same level of Sunday experience people expected before the pandemic. Yet another is a stressed-out teacher who pivoted from in-person to online teaching overnight. For months she strained to get six-year-olds to turn on their cameras, mute their mikes, and stay in their chairs. She doubted that the children were learning a thing. Now she strains to make out the muffled, masked mumbles of students spaced out all over her classroom. But then there’s Andrew Barbe, a 27-year-old Vanguard College student, whose steadiness is a marvel to me. He had to watch his dad die over a video screen because he wasn’t allowed to be present in the room.
Stretched Beyond Our Limits
The limits of human endurance have been stretched to a shred over these past two years. Not everyone has been able to persist. Tragically, some have given up. Shock waves of human trauma have slammed against surviving friends and loved ones who are barely keeping their heads above water. They’re wondering—how are we going to make it?
Well-meaning bloggers have tried to encourage others with stories of individuals who survived the First and Second World Wars plus immigration, the Great Depression, and the chaos of technological upheaval in the 1900s—yet somehow they muddled through. They like to quote the old slogan: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I don’t think that’s working anymore. Did it ever work for you?
I’ve struggled to get by as well. I’ve wrestled with anger, fatigue, disappointment, and despair. Self-help, self-care, and encouraging self-talk have been healthy, comforting practices offering momentary respite. I’ve found greater relief from reading a stack of biographies of remarkable Christians who faced hardship to bring the gospel to others. As I read a few pages each night about the lives of David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, D. L. Moody, George Müller, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson and C. T. Studd, it became clear that what got them through was a vision greater than their own health or happiness.
In their biographical pages I discovered these missionaries journaling about various Bible verses. One they all seemed to agree on was written to first-century believers when they were being hunted down, imprisoned and tortured. Here are words they clung to in the darkest moments: “… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus … who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV). Keeping their eyes on Jesus helped them to survive unimaginable anguish! Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father through His torture and death gave them hope that they could also endure to the end. His place, no longer on a cross or in a grave, was one where He had authority to hear and answer their pleas for help.
Centuries after the crucifixion, the picture of Jesus’ sacrifice motivated Christians I read about to face loss of personal property, hunger, imprisonment, beatings, betrayal, and even the death of wives and children. Their grief was overwhelming, yet they continued to serve and inspire everyone who knew them to do the same. Rather than dwell on their intense loss, they chose to do what the Bible said and “consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself … [and not] become weary and discouraged” (Hebrews 12:3).
How’s That Working for You?
I tried sharing this helpful discovery with my new friend Ben. He wasn’t as convinced as I was. He asked, “Do you want me to read a stack of books and meditate on a cross? How in the world is that working for you?” I guess we’re all a little more cynical these days. I tried to explain that keeping my eyes on Jesus instead of the constant letdown of the world gave me some hope and a much better perspective on my situation. I couldn’t deny what I had lost through the months. But being able to talk to Jesus, who had gone through much worse, made life livable. Ultimately, what also helps is knowing that no matter what happens, I will be with Him. God honours this kind of faith all the time, but especially when the situation is intolerable. When I asked my student, Andrew, how he could function normally after losing his dad, his response both shook and helped me: “It’s my faith, I guess. Spending time in the Bible and hearing God’s Word are getting me through.” My hope is that this will help you too.
Ron Powell is the dean of online education at Vanguard College in Edmonton, Alta.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2022 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.