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When Staying is Hard

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Maddie and her husband, Marcos, are Crosstown "Goers" serving with MAF in Ecuador.

Doing what is hard isn’t generally my first choice. We have been conditioned for comfort and ease. I mean, it’s kind of embarrassing, really, when you step back and look at the way that our society has trained us to look for the easiest and most convenient route to obtain or do anything. Take shopping, for example; we’ve moved from shopping at multiple local stores, to one-stop mega stores, to online shopping, to one-click orders. Really? One click is all we can manage?

All joking aside, the fact is that our culture is moving towards ease and convenience. This trend does come with a whole host of advantages, freeing us up to be more efficient and  have more time for the “important” things in life, but a major downfall of the movement towards ease, comfort, and efficiency is that we are no longer trained to do hard things. Things that take time and patience and don’t give us immediate rewards. We don’t grow up working in our parents’ gardens or making our bread from scratch or doing so many of these processes that used to inherently teach people the value of doing things the harder, slower way. As a whole, we have lived lives of ease and comfort, and “hard” doesn’t sit very well with us.

But, so often, the hard thing to do is also the right thing to do.

One of these hard things that I have been learning about lately is staying. Staying when leaving would be the more comfortable thing to do. Staying when you don’t feel appreciated or wanted or noticed. Staying when there is conflict or tension or real work to be done.

We have been working through a situation in our lives for several months now where staying has not been what I have wanted to do. It has been hard, it has been uncomfortable, and it has had little to no reward (from our human perspective.)

Leaving is easily justifiable. It’s what people of our generation have come to expect. Your marriage is too hard? You can always leave. Your church isn’t fulfilling you? Find a different one. You don’t see fruit in your ministry? God is definitely calling you somewhere else, then.

But what if we stayed? What if we did what people didn’t expect? What if we showed them the radical, sacrificial love of a God who stays?

I have wrestled with this for several months now, but it was only recently that I noticed, for the first time, the ultimate example of staying when staying is hard. It’s in Matthew, a book I’ve read many times. Jesus and his disciples are in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has just been betrayed and Peter cuts off someone’s ear. Then, right after Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away, comes this statement: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matt. 26:53-54)

I had never thought about it in that way before, but of course it is true. Jesus could have easily chosen not to stay and left all the pain and horror of the cross behind him.

But he chose to stay. Even knowing what lay ahead and that he would be abandoned by his closest friends to suffer and die alone. He still chose to stay!

What would it look like for us to be so committed to God’s kingdom that we stayed through difficult situations?

Now, I’m certainly not saying that there is never a time to leave an unhealthy or dangerous situation, nor am I saying that God never calls us to a new ministry. There is a time and place for both of those. What I’m referring to are the uncomfortable situations. The ones that don’t feel like they’re going the way I’d like them to. The situations in which it would be much easier to leave than to stay.

The difficult marriage, the ministry with no visible results, the strained relationship with a parent or child. These are the types of situations where simply staying might be the way that we can show a watching world the faithfulness of our God who enables us to be faithful even when it’s hard.

Be encouraged by these words from Paul:

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58)

Rather than turning to run at the first sign of hardship, let’s be steadfast, immovable, and confident that our work is for the Lord. Let’s stay.