From Suffering to Hope

By Doug Farmer  

An older, smarter and wiser man than me once gave some sound advice. Though I am now older than he was when he gave the advice as well as older than he was when he died, the advice was simply good life counsel.

We all suffer. We are spiritual beings experiencing a human existence. It is true, bad things happen to good people. It is also true that bad things happen to all people. If you live long enough, everything will happen to you. While perhaps dark, no one has a monopoly on suffering. Subconsciously we all realize the merits of suffering. We eagerly describe how rough we have had it while those who have experienced monumental suffering will never speak of it.

We claim suffering because it is the pathway to endurance. We cannot claim or wish for endurance without suffering. Endurance is not free; it is purchased at the cost of suffering. Yet, we all want endurance. Endurance sets us apart. It makes us strong. It reassures us our spiritual beings can make it successfully in this human existence.

What evades our recognition is that endurance is a temporary way station to something greater. Our human existence endures suffering so it can approach something even more abstract, more spiritual. Endurance is the path to character.

Character defies easy description. We know it when we see it, but book kiosks are filled with self-help books alluding to character in vague tropes and elaborate expressions of enlightenment.

Every one of us knows an elder whose lined, weathered face carries something of a saintly look. No conversation with this kindhearted person disappoints. How can they be so nice? How much of that lined face, weathered look, and remarkably calming and quietly encouraging attitude was purchased at the price of unspoken suffering and steadfast endurance? You will never learn it from them, and that says more than any words ever could.

Character is not our final destination. Character leads to hope. The nurturing qualities of hope push our spiritual beings from a human existence to the beginnings of a spiritual one.

On some level, we always knew our life journey that began with suffering would lead to endurance, then to character, and ultimately to hope. This is why we so eagerly claim suffering and why, when we finally gain hope, we privately find peace in the moment with no mention of the cost, the length of the journey or the unspeakable sorrows.

Who was this older, smarter, wiser man? Many consider him to be one of the most consequential people to have ever lived. He was beheaded by Nero. He started life as Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians. On the way to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus, he experienced a conversion through three days of blindness. You have heard of him as Paul.

“We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” — Romans 5:3-4, New King James Version

Doug Farmer has worked at Park Bank since 1981 and began his term on the State of Wisconsin Banking Review Board in 2003.He’s lived in La Crosse since 1971. You can reach him at douglas.farmer@helloparkbank.com.

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