The Blessing of Hardness
J. R. Miller
It is related of a New England farmer, that he put all his heart into a rough farm in Massachusetts and made it one of the best. Once a friend said to him, "I should think that with your love of farming you would like to have a more productive soil to deal with—in some Western State, for instance."
"I would hate farming in the West," he said vigorously. "I would hate to put my spade into the ground, where it did not hit against a rock."
There are many men who would find no pleasure in life–if it were only and always easy. Their chief delight is experienced in meeting obstacles and overcoming them. A hindrance in their path, arouses the best that is in them in the effort to master it.
It is true in a measure of all good life—that it needs antagonism or struggle to develop it. He is really not the most fortunate boy—who has everything done for him—who has no hardship to endure, no difficulty to encounter, no obstacle to surmount. He is envied by those who lack what he possesses of worldly fortune. Many another boy sighs and says, "If I only had his chance—I would make my life worth while. But there is no use in my trying to make anything noble of myself with my limitations and hindrances." Yet this boy of fortune is by no means to be envied. Only soft, weak life—can come from such pampering.
The boy who lacks the ease, plenty, and luxury—is the one with the really fine opportunity in life. The necessity which sends him to his tasks and keeps him at them early and late—is a most friendly condition in his life, although he may think it just the reverse.
Today one said of her brother, "He wants a position—but he says it must be one with short hours and light duties. He would like to go to work at nine—and quit at three." Yet that same fine young fellow's father has been an honest, hard working brick-layer for forty years, with days of ten hours or longer! It was in such toiling that this good man, now growing old, built up his worthy character and provided for his family, this boy included. The son, however, has no thought of being his father's successor in such life. He must have easy work and short hours.
Time will tell what kind of manhood he will make for himself. It looks now as if he would be of small account in the world. He has not found his nine to three o'clock place, and at the age of thirty—is hanging about the house, idle, wearing fine clothes, and smoking cigarettes; while his father, at sixty, is toiling day after day at his brick-laying, finding it hard to earn enough to support his family and keep his lazy son in easy indolence. It needs no prophet to tell the kind of man, that will be evolved from such a life of self-indulgence, as this young man has elected.
Hardness is the only true school of godly living. The father who tries to save his son from struggle and work—is irreparably hurting the boy's character and crippling him so that he cannot run the race of life, nor fight its battles with any measure of success. The men, who stand up among other men—strong, wise, victorious—are the men who have been brought up in the school of hardness. They learn in the fields of active life how to live. They knit sinews of strength for themselves, in doing life's tasks and bearing its burdens. They learn lessons—in failures.
Said the president of one of our great universities, in addressing his students, "Show me the young man who has had failure, and has now won his way to success—and I will back him." A man who has never had any failure, whose course has been one of unbroken prosperity—has not the resources of strength and endurance stored away in his life, that he has, who has suffered defeats and then has risen again and pressed forward to victory. The latter has been growing manhood while he was suffering earthly defeat. A true man never can be really defeated. He may fail in business—but not in character.
The angels must watch with eager interest, the man who is going through hard struggle which tries his spirit—they watch to see that he endures. They do not try to make the struggle less hard—but in the moment of faintness and wavering—if there is such a moment—they whisper cheer and encouragement, that the man may not faint. We have a beautiful illustration of this in our Lord's experience in Gethsemane. Angels came—not to take the cup away—but to strengthen him—that he might not sink down in the darkness.
There is a wonderful Scripture word, which shows the divine interest in human struggle, and tells us how and when the interest is shown: "There has no temptation taken you, but such as man can bear; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." God does not promise to save us from struggle and hardship, for in no other school could he make spiritual men of us. Nor does he promise to make the hard way, easier for us, for that would be to lower the standard of attainment, and of character which he has set for us. But he has promised, when the stress is growing too sore, to give us strength, that we fail not.
Life is full of sudden changes, in which hardness comes unexpectedly to many people. By some difficult experience, they are tossed out of the cozy nest in which they had been so happily nourished—and without warning are called to endure the world's cold and hardness, almost unaided by human help. There are many young women, for example, who have been brought up in luxurious circumstances, never knowing a care, never required to give a moment's thought to the providing for their own life, as to what they shall eat, or what they shall drink, or what they shall wear—who by the loss of their father, have both shelter and support taken away. They must now leave the quiet refuge, in which they have been so gently reared, and go forth to face the storms and struggles of life for themselves. Instead of being cared for and ministered unto by strong, thoughtful love—their own hands must now find employment in which to earn bread for themselves, and perhaps for other loved ones as well.
There is something startling in the first experience of such a condition. No wonder that many young women are dismayed as they face the new responsibility. Well is it for them, if in the happy days that are gone, their hands have been trained to do something which they can now take up as a means of livelihood. No girl, however luxurious her home, however adequately provided for against misfortune she may seem to be, should fail to learn something, some art, some handicraft, by which if adversity should ever come—she may earn her own living. Such a preparation is like a life preserver on the great ocean steamer. If disaster does come—there is hope and safety. A woman who is conscious of her ability to provide for herself, if it should become necessary, is not afraid of life's vicissitudes, and is not overwhelmed by calamity when it comes, leaving her with nothing.
In any case, however, it is a serious crisis in a young girl's life when she is compelled to go into the world, to fight its battles for herself. What can she do? How can she keep herself gentle and sweet, amid the roughness and bitterness which she must experience? How can she, with her delicate strength, fight the battles and endure the struggles, amid which she must now live? Will she not beneath the tread of the relentless forces of evil—be crushed like a lily in the street under trampling hoofs?
Yet one of the most wonderful triumphs of Christian life, is seen just at this point, in the thousands of young women who live victoriously in their hard condition, passing through the ordeal unhurt, with character enriched and developed into nobler beauty. Instead of falling in the battle, or coming out with beauty tarnished—they emerge more than conquerors, with heaven's light in their eye. Instead of losing the sweet bloom of their womanliness, in their rough encounters with the world—they pass through all the difficult experiences, not only with purity and delicacy unsullied—but with transfigured loveliness.
We naturally pity those whom we see thrust out into the world to bear burdens too heavy for their frail shoulders, and to face circumstances of hardship and peril; but our pity is changed to admiration, as we watch them and see with what quiet courage they pass through it all. What, it had seemed to us, must destroy all that was lovely in them—has really made nobler women of them.
A thoughtful writer has said: "The great question whether we shall live to any purpose or not, whether we shall grow strong in mind and heart, or be weak and pitiable, depends on nothing so much as our use of adverse circumstances. Troubles are designed to school our passions, and to rouse our faculties and virtues into intense action. Sometimes they seem even to create new powers. Difficulty is the element, and resistance the true work of man. Self-culture never goes on so fast—as when difficult circumstances, the opposition of men or circumstances, unexpected changes of the times, or other forms of suffering, instead of disheartening, throw us on our inward resources, turn us for strength to God, clear up to us the great purpose of life, and inspire calm resolution."
We are always at school in this world. God is teaching us the things we need to learn. He wants us to make all we can of our life. The lessons are not easy—sometimes they are very hard. But the hardest lessons are the best—for they bring out in us the finest qualities, if only we learn them well. Those, therefore, who find themselves in what may seem adverse conditions, compelled to face hardship, endure opposition, and pass through struggle—should quietly accept the responsibility, and, trusting in Christ for guidance and strength, go firmly and courageously forward, conscious that they have now an opportunity to grow strong. and develop in themselves the qualities of worthy and noble character.