Recently, in preparing the content for one of the chapters of the study guide I’m writing for my book, The God I Won’t Believe In: Facing Nine Common Barriers to Embracing Christianity, I came across this quote from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.
Justice Roberts was asked to give the commencement speech for his son’s graduating class, but the speech he gave was different than the advice and platitudes commonly given at such events. Rather than wishing them good luck, he essentially told them that he wished they would experience hardship, because of the important things which can only be learned through these experiences.
Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why.
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.
I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time,
I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
What John Roberts says here is true. Some of the most formative moments in my life have been as a result of experiencing pain and hurt from other people. Sometimes we develop our most deeply held convictions and values as a result of negative experiences.
In ministry, I know that some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been from negative examples and experiences, which I then determined not to replicate or perpetuate.
Sometimes we learn to treat people well, as a result of being treating poorly and realizing that it isn’t right.
If we are able to turn those negative experiences into positive lessons, rather than becoming bitter, it can be something that helps us grow more into the image of Christ.
This is why James is able to say: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
It’s why Paul is able to write that we, as Christians, rejoice not only in the hope of the glory of God, but we can also “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
May the painful things we experience in this life be used by God to shape us more into the image of Christ, to the glory of God, and may it better equip us to show the compassion and love of Christ to others.