Character featured in a reading at a recent church service. It was in verses 1 to 5 of Romans, chapter 5 and reads:
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope…..
This is not a religious post, I turned away from the church for nearly 40 years for reasons that are not relevant here. I wrote about my return to the church here. To me, religion is deeply personal. I don’t believe it my job to tell you what or how to believe, any more than it is yours to tell me.
However, those verses from Romans express what I believe in. Those words form the foundation for most of my work with others and for the message I try to communicate in my speaking and writing. Suffering – in the form of adversity – produces endurance which produces character and hope.
I was reminded of them today because the 31st May 2016 is the 28th anniversary of running my first 85km ultra marathon.
May 31st was a public holiday in South Africa before the new regime took over and followed the custom of obliterating anything with historical relevance. A custom established by newly independent colonies to the North. The day was called Republic Day and commemorated the transition in 1961 of the Union of South Africa to the Republic of South Africa.
For 32 years, it was also the day of the Comrades Marathon .
In the 4 Comrades Marathons I ran, I experienced plenty of suffering, had to endure more pain and discomfort than I had ever experienced. My determination was severely tested every time a rescue vehicle stopped to pick up collapsed, defeated runners who sat or lay at the roadside as I ran past.
Did it build character? I cannot say, we may be able to recognise our strengths and weaknesses, but we are the least qualified to assess our own character with any objectivity.
It did prepare me for huge challenges in later years, physical, emotional and mental.
Those experiences helped me develop the resilience, determination and perseverance to bounce back from upsets, overcome adversity and thrive in a new environment. That endurance helped me survive three years of intimidation and my eventual illegal arrest and imprisonment to force Sue and I off our farm.
It helped me survive a heart attack and the sudden loss of income.
There is a message for us in times of suffering or adversity. If we accept it, understand it and act on it, we develop endurance, build character and have hope.
If we don’t listen to the message, complain about the unfairness of having to suffer, we miss the chance to develop that endurance, to build character. Worst of all, we don’t find hope.