The Apostle Paul was one person who knew first-hand what tough times were. In one dramatic catalogue of his troubles, he said:
“Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” (II Cor 11:25-27)
Discouraging? No doubt. But what is remarkable about Paul’s reflection on his past troubles is his ability to put them in a theological context. What that means is that he saw the afflictions he faced as not the final word or final evaluation on his life. He was able to interpret his distress both in terms of God’s eternal purpose for him and as God’s gifts to him in his daily life.
If Paul had not experienced the problems listed above, he never could have written the following lines:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (II Cor 4:8-9)
What the experience of terror-inducing or life-threatening perils had given to Paul was the ability to make crucial distinctions when faced with other enormous challenges. Four kinds of distinctions are made in the passage just quoted. He knew: 1) the difference being hard-pressed and crushed; 2) the difference between being temporarily confused and being utterly at a loss; 3) the difference between being persecuted by people but not being abandoned by God; 4) the difference between being knocked to the canvas but not being carried off to the locker room.
One of the keys to managing hard times in life, biblically speaking, is to know how to measure or calibrate the distress that you are undergoing. But you are only able to develop a measuring system if you have had some pretty severe losses. Then you can say, when the next threat comes your way, “It is not so bad as the one I previously faced for XX reason.” Without an experience of significant loss, we are unable to measure the severity of the losses we face on a more regular basis.
The key to enduring tough times in life and family business is to know the difference between being “down” but not “out.” Experiencing tough times, then, can ultimately be the ticket to freedom, because it equips you with a kind of fearlessness and persistence you never knew you had. Most of all, it gives you a depth of self-knowledge that enables you to face, with joy, the remainder of your days.