By David Hegg
By nature we choose the easy way. This used to be described as the way of least resistance, but increasingly we could label it the way of greatest convenience. We are fast becoming a people whose first desire is personal comfort and convenience. We want to get what we want, and enjoy it, with the least amount of effort or resources expended.
More and more the benefit of intentionally choosing to do something hard is being lost. We want the most return for the least investment. We want to work less while making more, and dream about the days when we can do nothing while our previous investments produce a steady revenue stream.
Apparently the American Dream has ceased to be about building a better society for those who come after us. Now it is all about getting all we can, as easily as we can, and as soon as we can, so we can spend the rest of our lives living for ourselves.
But we are blind to the fact that character, and much we honor in terms of virtue, come only through the furnace of trial, and on the anvil of hard work.
Ironically, much of our leisure time is spent watching professional athletics. The irony here is that the most successful athletes are the ones who have, for years, chosen to do the hard things. They are the ones who are in the weight room daily, who choose a greatly restricted diet, who stay longer in practice, fire up more practice shots, run longer, do more sit-ups, and have established a commitment to do the hard things so that they can best those who opted to do less.
Somehow that gets missed by the audience. We see them as doing very little in contrast to what they receive, but the reality is that they have long chosen to do hard things.
A decade ago two teenagers – Alex and Brett Harris – wrote a book aimed at their fellow teens in America. They subtitled their book “A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.” In it, they call on the youth of America to intentionally choose to do hard things so as to build the character necessary to be well-rounded contributors to society.
I love the book, but am saddened that such a call was necessary. Apparently, as adults who crave convenience and live for leisure, we are passing along that worldview to our kids. We aren’t building them to persevere through trial, to choose the difficult road if it is the best option. Sadly, a couple teens needed to set us all straight.
The simple truth is that, more often than we want to admit, the right thing is the hard thing. And more importantly, the strength of character that doing the hard, right thing will demand isn’t built in a moment. It comes from choosing to do hard things every day in order to build up our strength of will and virtue. We simply have to be the master of our own wills, emotions, and dreams.
And that will take a kind of personal discipline that is hard at first. When the body wants to sleep, the hard thing is to get up and get going. When the mind wants to veg, the hard thing is to make a plan and get something accomplished. When the heart wants to hate, the hard thing is to restrain the anger in the name of love, and when the eyes want to turn away from those in need, the hard thing is to re-train them to see beyond the appearance to the fact that here is a fellow human being that we can help.
Doing the hard things doesn’t come naturally, or easily. Then again, character doesn’t, either. Character and virtue grow as they are opposed by circumstances, but forced by our will to stand firm. Taking the easy way only sets us up to be run over when something really hard comes along.
Take the challenge: do a few things every day that you know are good, but that you’d rather not do. Nourish your soul with hard things and we’ll all be better off for it in the long run.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.