Choosing what is right over what is easy can make you not only stronger but also happier!
In the midst of a pandemic, life can be hard enough without our trying to make it harder. Shouldn’t we be trying to make our lives easier in difficult times? Perhaps surprisingly, as many have learned, one of the best ways to make life better is to get out of our comfort zone and learn to do hard things!
Sadly, our society seems to be moving in the opposite direction. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many teens had to help support their families, entering the workforce years before formal adulthood. But what about today? Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has found that “in terms of adult behaviors, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds of the past” (“Extended Adolescence: When 25 Is the New 18,” ScientificAmerican.com, September 19, 2017). Even before the pandemic, her research found that young adults were far less likely to be taking on adult responsibilities than their parents or grandparents. “Twenty-five is the new 18, and delayed adolescence is no longer a theory, but a reality,” says Columbia University psychiatrist Mirjana Domakonda.
What does this mean for our future? The behaviors we learn in youth tend to be the behaviors we carry throughout the rest of our lives. The young adult years are precisely the time of life when people have the most energy and vitality to pour into building careers, marriages, and families. Of course, not all young adults shirk responsibility and waste time. Many are diligent, plan for the future, and work hard. Many are exemplary, selfless people who dedicate themselves to serving others—yet they are bucking a cultural current by doing so. For every energetic young adult who embraces hard work and discipline as embodied in the “Seven Laws of Success” (see our article on page 5 of this issue), many more “go with the flow” and miss opportunities to grow.
What does it mean to do hard things? It could mean challenging yourself physically by running a marathon or accepting a job that requires you to use your muscles more than you’re used to. It could mean challenging yourself ethically by telling the truth in a situation where a lie might seem more convenient. It could mean taking the tougher class in school, risking a lower grade but opening a door to new knowledge or opportunity. Or it could mean taking an unpopular stand that puts you on God’s side but risks the loss of friends.
But I’m a Christian, some may think, and Jesus said it’s easy to be a Christian. Certainly, Jesus gave us an encouraging promise: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29–30). But did that mean we can just sit idly by and avoid making choices? No! Our Savior also warned us to “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
How do we reconcile these scriptures? Jesus taught a Way of life and He promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who would repent, be baptized, and commit to living that Way. The choices He asks of us can be difficult to make—but as we use the Holy Spirit, those choices become easier and easier as we make them into habits.
Alex and Brett Harris, who in 2008 authored Do Hard Things—a book calling young people in particular to take initiative and choose the right path over the easy path—maintain a website dedicated to “rebelling against low expectations” (TheRebelution.com). A recent article encourages readers to establish beneficial habits: “Making something a habit means that even though it is hard at times, I stick to it until it becomes essentially second nature…. Remember, a habit is not going to develop overnight, and there will be times it’s impossible to follow through with the habit—but stick to it, and you’ll enjoy compounded results over time” (“2021 Won’t Go as Planned—but Don’t Let That Stop You,” TheRebelution.com). The more we cultivate the ability to develop small habits, the more we lay the foundation for developing big habits that help us persist when facing difficulties.
Ironically, while the Western world idolizes perpetual youth, it also in many ways despises youth. How often have we heard Baby Boomers or members of Generation X make cruel and ignorant comments about Millennials and members of Generation Z? Yet this is nothing new. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote, nearly 2,000 years ago, to the young evangelist Timothy. “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Ancient Israel’s King Solomon, nearly 3,000 years ago, wrote that we should enjoy our younger years in a particular way: “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
Yes, we must rejoice—but always knowing that God is there to judge our choices. As Solomon said, “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11). Parents need to give children encouragement and a right example, along with correction when needed. They must not lower expectations or make excuses for failure—rather, they must inspire children to do what is right, even if it is hard.
But what if we didn’t spend our youth as well as we should have? It is never too late to repent—to turn around and go a new way—with the help of our Savior and with the indwelling Holy Spirit. God asks all true Christians to do a very hard thing—to come out of the world and prepare for a future as firstfruits in His Kingdom. Why does this matter? Salvation is a free gift, right? Well, yes, but our reward depends on how we use that gift. Consider the “Parable of the Minas” in Luke 19. The nobleman who gave each servant a mina, an ancient unit of money, did not reward them equally when they returned his investment with different results. The nobleman gave his most productive servant the greatest reward, saying, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17).
Today’s Christians will receive an amazing reward if we repent and respond to God’s call. We can become the firstfruits assisting in God’s Kingdom at Christ’s return. Paul asked, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2). Today’s faithful Christians will be judges—rulers—in the Kingdom of God. Now is the time for us to prepare—by doing the right thing even when it’s hard.
The second and third chapters of Revelation describe seven historic Church congregations—and successive Church eras—dating from the time of the Apostles to the future end time. The last is named Laodicea, and it characterizes the attitude of most Christians at the time of Jesus Christ’s return. The warning to Laodicea is a warning to our generation—to a people in the end time, struggling against the corrosiveness of spiritual apathy: “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth”’” (Revelation 3:14–16). What a contrast to the Philadelphian Church, described just a few verses before!
Laodicea typifies a “lukewarm” and apathetic society as a whole. Think about it: A few generations ago, hard work and self-discipline were deeply ingrained in the fabric of Western society. People knew that success often means self-restraint and requires people to make choices that are not always fun or comfortable. How out of date that sounds to many today! Even the terms “self-discipline” and “self-control” sound archaic! Yet self-control pleases God; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and the Apostle Paul preached about it to the governor Felix (Acts 24:25).
It is sometimes hard to obey God, especially when the tide of society goes against us. For instance, our society finds it hard to control desire for possessions—so credit card debt soars higher and higher. However, Christ taught His disciples not to set their hearts on possessions. He said that unless we are willing to prioritize Him above all else, we are not fit to be His disciples (Matthew 19:21).
In our present day, it can even be hard to keep God’s Sabbath. How ironic! The Sabbath is a rest day, yet many who exercise faith and courage to keep it are risking rejection by family, friends, and neighbors. We may risk losing a job—or be unable to find one—because we will not work on the Sabbath. Yet Jesus Christ promised that if we make obedience to Him our highest priority, He will take care of us—even making sure that we have what we need to eat and to wear (Matthew 6:31–33)!
So, if God is calling you and opening your mind to the truth, are you willing to do the hard things? This is not the time to shrink back—it is the time to be strong and take the challenge! It is the time to go against the complacency and apathy of society.
It is time to truly submit to God. It is time to let Him empower us to do the hard things to serve Him, even when others are not. God is looking for people who will step out and serve Him even when it’s hard. Scripture encourages us that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Eternal blessings and opportunities await true Christians who are willing to commit to Him, submit to His ways, and conquer themselves even if it is hard—especially if it is hard!