On Suffering by Choice

In his book, How Bad Do You Want It, author and coach Matt Fitzgerald explores the psychology of endurance sports, or the psychological attributes needed to endure. Using the analogy of fire walking he takes the reader through stories of real athletes, their achievements, and their failures. The difference between achievement and failure is measure in how long the endurance athlete can stay on those hot coals. The point at which a persons must jump off is that persons wall.

I’ve read this book three times…before my 4th marathon, before my 5th marathon, and before my 6th marathon. Reading it helped me in a couple ways. First to know that the suffering that accompanies a marathon is normal. Second to draw strength from knowing that while I might feel as if I’m suffering alone, everyone around me is experiencing their own version of the same thing. One could say misery loves company if one were cynical. I look at it as there is strength in community.

Last Sunday (6/18) I preached on this passage from Romans (5:1-5)

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

I’m pretty good at the “see me suffer” final race photo. I was actually extremely happy here…to be done with the race and knowing that I’d run a PR that qualified for Boston.

While the passage here speaks of “suffering” as those afflictions that we experience throughout life. I could not also help thinking of “suffering” as something to which we willingly submit as we test our bodies (and minds) through endurance sports…for me, running.

It is true that the ability to suffer is what leads to the ability to endure…to go long distance without giving up. Does this endurance produce character in the athlete? In speaking to many, I can say “yes.” One could think of the character produces through suffering and endurance as the building of resilience. Fitzgerald describes resilience as:

“The mother of all coping skills, resilience is defined as a general ability to respond to adversity. Resilience is the quality that keeps a person engaged in challenging situations long enough to develop specific coping skills with which to overcome them, and, like pain tolerance, resilience is greatest in men and women who as children experienced some but not too much adversity.”
Excerpt From: Fitzgerald, Matt. “How Bad Do You Want It?.” VeloPress. iBooks.


I don’t look like I’m suffering as bad here, but I was so disappointed to be having a PR but still missing my goal.

Resilience, or character, is that trait that keeps us from giving up in the face of adversity. Fitzgerald found that without the adversity that leads to resilience (or character), the most naturally gifted athlete may struggle when suffering becomes intense. I think of it as the ability to dig deep.

When we look at our own lives, we can identify those times we struggled with adversity…or suffering…or affliction. For the athlete, suffering is a choice that leads to endurance, which leads to character (resilience). As a pastor, the lessons learned while running have helped me to work through difficult issues; persist; and have patience with others. And this leads to hope.

Hope here is not a passive, “I hope something will change,” or “I hope we can do this.” But rather it is a stubborn persistence. It is experienced in striving towards something worthy, yet difficult. Hope comes from knowing we are valued and knowing that others are valued. Hope allows us to look at the world and choose to persist in what is good despite what is seen. Ultimately the hope that we have is a gift from God…it is a free gift that we experience in greater depth as we experience life in all its difficulties…and joys…and in endurance sports!


2 thoughts on “On Suffering by Choice

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