“But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 ESV.
Why is it that suffering, one of the least enjoyable experiences, is also one of the most useful? It’s something I have pondered an astounding amount in my life, and it was not until I truly experienced suffering that I finally understood it.
Growing up, I was raised in a sporty and strong Christian family. We went to church every Sunday, prayed before every meal, told each other we loved one another, and from my perspective, we were a good, solid, moral family. But as I aged into later grade school and the beginning of college, the evidence began showing that I was rather innocent and sheltered from many things (by no wrong-doing of my parents).
I had never experienced true hardship or adversity in my life, aside from getting grounded for playing too much video games. I seemed to always succeed in the things I did like sports, school and even games. However, once college life really took off, the world started waking me and the suffering began. Now, at first glance, I probably sound like another millennial college student talking about suffering in the context of my fluffy college life, but in the context of the cushy and adversity-lacking upbringing I had, suffering was the outcome.
At that point in my life, volleyball was everything. But I had become perpetually injured and unable to play, never mind succeed. On top of that, school actually began to require effort, which I wasn’t used to at all. So, I began failing. In general, I became overbearing and annoying to be around socially because things weren’t going my way. In other words, the world was “catching up” and lashing back, at least, that’s how it seemed to me.
As a result, I became incredibly anxious, and then, depressed. I recall spending countless nights lying awake in bed, having panic attacks and calling home, just for my parents to calm me down. Now, I knew how to put a face on that things were fine, but deep down, every tiny thing dug away a bigger chunk of my hope and will to live. So, my only answer was to drop out of school. Yet, that only made things worse and intensified my suffering.
With each passing day I became more and more depressed, and felt more and more hopeless. My life felt hollow, pointless, and worthless, and I started to believe it no longer had any value. I was in a hopeless, despairing depression for much longer than I’d hope anyone would endure. In fact, it got to the point that I wished, daily, that I simply wouldn’t wake up the next morning. The only thing that stopped me was I knew what suicide would do to everyone around me, and as much as I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t destroy them just because I felt the way I did. You might be thinking that it’s good I realized this, but in reality, it just added to the strain of life for me. Thankfully, God clearly had other plans in mind.
Despite the selfish, foolish and self-gratifying lifestyle I had been living to try and dampen the suffering I was experiencing, God literally rescued me. One day I woke up and, instead of being dead as I had previously hoped, I was renewed and rejuvenated. To put it simply, I was magically better for no reason. It was like God was a firefighter running into a house drenched in flames, and He pulled me out as I clung onto what little life I had left; my suffering stopped.
I think it’s important to understand, I’m a very black and white person. I like logic and numbers, and for everything to make sense. In my mind, everything should be able to be described and explained. But God did something for me that makes no sense and has no explanation, and that is how I know, not believe, but know, it was Him and nothing else that gave me a second wind.
In my suffering, God deemed me worth saving and interceded, even though I had abandoned and ignored Him through it all. And though it made no human sense at all, in His perfect love and faithfulness, He rescued me. To this day I have that written on my forearm, and that He is the only reason I am alive and survived that season of my life.
I often tell people that the suffering I endured was extremely useful, and that I value the time I spent in depression and despair immensely. Although I would never wish it upon my worst enemy, and would never want to go through it again, the lessons I learned are invaluable to me. That season taught me what love really is; it taught me what faithfulness really is; it taught me where true character comes from; and most importantly, it ignited a flame of passion for our incredible God.
To clarify, I’m not writing this for people to pat me on the back and say, “Good job for handling that,” or to tell a story about myself out of vanity. Instead, I’m writing to display another example of God’s miraculous nature and ability, and more importantly, to tell others that we must not fear struggle or let it become our enemy as I did. All the while, the true enemy is out there twisting and corrupting the adversities we face into fear and despair.
As athletes, we’re accustomed to facing adversity and challenges in our competitions. I’ve always been trained to put my nose to the grindstone and work through it, but we must not leave God behind and miss a crucial opportunity for union with him.
I acknowledge it’s awfully easy to say, from behind a keyboard, that we have to face these sufferings with God and with conviction, or it won’t work out. But, I believe it’s worth saying that anyway. What other cause in life is truly worthy of our toils than to make the Creator of the Universe smile upon us? And more importantly, to display His workings and glory to everyone around us, that they may get a glimpse of His unfathomable and incredible love.
Keaton Strom played collegiate volleyball at Ambrose University. In 2018, he signed a professional contract with Swedish club, Habo Wolley.