It’s Hard

Posted on November 23, 2013


Brene Brown is a professor and researcher of shame and vulnerability.  You can find a number of videos of her talks on the internet.  Here is a link to one from The Up Experience in 2011:  She is also the author of Daring Greatly, a book about how courage and vulnerability is transformational in our lives.  Go check out the video, and then come back and we can talk.

There are a couple of points from her talk that I want to latch onto for this discussion.  The first was where she talked about having a sign at her home that reads, “We can do hard things.”  In our culture we do have the expectation that things will be “fun, fast, and easy.”  Consequently, when something is difficult, it is in violation of our understanding of how life is.  Long before Janet Jackson recorded the song, Freudian Psychology had asserted “The Pleasure Principle” which maintains that human beings seek to obtain pleasure and avoid pain.  That much is inherent in our make-up and is actually adaptive for it.  We seem to have taken it to the extreme where we also avoid the difficult.  In Outliers[1], Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a study that looked at how long the average person would work on a math problem before deciding it was too difficult and quitting.  The average time was 30 seconds.  We want it “fun, fast, and easy.”  The second of Dr. Brown’s points that I wanted to emphasize was the idea that “hope” is a function of struggle.  Hope comes with perseverance and tenacity.   There is no indication of any intent for a biblical basis in this research.  Therefore, it is interesting to note that the apostle Paul made the same point about 2000 years ago in his letter to the believers in Rome.  In Romans 5: 3-5, Paul asserted that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; character produces hope; and hope does not disappoint us.

Throughout most of Christian history, the church has maintained that there is a moral implication to divorce.[2]  It is hard to read Matthew 19 or Mark 10 without coming to the conclusion that divorce was never God’s ideal.  Sadly, the divorce rate in the Christian population is no different from the divorce rate in the general population.  We are a fallen race, and we never do quite live up to God’s ideal for us.  Additionally, it really does take both partners to make a marriage work.  One partner cannot do it by himself or herself.  You can only control you.  You cannot control your partner.  Fortunately, we are under grace.  We are not condemned for coming up short.  A few years ago, I was having a discussion on this topic with a pastor friend of mine whom I think has a lot of wisdom.  His position on the subject of whether divorce is a sin was that it is a sin to quit just because it is hard.[3]  I think that is essentially correct, and let me give you a really practical reason for it.

There has been much research done about the factors that predict a favorable outcome in marital therapy.[4]  Here’s the thing: the outcome of marital therapy is not related to the level of distress the couple is experiencing at the start of therapy.  What does impact the outcome of therapy? The quality of the relationship between the therapist and the clients – check; the husband’s ability to handle his wife’s negative emotions – check; the wife’s belief that the husband still loves her – check; the couple’s belief that the activities the therapist has them doing are relevant to their situation – check.  What is not a predictor is the level of distress the couple is experiencing in their relationship.  In other words, the relationship is not doomed just because it is really hard right now.  The relationship is not over simply because you are both in emotional pain now.  The fact that it is hard now does not mean you cannot recover and have a loving and satisfying relationship that can last a lifetime.

Don’t quit because it is hard.  We can do hard things.

[1] At least I think Outliers was which of his books it was in.  I don’t want to take the time to research it for this post.

[2] Please hear me out before sending me any hate mail.  I am not trying to condemn those who are going or have gone through divorce.  I am trying to encourage those in current difficulty to get help before throwing in the towel.  If you have been through divorce, you know how painful that is.  You don’t need blame and shame on top of that.

[3] I think this is essentially what Jesus is saying in Matthew 19:8-9.  “Okay guys, if your spouse is being unfaithful, that’s one thing, but you don’t get to quit just because it is hard.”

[4] Again, I am too lazy to look up the references for this post.