It’s hard to say goodbye to your babies but that’s what my wife and I did last week.

We brought them to life. We gave them a home. We raised them. But every parent comes to the point when they have to plant the tomatoes they have been growing in their bathtub.

Transplanting the tomatoes is a big to-do in our family but we didn’t put those beauties in the dirt unprepared. For several days before planting, we set them outside to prepare them for the cruel world of cold snaps, hail and humidity.

All the green thumbs out there know how important it is to harden your plants before planting them. Tomatoes are no exception; they have to endure some weather or they won’t bear as much fruit in the end.

I can’t help but feel a little sad now that our makeshift greenhouse is back to being a boring old bathroom. But our yearly tomato transplant reminds me about the importance of facing adversity.

Seems like we typically see our struggles as something to escape, or something to avoid altogether. But what would happen if we considered our tomato plants as a guide to temporary suffering?

Tomato plants need hardening just as athletes need practice or musicians need training. Without it, they won’t be able to produce something valuable under pressure. We humans share that same weakness with the plant kingdo: without a little strenthening, we’ll wilt under pressure.

How do you see the struggles that test the strength of your roots? Are trials something to avoid at all costs? Something that sparks anger? Something that makes you want to give up?

You aren’t alone.

When you read up on the Apostle Paul, you see a man who endured incredible hardship without giving up on God. Instead, he chose to see lasting purpose in his suffering.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The troubles we face don’t feel like “momentary, light affliction,” but Paul wasn’t trying to invalidate our own sufferings. After all, he had been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and snake-bitten for his belief in Jesus. When it came to suffering, he knew a thing or two because he had seen a thing or two.

As have we all.

This life can be as destructive as drought, strong winds and softball-sized hail — not your garden-variety suffering. But Jesus isn’t your garden-variety savior. He endured suffering that produced a bumper crop of blessing for those who sink their roots into Him.

If we’re willing to change our perspective, we can see eternal purpose in the temporal pain. What will define us most is not the elements we face but the way we face them.

Gregg Madsen is the Lead Pastor of Steadfast Gretna. Reach him at gmadsen@steadfastgretna.org.

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