Rejoicing is not my natural response to suffering — and certainly not to suffering in a long-distance relationship. Complaining? Yes. Self-pity? Of course.
But joy is the Biblical response. I can’t escape the clarity of Romans 5:3, “We rejoice in our sufferings” or James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
How can Paul and James say that? To understand, let’s look at the text surrounding the first passage.
What We Know About Suffering
In Romans 5, the apostle Paul has just finished explaining how and why we are saved through faith in Christ. He now moves to describe how this salvation impacts our suffering:
“… we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, 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 5:2-5, emphasis added
My first observation is that Paul rejoicing in two things: hope and suffering. This gives me a clue that the two might be connected. Let’s see if that hypothesis holds in the next verses.
In verses 3-5, Paul answers the reader’s implicit question. Why do we rejoice in suffering? We’re joyful because we know suffering starts a chain reaction yielding the products of endurance, character, and hope.
The first product of suffering is endurance. I’m reminded of my friends who ran cross-country in high school. Unlike sprinters, these endurance runners focused on keeping pace. They knew the race was long, so they prioritized steadiness over speed.
Suffering has a similar effect in the life of a believer. It reminds us that we haven’t reached the finish line yet, and it teaches us to slow down and depend on Christ.
We feel pain deeply, but it doesn’t stop us because endurance builds character. As we run faithfully toward Christ, we look more and more like him. We’re sweating sin and building the muscles of faith.
The evidence of this character is the work of the Spirit, manifested in his fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
When we see the growth of our character, it gives us hope. Why? The first two products seemed to have a logical connection, but this one’s harder to see. Are we hopeful because we’re proud of how we’ve run? For the first time, do we think we have the strength to finish?
If we’re hopeful for those reasons, we’ve missed the point of suffering. The fruits we’ve grown are “of the Spirit,” not of the self. Character produces hope because our lives are portfolios of God’s work in us, not our work on ourselves.
When we look back on our suffering, we don’t see how far we’ve come. We see how far Christ has brought us. Without the strength of Christ in our hearts, we’d still be at the starting line.
The Fruit of Suffering
Suffering in a long-distance relationship is an opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness. The development of your character is evidence of God’s faithfulness, not yours. It shows you can trust that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
That day of Christ is the day we will finish the race. It’s the day suffering will be over. It’s the day we will be glorified, free from sin — which is why “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).
There is a connection between hope and suffering, isn’t there? You won’t find a scrap of joy in suffering until you feast on the hope ahead. And you won’t delight deeply in that hope unless you’ve sampled the fruit of the Spirit.
Oh, that our suffering would help us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)! Without an eternal perspective, our trials will be bitter; with joy, our suffering will taste sweet.