No Pain, No Gain: Counting it All Joy

By Mark Cotterman, Head of School
January 9, 2019

"Come on boys, no pain, no gain. Make it hurt!" was the common anthem from my high school coach, as we lifted weights, did another set of squats or ran another mile. I would always press on with all I had, because the consequences of quitting in front of Coach Gregg were worse than the pain of hanging on through the pain. Coach Gregg was a favorite of many students, because he worked us so hard.

I recently finished reading an article from a school principal who commented that he never hears students return from college and tell him, "high school would have been better if it wouldn't have been so hard." Nearly all his students say they were well prepared for the rigors of college and life. For MHA, many graduates in the most recent graduating class have reported similar feedback.
MHA alumni who comment on how well prepared they found themselves for college and life should not come as a surprise. The Bible is clear: hard work and trials are important tools God uses to form us into the men and women He wants us to become. As James 1:2-4 tells us, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." How many of us and our children count it "all joy" when we face trials? How many of us want to "lack nothing?"

We see another common pattern in the Bible related to trials and suffering -- grumbling. We find in Exodus 16:2, "And the whole congregation grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness." If we are honest, we often grumble during trials and look for ways to avoid the pain. Yet, we all know from experience that some of the most growing times in our lives are when we persevered through difficult challenges.

Biographies are a wonderful way to step into the lives of inspirational figures and see how they grew through significant trials. I currently am reading the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, who was born into a slave family and had a life full of hardship that shaped his character. This is what he said about his own experience, "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to over come while trying to succeed."

I also am reading select letters by Puritan Pastor John Newton. I heard Tim Keller comment that these letters were the single most influential book in his life, so I had to read them myself. Listen to what Newton has to say about trials: "A child of God cannot but greatly desire a more enlarged and experimental acquaintance with his holy word; and this attainment is greatly promoted by our trials. The far greater part of the promises in Scripture are made and suited to a state of affliction; and, though we may believe they are true, we cannot so well know their sweetness, power, and suitableness, unless we ourselves are in a state to which they refer."

I was talking to a rhetoric school mom recently who shared her child's unwillingness to work hard. She shared that she often works right along side him and coaches his every step. I challenged her to let him do the work on his own; he needs to experience the challenge. She responded by saying, "I know intellectually that you are right, and this is what I should do, but I just can't. I want to see him get good grades even if I am the one pushing him at every step".

We want to challenge our students at Mars Hill. Not more than they can handle or more than is helpful, but probably more than most would choose on their own. We seek to challenge students in such a way that they learn and grow more than they ever thought they could and report back years later as productive leaders in their church and community...."it was worth it; I am so thankful for the work ethic I learned at Mars Hill." Parents can partner with us by encouraging their children in the trial. There is pain and with it, much gain.