The Function of Struggle

“Hope is a function of struggle.”
-CR Snyder

People really hate math class. They love to say, “I’m 40 and I’ve never once used calculus.” But you never hear people say, “I’m 40 and I’ve never once used the knowledge that Genghis Khan died in 1227 AD.” Why is that? It’s weird. Especially since math is everywhere. Even in suffering and struggle.

My mom is a math teacher, and the other day she was commenting to me how she appreciates that algebra math students are now instructed to solve a function rather than just solve for a variable.

For her, f(x)=1+x^2 > y=1+x^2. (Don’t worry, all the math in this post is made up and unnecessary to understanding the main point. It is fun though, to find a Gospel application even for algebraic notation.)

At first, this made no sense to me. It’s all the same, right? It’s just a semantic difference. Swap y for f(x) for z for the word banana… it’s all just a representation of a variable right?

But no, she said. Functions are different than variables. Once you solve a function, you can apply it to any number set, or combine it with any other function. Functions become building blocks that can be combined, transformed, modified and shifted. They are much more than an individual variable, they are a single component in a broader tapestry of understanding the world around us. And it’s not just math. Functions are everywhere and can be applied to anything. Once you start thinking with functions, you can better understand almost any causal relationship.

CR Snyder (who I don’t know… obvi) didn’t know I had that conversation with my mom. He did, however, give us an interesting function to test our theory with.

So: If hope is a function of struggle, what are its properties? What are its components? How do we get from struggle to hope? How do we define the struggle function? (What does “function of” mean?)

Multiple choice tests taught me that it’s always easier to work backwards (and that’s the only thing), so let’s start with the product. What is hope a direct function of?

Hope is a function of character.

Brene Brown describes hope this way: “Hope is not an emotion, but a cognitive behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when we have faith in our ability to get out of a jam.” That cognitive behavioral process could be described as your character. After all, who you are… what your character is… is just a combination of all the different behavioral processes you exhibit. (That’s as clinical as it gets… stick with me.)

Hope is not an emotion. Hope is a function of character.

hope = hope(character(x))

Or: more character leads to more hope.

Character is a function of endurance.

We have a useful start, but remember we can modify functions, we can combine them and transform them. So what is character a function of? Endurance.

Endurance is the ability to continue through discomfort. Research shows that the best distance runners in the world have a higher pain tolerance than the average person, but not a higher pain threshold. That means they feel pain at the same point but don’t succumb to it as quickly as you or I. They have trained themselves to be able to endure.

Which sounds a lot like this function which produces character right? Things in our lives will hurt, they will be uncomfortable, but in enduring (and in properly addressing and dealing with those issues) we build character. The ability to do it again tomorrow, but better. We’re distance runners building our endurance.

character = character(endurance(x))

Or: more endurance leads to more character.

Endurance is a function of struggle.

Maybe you saw this when we were talking about building endurance, but you can’t have endurance if there is nothing to endure. I mean, by definition, endurance implies pain or discomfort. The Google definition for endurance is, “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” The without giving way part is interesting because it implies a control or effort being exerted. A resistance to the pain being presented.

There is no endurance without struggle.

endurance = endurance(struggle(x))

Or: more struggle leads to more endurance.

And with that, we have all we need to make our proof:

hope = hope(character(endurance(struggle(x)))

Or: more struggle leads to more endurance leads to more character leads to more hope.

CR Snyder’s logic was right, but it wasn’t complete. Hope is a function of struggle, but what is struggle a function of? What sets this whole chain reaction in motion?

Struggling is a function of suffering.

Endurance is “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” It’s the ability to prolong your struggle, which can only be brought about by struggling. We can only struggle in the face of pain. In the face of suffering. I mean, try to struggle while comfortable on a beach with a tiki drink in your hand. Just as we cannot build endurance without first struggling. We cannot struggle without first suffering.

struggling=struggle(suffering(x))

hope = hope(suffering(x))

Or: more suffering leads to more hope.

Solving the suffering function gives us hope.

And are we surprised?

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 5:3-5 ESV)

All of this is to say that in a non-intuitive way, your suffering today is a gift. The losses and difficulties are building in you a hope for the one who will not disappoint you. Tomorrow might not be brighter than today, but there is coming a day that will be much much brighter.

Take a minute to think about a struggle you have had. What is something you struggle with at work? Can you feel traces of endurance building up? Can you see shadows of your character strengthening? Do you find even the smallest amount of hope where previously there was none?

Now, what’s a hard or painful thing you could do at work today? What is a pain or suffering to struggle against? Start struggling.