Being in a family during the quarantine. Working on a team. Having a spouse and kids. Even without the coronavirus, life always brings us new challenges to our character.
No Christian seriously contests the idea that the cross of Jesus ought to shape how we live. What is up for debate is how Christ’s atoning death should affect our lives. One common applications is summed up by the phrase “grin and bear it.” This admonition certainly has merit, especially in our contemporary, individualistic culture where people loathe to sacrifice personal rights.
But what does the phrase mean? And is this always sound advice? It could simply mean that we tolerate something (or somebody) without complaining. Often, it conveys the suggestion that we should put a smile on our face and show no sign that something or someone bothers us. As with many such sayings, there is value in “grinning and bearing it.”
Don’t grin and bear it
Yet all counsel must be applied with wisdom. There are times when should not grin and bear it. Some people are not aware that other responses are even “Christian.” Let’s look at a few.
At times, we are called to grieve and bear it.
The Bible never tells people to plaster a smile on their faces during tough times. I can hear the objection, “What about Philippians 4:4? Doesn’t Paul say, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.’”
Guess what? Jesus didn’t always “rejoice” in the way people think he did. He overturned the tables in the Temple because he was angry with sin. He grieved as he thought of his disciples turning away from him. Even in Philippians, we only need to read the rest of the letter. In Philippians 2:27–28, Paul writes
“But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.” (2:27–28)
Paul speaks about a way of life, one constantly marked by joy that comes from hope in Christ. It is a contentment that ultimately wins the day. Yet, such rejoicing is preceded by an awareness of the world as it is. And when we see that reality, we will grieve. We will lament.
Aside: Owen Strachan recently criticized N. T. Wright’s article in Time, saying that Wright was preaching hopelessness. Strachan’s completely misreads Wright’s intention. What Wright understands is that lament is an essential aspect of Christian worship. We don’t always have the sort of answers to situations that we’d like. There is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
We are also called to groan and bear it.Think about how vivid Paul’s language in Romans 8:22–23 is. He says,
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
To groan is healthy, mature way requires we let ourselves do so. Yes, we have to give ourselves permission to acknowledge the pain. Too often, because we think we must paste a smile forever on our faces, we use all sorts of techniques to avoid pain. Distraction and rationalization are a few of my tendencies.
We would do well to heed the words of Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He writes,
“emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”
Sometimes, we should grimace and bear it.
What do I mean? Simply this,… we need to express disapproval. Believers cannot be apathetic or indifferent about evil. While patience is often needed, silence does not always need to persist.
However, what I don’t commend is gripe and bear it. By definition, that is not bearing it. Griping is another word for complaining. It’s not constructive. It focuses on me, how I’m inconvenienced or bothers.
The goal of “bearing it” should be growth, both in ourselves and in others. So, we can simply call this grow and bear it if you like.
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
Whether we want to do so or not, we will bear with these tough times. But how will you bear it?