It is the author Betty Smith that beautifully writes in her acclaimed classic “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” of the relationship between struggle and survival. Smith powerfully pens that, “Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of the grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong.“ Smith, through her work, is suggesting that the strength of a tree is tied to the level and depth in which it has to struggle to survive. The tree is made stronger through its victory despite facing trials.
But as I think of this relationship between achievement and adversity, I find myself looking at it in a deeper, different context. I would suggest that this occurrence not only holds true for trees, but for humanity as well. There is something transformational that happens to us when we are met with difficulty in life that prompts one to bring out the hidden greatness inside of us that would have otherwise gone untapped and unrealized. It is regularly in our times of struggle, strife, and hardship that the best in us is brought out. Consider the African American experience under the lens of struggle. It is during the worst socio-economic period in American history, The Great Depression of the 1930’s, that we, as a people, were responsible for the Harlem Renaissance; one of the most creative and innovative times in our country. Out of the blatant racism, injustice, and hatred towards African Americans in the 50’s and 60’s, comes a Civil Rights movement which unifies and strengthens our people in a way that has yet to be replicated.
It is the struggles we face in life that develop, strengthen, mature, and empower us. It’s those moments that eventually define us. Through our hard times, the Lord begins to mold and shape us into what He needs us to be so that way we are a seamless fit for the destiny He has for us in the future. If this is the case, then, as believers in God, we must train ourselves to be willing to welcome adversity instead of run from or succumb to it. We must realize that God uses the harsh conditions in our lives to perfect us into what He needs us to be for the good times He has in store us. In spite of your struggle, you must focus on the beauty that will come from it, and not solely on the burden in it. You may not hoop, holler, & be happy about your problems, but you ought to be encouraged about what will come out of you because of them.
The Bible tells us in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” It is this aspect of our culture, this legacy of unfailing endurance in the midst of trial, that we must not only re-adopt, but hold fast to and pass along to the generations that will come behind us. A gift of inherited perseverance that will push us from the confines of our current circumstance to the glory of our highest destiny.
Despite racism, classism, sexism, homicide, genocide, economic downturn, government shutdown, if it could work for a tree in Brooklyn…how much more for forty million African Americans in this day and age? Don’t run from your problems, run towards them. Know that God is with you in the middle of them and His blessing is at the end of them. Should we choose to be faithful to the finish, if we choose to endure to the end of our struggle, we will find success. We must learn to take what we need from what we go through and choose to be better and not bitter. We must learn to see our problems as opportunities for God to show just how great He truly is. In order to obtain success, we all must learn to embrace the beautiful struggle.