Tom Sawyer was right about one thing: If you commence to paint a fence, soon you will have every kid in the neighborhood wanting to take a whack at it. But the story of the whitewashing makes a departure from reality at some point. Tom would have us believe that if you make the chore look fun, you can get those gullible kids to finish it for you. But here is what I know: A neighborhood tyke comes up to me and says:
“Hey, Miss Andrée, you painting your garage? Boy that sure looks fun. I sure wish I was allowed to paint a garage. I ain’t never painted a garage in all my life. If you gave me a chance, I would do the whole thing for you, and you could go in the house and bake pies or whatever it is you do.”
So you take the bait and go in the house to get your husband’s most stained-up T-shirt, and you sheathe the volunteer in protective garb and hand him a brush. He starts off with glee, but 10 minutes later he announces, “Miss Andrée, I’m tired, I don’t want to do this anymore,” as he strips off the shirt and is on his way, skipping down the street.
I was pondering what is the difference between a child and an adult. Why does the child last only a few strokes of a brush, though he fully believed he would be able to complete it, while an adult can work for hours and not mind much?
First of all, I believe that the child’s anguish after 10 minutes of painting is genuine. I do not doubt that the task has become intolerable in such a short time. Meanwhile, the adult does not hit a wall after 10 minutes and does not experience that distress. He does have a distress point, to be sure, but it would take a marathon of painting to reach it.
The difference between the child and the mature adult, I believe, is a thousand little cumulative lifelong breakthroughs in perseverance through suffering that the adult has under his belt and the child does not. The place of equanimity the grown-up finds himself in now, such that hard work does not feel punishing, is the fruit of these many little deaths. If you die enough times—if you pummel your body and bring it into submission persistently enough—it becomes easier to do so the next time.
Likewise, God has called us to die. When we obey His command and follow Christ into the pathway of putting self to death in all the little ways throughout the day we need to die, we make the discovery after a while that saying no to temptation is doable. Practice makes perfect (Hebrews 5:14), and fighting sin strengthens (1 John 1:14), and the one who is faithful in a little will be ready to be entrusted with much.