When my wife Lauren and I were choosing a text for our recent wedding, we wanted something to cling to. We wanted something to hold near to our hearts as we face the inevitable struggles of life together. We wanted something beautiful.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).
That might seem like a lot to dig into for a wedding text. When I told my brother what our wedding text was going to be, he gave me an unexpected response: “So, you want to have a sad wedding?” But there’s a reason we chose those words. We find in these words the glory of our suffering as children of God.
Some aspects of the gospel seem to touch specific hearts in special ways. Being called a child of God is one of those for me. At a young age, my childhood became anything but glorious. When I was seven, my parents divorced. As many know, the consequences of divorce can continue for a lifetime. There are broken relationships all throughout my family. I was separated from siblings through family court. I was separated from my mother because of her addiction. Even spiritually my family is divided. How could all this hurt lead to hope?
Somehow that sixth-grade boy, forbidden to go to a WELS church until his junior year of high school, kept his childhood dream in mind: “I want to be a WELS pastor when I grow up!” There are many reasons I could point to for my desire to become a pastor from a young age. My pastor showed me how a shepherd loves like Jesus. God poured out his love through him in the middle of a world turned upside down. God’s Word was always my favorite class in school. Jesus was the most important thing in the world to me. There is one reason why I was able to get through the struggles of my childhood. There is one reason why I want to be a pastor more than anything in the world— God’s love has been poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit.
Fast forward many years and that little boy finds himself along the path towards living his dream. I came to the seminary in the middle of a pandemic. After a semester of online learning at Martin Luther College capped off with a virtual graduation, I was ready for a fresh start. My first semester at the seminary was a four-month stretch I will never forget: translating forty verses of Greek each night, becoming engaged to the love of my life, and receiving the heartbreaking news that my mother had passed away from the alcohol that had long ago separated a momma’s boy from his momma. Like others, I have faced many trials and tribulations. This world brings pain and suffering to our sinful lives here on earth. In fact, Jesus promised life will be this way. But losing my mom was by far the most difficult trial I have ever faced.
What happened next? I came back to class and filled my eyes and ears with God’s Word. My soul, thirsty for strength and comfort, was quenched with the water of life. God gave me suffering; he gave me perseverance; he gave me character; he gave me hope. I was surrounded by loving brothers and professors who lifted me up. I was fed by Jesus each day in chapel and devotion. I did my homework for Genesis. I did my homework for 2 Corinthians. The love of God was poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit! In Jesus, the inexplicable becomes simple. I thank God for every single hardship he has blessed me with. God doesn’t call servants who are experts at getting through life on their own. He strengthens his children to trust and rely fully on him. I pray that one day God might use the struggles I’ve faced in life to serve that little lost child who, despite the trials of this world, loves Jesus with all his heart.
Clayton Fury is serving as a vicar during the 2022-23 school year at Christ, Denver, CO.