Being summertime, the local fruit stands are open and abundant with delicious treats. A great lover of fruits, this time is especially wonderful for us, as there are a variety from which to choose. What always struck me as funny is how some of the most delicious fruits are the ones that are most difficult to open. Take the pineapple, with its sharp top barbs and difficult to hack at skin. It takes tremendous effort to get to the edible parts, but the process is worth it. Another is the pomegranate, which houses delectable seeds, but whose outer skin/shell is tough to open and navigate. Then there’s the coconut, which given the proper machete, you should be able to eat it. Yes, the struggle is tough, but that great effort makes the rewards that much sweeter. Similarly, I am reminded of a martial arts student I recently witnessed, attempting a very difficult brick break. He had two large bricks on top of several cinder blocks and was planning on jumping up and back-kicking the bricks. I watched him work up to the break, convincing himself of his impending success, only to have his first attempt be too close to the target. He ended up knocking over the entire structure, without breaking the bricks at all. His second try was just as unsuccessful, but not quite as disastrous, as he managed to knock over but not break only the top levels. All around him, other students were successfully accomplishing similar breaks as this man failed time and again. Their success was met with cheers and excitement, where his failures were met with anticipation and disappointment. The masters pulled him aside to talk him through the break, but the look of discouragement was palpable. The crowd began to rhythmically slow clap for him, encouraging him. One last time, he stared down his target, lined himself up, jumped as the crowd waited, and successfully broke his bricks. The crowd jumped to their feet in applause as he ran about the square wildly, waving his arms in triumph. The response to his break was greater than any other there, because the audience had seen him struggle, fail, and finally overcome his obstacle. Had he succeeded the first time, the reward would have been good, but because of the struggle, the reward was that much greater. When we struggle and succeed, as opposed to solely succeeding, we become greater through the process and the outcome is better than had the success come easily. Romans 5.3-5 shows that great effort, although discouraging and difficult, is good for who we are: “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.” Struggle makes us stronger than if we had just easily succeeded. When hatching, a baby bird must struggle against its shell to strengthen its wings and then grow up strong, but when it hatches easily, it stays weak and develops as such. Like baby birds, when we struggle, our growth pulls at us, tearing at our inner fiber, but when we overcome, our fiber and ourselves are stronger as a result, we grow more than we normally would have, and we celebrate more in the end because of the journey, not just the result. When we struggle, God roots for us, and when we finally push through that struggle and succeed, God jumps to His feet in celebration because of the journey. So as you become discouraged in your struggles this week, know that the taste of victory grows exponentially as a result of the journey. Amen.