"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24)
Suffering is sometimes God's plan for us. Instead of avoiding it, we need to discipline ourselves to embrace it and lean in to what God wants to teach us through suffering.
I remember clearly the night I finally understood the idea of embracing suffering. I was dealing with a situation that had lasted for months. I had tried everything in my power to do the "right thing,” to deal with the person causing me this pain. I prayed, read Scripture, asked others to pray and took their advice. I was at the end of myself. I had nothing left to do other than to cry to God. Suddenly, I realized He wanted me to stop struggling, to wait and accept the situation. It was almost as if He said, "This pain is good for you." The problem did not go away, but from then on, I had a sense that God was working in me.
That's the confidence I see in Paul. He knows he will face difficulties and painful experiences, but he also knows his first priority is to complete the task God gave him. He is willing to accept hardship in order to fulfill his purpose, and he has no guilt because he knows he has worked with all his strength.
In our culture we strive to avoid pain, make work easier and pursue pleasure. We have appliances and tools to make every job effortless. We make boundaries to limit relationships that cause pain. Parents do everything to give their children enriched, trouble-free lives. None of this is bad in itself. The problem comes when we don't recognize that, some difficulty or having to work at something, makes us better. Spiritual life is like exercise. You have to exercise a long time to see results. It's not always fun and it sometimes hurts, but we end up stronger.
As Paul looks back on the sum of his life's work, he knows he's been faithful to his task. With the same single-mindedness, we must recognize our own task on this earth and pursue it, knowing that the whole will of God for our lives isn't necessarily a pain-free life. Instead, it is a life where suffering draws us nearer to God and makes us sanctified, able to testify to God's grace.