I'd love to read the Gospels in Greek. I'd love to read the Prophets in Hebrew. So why don't I? Because I don't like to suffer, and I would need to suffer a bit in order to read these languages with any fluency.

I’d have to make time for study in an already overstuffed schedule. I’d have to listen to myself failing miserably at pronunciation, over and over again. I’d have to pay at least for a book and audio course — and maybe even for tutors and a class.

It would involve a lot of unpleasantness before I got to my goal.

And, alas, this is true in every worthwhile field of endeavor. We don’t grow so much from pleasure. We grow from suffering.

Before a woman can enjoy the perks of motherhood, she must bear a child and labor to give birth — or she must endure a seemingly endless adoption process.

Before teachers can teach, they need to earn a degree, get certified, and undergo intense scrutiny and evaluation. Doctors, lawyers, and police officers have their own race to run before they can claim their exalted titles.

As my high-school coaches used to tell me: no pain, no gain.

As if to drive the point home, the Scriptures tell us that even the Son of God “learned … through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2). He’s the leader who goes through first and endures every hardship, so that all of us who follow will know what to do.

He did this so that we wouldn’t be surprised by suffering. God chose to suffer so that we would know it was not a mark of condemnation, but rather a path to perfection. If we want to experience glory, we will suffer much on the way there. Jesus did.

Suffering, it seems, is the ordinary means of growth in the spiritual life. Why is that?

Well, we tend to go our merry way and hardly ever think of God — until something goes very wrong. Then, all of a sudden, we remember that God is all-powerful, and we cry out to him in prayer. As we suffer more, we pray more. And so we grow.

Quite a while ago I realized that all the people I admired most were people who had suffered much. They had more patience than I had, because they had learned to wait. They were attentive to the pain of others, because they recognized the signs from their own ordeals. They had a hard-won wisdom that I wanted for myself.

I just have little interest in doing the hard winning.

But I recognize that there’s no other way to be the best kind of person. Jesus was at the limits of human endurance when he called out to his father in prayer, and his father sent an angel to assist him (Luke 22:41-43). All this happened so that you and I would know what to do when suffering comes upon us.

Saint Paul learned this lesson well. So, when he suffered some unnamed pain he called his “thorn in the flesh,” he cried out to God in prayer. He begged God (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).

He saw that the suffering — which did not go away — served a greater purpose in his life.

Whether we seek it or not, suffering comes to us. It came to Saint Paul. It came to Jesus. It comes to everybody.

We need to pray through it. If we think about it, we’ll realize that it’s a gift, a circumstance that God permits for our growth and our good. When we come out the other side, we’ll be better for having suffered — even if our suffering ends in our death.

Right now, the things I have to suffer aren’t colossal: the garden-variety nuisances and limitations of living with diabetes … the usual over-scheduled busyness of anyone who works for a living in L.A. ... the ordinary struggle of being misunderstood by others. There’s never a day without some share of the cross of Jesus.

But if I can learn through these circumstances, as Jesus did and Saint Paul did, I’ll be more like the kind of people I most admire. I’ll pray better, and I’ll keep myself from falling into self-pity (which only makes suffering worse, for the sufferer and for everyone else).

And maybe some day I’ll even get up the gumption to make the effort to learn Greek and Hebrew.