I'm working my way through the Beth Moore bible study "Mercy Triumphs" studying the book of James. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverence must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Right off the bat, James slaps you in the face with that.... seemingly ridiculous statement. Who in the world is going to look at their trials and "consider it pure joy"? Not just something good for you, or acceptable - but James says to consider it pure joy.... not even just plain old joy - but PURE joy.
I'll tell you something, that's not an easy thing to do. Especially in the midst of your trial. Maybe when your trial is over and you look back and see maybe how you have grown through it... but smack dab in the middle of it? There were many times in my life when I've gone through some pretty rough stuff. Mild by comparison to the lives of many, but tragic to my own world. I never counted it joy. And lately, I must be the world's most joyful person for all the trials I'm going through.... and since I'm still standing and working my way through the trial - either I'm lacking a whole bunch, or there was more work to be done in me than I had ever anticipated, because I don't plan on the trial going away anytime soon, and persevere I must - so I must have been lacking a whole bunch to start with!
JOY. It's kind of an interesting word. The dictionary defines it as "happiness, elation, glad-feeling". So, in the middle of a trial, I should be happy??? What in the world?
I've thought and thought about this statement though. The point of the trial, if handled appropriately, is to finish a work in me. Persevere through the trial and the end result will be a better me! I can appreciate that. But, how can someone really be joyful during a trial?
I tried to think back on my life for a time where I was going through a trial and might have been joyful. It was difficult to come up with an example... but after wracking my brain and initially going back nearly 13 years, I found an example. The birth of my son (not that labor is a "trial" per se, but it's just my example). Trust me, it was trying! 22 hours of labor, 2 1/2 hours of trying to get the kid out only to end up with a c-section because my loving son found it nice and cozy living in his mom! It was miserable.... but I don't recall ever once being anything but full of joy at what was happening. Why? Because I was being transformed! I was being transformed from just a person to a mother. I knew the end result and it was good. I could hold onto JOY during that trial because of what was to come... certainly not because of what I was going through at the time, but definitely for the transformation taking place and the reward at the end.
So, I started thinking more about that. You can have JOY during the toughest trials if you separate your heart attitude from the trial at hand. Joy can and should be independent of the circumstances you are going through. Just like labor. There is no joy in labor if not for the transformation taking place. I mean really! The pain is not all that glorious. But... I found joy in it!
So, what about the trials in my life now? What about the trials in the lives of some of my friends? My family? Was James talking to them as well? Well, if they are Christians, he certainly was. What if James hadn't considered "my trial"? Maybe he meant just small trials - like stubbing my toe or a disagreement with a friend? Certainly some "trials" are too big to find joy in them, right? Nope. I believe that James knew what he was talking about... after all, God himself inspired James to write this material. James, the half-brother of Jesus knew only too well what trials were. And notice he said trials of many kind. Not just one kind, but of many kinds. So, it includes my trials. My friend's trials and the trials of my family.
But some things that people go through are down right UGLY! How do you find JOY in ugliness? When a spouse has an affair? When you lose a child? When you lose a job? When a friend betrays you? When you hear the word Cancer? A tragic accident? A child with a special need? Disappointment? Passed up for a promotion? Being treated unfairly? Kids being bullied?
I've seen people go through some of these exact things. I've experienced people dealing with them from a Christian perspective and a non-Christian perspective. I've often found that the Christian has hope. The Christian has a strength to draw from. I find the Christian to be the more likely to have JOY. James was only speaking to Christians, so maybe that is the only group of people who can find joy in tragedy.
There was a time in my life when I experienced my own personal tragedy... many have heard this story, but maybe not from this angle. I had just finished college. Six months later I was having continuous difficulty with running into things, etc. I tried desperately to pay attention. To not run into people. To not be shocked when someone walked up next to me (from the side). I couldn't pay close enough attention though. Out of pure frustration, I called the eye doctor. I was either 1. crazy or 2. something was seriously wrong with my eyesight.
Unfortunately for me, the later was true. I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that robs you of your peripheral vision, night vision, color vision depth perception..... and finally moving into your central vision. This was a devastating blow to someone who had just finished getting a degree in Chemistry. I certainly needed my eyesight.
I went into an almost immediate depression. I was scared. I was angry. I was envious. I hated people - people who seemingly had no issues (although, I've learned that we all have them, some are just more well hidden than others). I was determined to overcome - but only because I refused to accept what I was told. It HAD to be wrong - and I would MAKE IT WRONG.
I have to say that at the time I was not a Christian. It was not until 8 years later that I became a Christian. I went through life trying to prove to myself and others that nothing was wrong. I ignored everything. I cried silently to myself at night and put on a brave face every day. I continued in my job and only accepted those things that I could definitely not change. I lost my ability to drive five years after I was diagnosed. That was the first major life changing event. The hatred grew. My anger grew. I certainly had good things in my life as well, but my anger at the world for what I was going through was all-consuming.
Fast forward to 2003. 2003 was the year I became a Christian. By that point in time, my anger had consumed me. My friends saw it. Normally, everything was fine, but if there was something that upset my "plans" (you have to be very planned when you can not drive and have two kids and you are relying on everyone), I broke down. I had started to go to church with some of my friends and at some point I realized, not only was I mad at pretty much the world and myself, but I was mad at God. It was then that I realized that if I was mad at Him, I had to acknowledge Him. I wanted to understand Him. I wanted to know what He was about. I went to a bible study and found out. I accepted Christ.
The transformation in my life was not immediate. It was not instant, but it did happen over time. This situation, which was getting worse and worse, was something I could not control. I turned it over to God. The daily struggles - how I managed to get to work, the kids to daycare, grocery shopping - just going places.... I put it all in God's hands. It was a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I begged God to deal with it. To provide for me what I needed. I wasn't asking for more than I needed, and certainly not less, but just "enough". And God answered.
Slowly my friends saw the transformation. My anger eased. I figured if I couldn't go somewhere, there was a good reason God didn't provide me a way. I wasn't always happy, but I was pretty much content. My children were always cared for. I was always at work and my family got what they needed (I was still single at the time, raising Cameron and Anna on my own).
If you've been around my blog long, you know I've struggled with the loss of my sight. It's not easy. I would give anything to have my sight back. The one thing I would not give up though, is my salvation. This condition brought me to my lowest point, and that low point brought me to my salvation. Would I go back - turn back the hands of time and retain my sight if it meant I would sacrifice my salvation? Absolutely not. I can find JOY in my trail because my trial transformed me. It is still transforming me. I honestly believe my relationship with Jesus is stronger because I NEED him! This condition keeps me at his feet. Without it..... maybe I'd start depending on myself all over again.... who knows.
I've come to the conclusion though, that God finds some benefit in this situation for me. I have to trust Him. I must persevere, and perseverance will finish its work in me, until I'm complete, lacking nothing. Only then will my sight be restored. I wish I could get there quickly - but until that time, I can find joy, because I'm not forgotten. In my trial, I am not forgotten. God is using it to mold me and shape me, to strengthen my faith, to seal my reliance on Him. I can count that as joy.
See, the situation is not joyful. The daily struggles are hard. I ACHE to be "normal" - but JOY can be found. JOY is in me.
Studying the book of James is difficult. So far I have seen that I need to confront many aspects of my life and evaluate what God wants from me. Each sentence in the book has something new, something to ponder, something to make me grow.
What trials are in your life? Can you look deep and find JOY in them? The job loss? The broken marriage? The unruly children? The family member with cancer? The failed adoption? The financial hardship......the list goes on and on.....
God gives us the strength to "consider it pure joy" - He has to or else He wouldn't ask us to do it. I don't think He expects instant "joyfulness" when a we face a trial - but to find Joy over time, in what He is doing in and through our lives in the time of trial.....