“Consider it all joy my brothers…”
You know the rest. I know you do, “When you face suffering of any kind.”
Right… Joy. Right?
That’s usually my first response when yucky things happen. Isn’t it yours?
Ok, I admit. It’s not really my first response. Often it’s not really even my second or third or fourteenth. I’m a girl who has to whine and writhe a while before I can get to the joy stuff. I just am.
I’ve had some suffering here and there of various degrees, but I don’t think it was until I thought about how this verse might apply to the ‘small stuff’ that I really started to get it.
Consider it all joy my brothers when you deal with health challenges, when your world is falling apart, when your child is sick, or your marriage falls apart, or, or, or…. It just sounds so hyper-spiritual in those situations that I almost don’t get it. I mean, sure…. “Consider it all joy,” Right. But that’s what Mother Theresa does. That’s for the giants. And really it’s only supposed to be pulled out for the really, really big stuff anyway, right? So… When my family is healthy, my husband is home instead of on a boat, and we’re not dealing with tumors I can ignore Mr. James surely.
I don’t remember who I heard talking about this verse in ‘smaller’ contexts first, but it finally just recently hit me: Well duh. This verse doesn’t just refer to terminal illnesses, and car accidents, and absolutely terrible life circumstances. It’s for the piddly stuff too.
It also applies when my kids are fighting and when I can’t find my keys for the umpteenth time. It applies when I’m frustrated with my husband and want to yell at him. It applies when my six-year-old argues with me for the 17th time that day and when my 4-year-old digs in her heels and refuses to get ready to leave the house for the third day in a row. It applies when I’m trying to reign in my Mommy temper and not blow a gasket when those things happen. It applies when I’m tempted to beat myself up for not doing a good job of that.
They’re all trials. They can all be used by God for good stuff…. to refine me… And in that, I can find the joy stuff.
The whole passage looks like this:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Then it goes on to say:
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
I love that. The big stuff and the puny stuff are all working together to develop perseverance in me. And then that perseverance is going to help me to become mature and complete–not lacking anything. On top of that, when I’m stuck…. when the perseverance is slow in coming I can ASK God who gives generously. Oh, there I see the “joyful” parts. At least glimpses of them.
So, I’m starting to get it. I’m starting to get it in little things. In the nitty gritty day to day being a Mom and a woman doing her best at things ways. Here’s a recent example that’s clicking into place: I’m reading (and re-reading) Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Made to Crave. Yeah. It’s a book about food. And God. And food and God. In a paragraph where Lysa is talking about not giving way to her cravings she says she found that they could be avenues for prayer. In her words,
“I used my cravings for food as a prompting to pray. It was my way of tearing down the tower of impossibility before me and building something new. My tower of impossibility was food. Brick by brick, I imagined myself dismantling the food tower and using those same bricks to build a walkway of prayer, paving the way to victory.”
That made sense to me. Oh! So… yes it stinks that I have made choices that dictate that for my physical and spiritual health I need to address my eating. That’s a trial even if it’s not a ‘biggie.’ Yes, its’ frustrating that I don’t get to be like those perfect people who seem to be able to be effortlessly thin. A trial, even if not a ‘biggie.’ Yes it feels unfair sometimes that I have to plan every bite of food that goes into my mouth these days… Sure we can call that a trial too. But… Those are trials to rejoice in! Those are trials that God is using IN me. Those are Bads that when framed the right way I can see God is transforming into Goods! Right in front of my very eyes.
This afternoon the kids were really being stinkers. Not only were they not cleaning their room as instructed, but they were also bickering and fighting and all in all about to punch each other’s lights out. And I wanted to yell. And I wanted to eat a nice comforting bowl of granola. Which, really… is better than a chocolate bar or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, right??? But I didn’t. I recognized my trial and I said–Ok…. Let’s dismantle this not so good wall and make it into something good. And I prayed for wisdom. And strength. And peace. And the supernatural ability to not devour granola or to scream like a banshee at my kids.
It didn’t feel immediately good. But I didn’t eat the granola or scream like a banshee. And I got a little more perseverance. I used it as a bridge to talk to God about my weakness. Aha! That’s where the joy part comes in.
And then there are the “biggies.” I had a similar aha a few months ago. I found myself again battling depression. It comes and goes for me and the seasons of bigness that have been going on around here helped to trigger it. For whatever reason when I was really in the thick of it I picked up Mary Beth Chapman’s, Choosing to See. Guess what? She struggles with depression too and she wrote about it. I found myself in her chapter about dealing with depression and I remember making a sharp intake of breath at this line,
Depression became my friend, in a strange and painful way, a pushy friend I really did not want. But this strange friend made it so clear to me that I couldn’t just buck up and feel better, or try harder and do better. I was helpless.
I read that and kind of went… Did she just call depression her friend??? And then I got it. Because it *does* make you know you are helpless. You can’t fix it. Your friends can’t. You can’t try harder to dig yourself out. It’s not something you can control or snap out of. You can’t “try” yourself out of it, and believe me… You have no idea how much I do try to “try” myself out of it. But that aspect of it, that reality, if you let it, can actually push you toward God. He specializes in being strength in one’s weakness and in displaying His glory through broken places. It’s another bridge. Where my strength and trying stop, God’s begins. It’s not about DOing anything to get to Him. It’s just an avenue where I realize I need Him and then it becomes a touch-point for me to direct myself to Him. Depression does end up being my friend. And even in what seems to be the antithesis of joy, I find that that kind of suffering produces joy. I rely on God (and with His help I get the help I need) and I persevere through the suffering and if I let it, it draws me closer to him. And then, voila! Joy! No, not the rainbows and unicorns kind right away…. Instead it’s a reminder that I can’t do this on my own. I can’t “handle” this on my own. And I don’t have to. I’m not supposed to. He rescues me in it and therein lies the joy.
So as counter-intuitive as it is, I’m starting to get what James was talking about. In the big stuff and the small stuff. It can ALL be used to propel us toward Him… to recognize our helplessness. It can all lead to places of surrender and strength in weakness.
Depression, kids fighting, delectable bowls of granola dancing before my eyes… the big, the piddly… They really all can be considered joy when I let them pave the way to God and let Him develop my character through them.