Monday, November 7, 2011

Counting it all Joy

In the past week...
  • we received an unexpected bill for a French tax for over 1000 euros ($1400) 
  • our hot water went out
  • our clothes dryer stopped working
  • our oven malfunctioned
  • our son  was unjustly penalized at school
I was awake last night praying over these and other issues, when I realized that in the midst of it all, I have joy.

I think, maybe, I am growing. Maybe I am learning. Maybe I am being changed.

In my last post, I  joked about how difficult this year has been. I am not exaggerating when I say it has been the hardest year of my life. And not just because of circumstances like those listed above. Those sorts of annoyances have been a part of most of our weeks this year, but they are just the external challenges. The harder challenges are the internal ones: The nagging fear that we are going to fail at being missionaries; the painful reality that our boys are suffering from loneliness and discouragement; the overwhelming feeling that God has abandoned us.

My faith has been tested in this Refiner's Fire, and a lot of impurities--MY impurities--were revealed. Impurities such as pride, selfishness, doubt, and anger came to the surface, each one uglier than the one before.

I surrendered to the work of the Holy Spirit, though I will admit to kicking and screaming in the process. The lessons learned from this year are like seeds that have worked their way deep into the soil of my heart,  and I am beginning to feel them germinate.

The first seed to sprout is joy!  I know that we are told in the book of James to "count it all joy when you face trials of various kinds," but I guess I did not really know how to do that. I mean, I could've SAID all the right Christianese words and plastered a smile on my face in the midst of my trials, but I would have been faking it. I, of course, did not do this. Rather, I fell into depression, questioned my faith, and yelled at my husband. (No, I'm not proud of that behavior.)

But what I am learning is this: I do not have to deny the reality of my own pain and suffering in order to "count it all joy." If I were to do that, I would actually not be "counting" at all, I'd be avoiding. Instead, I can freely acknowledge that I am frustrated by unexpected bills and broken appliances. I can even admit that I am struggling with my faith. I can tally up my trials, and put them in the JOY column.

Let me explain. Pretend you were to keep a ledger of Joys and Sorrows. There are many items that you could legitimately put into the "Sorrows" column: your sins, global hunger, abused children, the Seattle Seahawks--you get the idea. And God has a plan for dealing with the "Sorrows" column. He shares in those sorrows. But God says, whatever you do, don't throw your personal trials into the "Sorrows" column, they count towards "Joy." Why is that? Because the things in the "Sorrows" column are things that need a redemptive work of God in order to be made right, but the things in the "Joys" column are the things that God has already redeemed.

Yes, what I am learning is that God has already redeemed my trials. I know this because the verses in James say what the end result of trials will be--and the end result is GOOD. And if the end result is good, then the trials will eventually add to my joys, not to my sorrows.

Ah, but I had confused the process with the end product. My joy need not be in the process--improperly cooked food and falsely accused children are certainly not reasons to rejoice. My joy is in the end products--perseverance, maturity, completeness.

Perseverance is one of those qualities for which it can be difficult to see the benefits. Last week in the Alps God gave me such a lovely picture of the blessing of perseverance. There was a certain hike that went up into the Alps which ended on a bluff overlooking mountains and valleys for miles. The fall colors were at their peak, the sky was blue and the air was crisp. I made the walk up to the look-out point with a friend. All along the way, we passed people who were huffing and puffing. Some stopped along the way, others turned back, unable to reach their desired destination. The walk was tiring for me, but I realized that my weekly running discipline afforded me an advantage. I was able to reach the top and enjoy the beauty. Never once in my daily  drugery of running did I imagine that the perseverance that I was building in my lungs and my heart would enable me to better enjoy a hike in the Alps.

I often think of perseverance as work. But the truth is, God wants to take us to the High Places--places of indescribable beauty and grandeur--and perseverance is His means of getting us there. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

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