A life full of hard places…is the only one worth living

Written by: Amy Dalke

Have you ever read the verse in James, “…consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials?”

Yeah, sure, James, whatever. What gives? The last thing I associate with a “trial” is joy, so what exactly are you getting at here? This joy that James mandates…it is elusive at best, sliding around on the fringes of a trial-burdened soul, but the heart can’t quite grasp it. I actually think James must be crazy.

But since he’s probably not…his words beg a huge question. Just how, exactly, am I to find joy in trials?

On any given Saturday morning at 7:30am, I have had my coffee, enjoyed two slices of peanut butter and jelly toast with a side of banana, and read the paper. But on one particular Saturday three weeks ago, I looked at the clock at 9:31am, and my feet had not yet seen the hardwood floors. I went to bed the previous night disturbed, overwhelmed, and aching for an answer to life’s current face-planting trial. My made-up definition of face-planting trial is: “one so utterly uprooting that your face meets the floor in a dramatic display of agony”. (Your husband, child, or any other dearly beloveds may or may not be sparkplugs to a face-planting trial. Just saying.)

Regardless of the role anyone else had played in my Current Situation on that Saturday morning, it was tearing me up from the inside out. My soul had been steeped in a mounting tension lately – the tension of change.

The year 2013 has been a refining year. It has been a year where long-held mind sets have come face-to-face with the Word; a stronghold of addiction has been uprooted little by painful little; dreams planted fourteen years ago have begged to blossom; and I have finally understood the true value of perseverance.

No area of my life remained untouched by trial’s heat.

My career has long been a mirror of my worth, a proving ground proclaiming, I Really Am Valuable. My achievements have held the evidence that I am worthy of love. Enter the last 18 months of hard, difficult, quick-sand-like trials. For one who is seemingly defined by the revenue she generates, a three-month dip in production is an unwelcome blow to the ego and an invitation to discover her God really is. As if that alone were not enough, add the following to the trial docket: watching my parents suffer through some ugly stuff; dealing with a frivolous lawsuit imposed by my husband’s charming ex-wife (just keeping it real); opening our home to my stepson who moved into the spare bedroom upstairs for 2 or 6 months (and no matter how much I love him, this routine-lover does not easily mesh well with change); the ever-increasing wickedness of addiction; the ever-increasing expenses of a child attending SMU; the loss of a dear friend (who is still living); and debilitating bout of anxiety in my seven year old (exhausting, heartbreaking, tearful mornings and nights).

And my mind lingers long on James’ words:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Though they upend our world as we know it, trials are God’s laboratory for growth. These afflictions, temptations, and gut-punching circumstances are opportunities to be refined…to grow one step closer to our true identities. They may come swiftly or encroach upon our souls little by little, but nonetheless, all trials are an invitation to transformation.

In my own less-than-amazing situations, God has given me eyes to peer long into the hard places. If I were to trudge through these rocky parts in the strength of my 36-year old wisdom, that would be a gamble at best. Yet when my Anchor is set down in Truth, I view problems from a higher perspective. I may not see answers or solutions immediately (as this attention-lacking, impatient heart screams, “hurry up, why don’t you?!!”); but my soul is rooted to faith in my Deliverer.

Jesus whispers to the depths of my being, “So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

All of life’s trials are battles that, when fought through, lead us closer to who we really are. Without these hard-won battles, our lives would not know the sweet taste of victory, nor would our faith muscles be strengthened, enabling us to soar to new heights.

The Greek definition for the word “trial” in James 1:2 and in 1 Peter 1:6 is: “a putting to proof”. The word can mean “putting something/someone to a test”, and it also refers to the pressures or testing that occurs to determine the quality of something. Our trials are a proofing process, where we are brought through adversity or affliction in order to come out on the other side with deeper faith and confidence in God. These tests, if you will, are God’s invitations to be transformed.

James says, “…the testing of your faith produces endurance”: I can bear up under these trials, buoyed by the firm belief that God will perfect my character in it…and bring me forth as gold. Gold is only purified in a furnace, and our faith and joy are born in the hot fiery crucible of a trial.

My focus tends to immediately hook onto the despair of my current trial- and I am robbed of peace and joy. I whine and kick and scream about the unfairness of it all…and I prefer to find the blame in external sources (mostly in my husband or some other close party).

But when I discipline my mind to take a step backwards…and view the situation through the lens of Truth, then I have the choice to endure it for my own good. If I go the blaming route, I decline the chance to grow, like a budding plant refusing water. I hide from the truth and miss out on the chance to be a better me.

What does all this mean for real life? It means that we can acknowledge our natural desire to throw up our hands in despair. It means that after I bawl my eyes out to the point of migraine and sulk under the covers, loathing my very existence…I get up. I get up and I beg for wisdom (a wisdom He promises to give those who ask- see James 1:5).

I make the decision to find the joy in this trial. Oh it’s possible. When I decide to leap headlong into the crucible…the refining heat will purify my mind and heart.

In real life, “considering it all joy as we encounter various trials” means that before we get out of bed, we can breathe the joy and peace of Jesus deep into our lungs. Before we have a moment to dread the difficulties of the day ahead, we can choose to center our thoughts on the One who saves us to the uttermost. For me it means that I take the diverse trials of life (messes at work, the hard patches of leading a team, the seven year old’s anxiety), and I sink my thoughts into the stability of truth.

We don’t have to fix our difficult circumstances in our own strength. God tells us time and again in His Word that He is our Rock, our Strength, our Fortress. “He is God, my Hope; who has been my Confidence from birth.” (Psalm 70:5).

I will look back on 2013 as a Year of Refining. There will certainly be more crucibles ahead, more invitations to find joy in the next trial, and the next one – because God is not finished with me yet. He is not finished with YOU yet. In fact, I am still smack dab in the middle of a proofing process. This joy James encourages us to consider…well, I do see glimpses of it. Have mercy. But though it’s still hidden at times, I know that I will ultimately say, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71) – or I actually really love the Message version, “My troubles turned out all for the best, they forced me to learn from your textbook.”

Charles Spurgeon said: “I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. What do I not owe to the crucible and the furnace, the bellows that have blown up the coals, and the hand which has thrust me into the heat? I bear my witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days…”

Has your life been heating up with trials lately? Or are you practically on fire by now? Whatever it looks like – you are not alone.

Your Monday friend,

Amy