Time and time again Lydia would say to me, "Consider it joy, Kristy." I'd sigh and say, "I'm trying." But honestly, I couldn't see any joy. Nor could I see any purpose in that trial. How would dealing with disrespect and manipulation bring about perseverance and patience? And I'm sure that wanting to gouge out the eyes of said manipulator was not a sign of growing maturity in me.
The idea of considering this relationship as a trial was easy. I defintely felt like I was on trial. I also felt beat up, abused, under-appreciated. And no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't find any shred of joy. Nor could I see how I could even find it. Where would I look? How would I start?
It wasn't until a much bigger trial came along that I would realize I'd been going about James 1:2 all wrong.
As you well know, and perhaps are sick of hearing about, I broke my leg in February. The break pretty well blew apart my busy life. It was a time of physical trial, but also of emotional, spiritual, relational and financial trial too. Somewhere among the pain and the frustration, I discovered what James 1:2 really meant. As I sat in my chair, day after day, lightheaded with pain-killers, heavy-hearted with grief at all I was missing out on, I thought about Lydia and her sweet refrain: "Consider it pure joy, Kristy."
Among the many translations, James tells us to "consider it" or to "count it" which means to "deem it." Deem means to regard or consider something in a specified way. He says to deem it as joy. Joy means gladness. Gladness means a feeling of contentment. James is saying, "When hard times come, regard them with contentment."
Whoa. I'd missed that. I was working so hard at being happy amidst my trial. But James wasn't telling us to be happy when we are suffering. That is a nearly ridiculous notion. And humanly impossible. But he is telling us to choose contentment. And if that's not convicting, I'm not sure what it is.
Every day, whether it's a good day full of happiness or a bad day full of suffering, we have the ability and the duty to choose contentment. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, a superficial feeling, a smile, a laugh. It passes nearly as quickly as it comes. But contentment is a deep feeling of satisfaction of not needing or wanting more.
I certainly did not need or want any more pain, sadness or frustration but that is not what led me to contentment. It wasn't deep theological study or exegesis of the gospel. It wasn't routine quiet time or checklist reading plans. It wasn't anything I've ever thought it would be. There was actually very little analysis or practice involved at all.
Instead it was the quiet moments with God, tears rolling down my chubby cheeks, realizing that He is all I've ever had, all I've ever wanted and all I've ever needed. It was in the quiet refrain of "Stop striving and know that I am God." It was the whisper of "I AM more than enough." It came as a simple surrender of happiness and sadness, of needing and wanting, of doing and going.
It was those moments, some brief and some long, that led me to regard my trial with contentment. It was in those moments that I found the perseverance to be complete, not lacking anything as James describes. It was in those moments, that I found Romans 12:2: the life-transforming renewal of mind that comes from not conforming to the patterns of our world.
Everyone asks me these days if my leg hurts and if I'm back to normal yet. Yes it still hurts, and no I'll never go back to "normal." Not the normal I once was. I don't know who that woman was; she seems so foreign to me now. She didn't limp and she seemed happy. But there was no contentment, no deep, abiding joy. So I'll keep the limp, I'll take the pain if only as a reminder to choose contentment.
Happiness can be faked. Contentment must be chosen. Joy comes out of the latter.