When Joy Feels so Very Unrealistic
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3 (NIV)
There’s no part of me that wants sorrow to be included in your journey or mine.
And honestly, there isn’t any plan God could present where I would willingly agree to heartbreak and pain.
But the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see that picking and choosing what gets to be part of our stories would keep us from the ultimate good God has in mind.
If that seems hard to fathom in the midst of your own difficult circumstance today, I want to share some verses found in James that have helped me in my hardest seasons. I have to warn you: It might not feel good at first glance. But as we dig in together, I think you’ll see that it’s better to wrestle with Truth than to stay stuck in turmoil.
James 1:2-4 reminds us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV).
I confess I like these verses. Until I don’t. These words are easy to pull out when your worst issue is the drive-thru coffee joint got your order wrong. They frappéed your latte and waylaid the start of your workday.
But what about those other things we walk through? The ones that hurt too long? Or disappoint too deeply? Or feel devastatingly permanent?
To slap some “we should be joyful about this” platitudes on top of the hard things feels cruel. Like a bad joke about something excruciatingly painful. It’s just too soon for that kind of nonsense.
That’s why I’m glad these verses don’t say “feel the joy” but instead “consider where some glimpses of joy might be even in the midst of all the hurt.”
Our understanding of joy rises and falls on whether we truly trust God in the middle of what our human minds can’t see as good at all. It’s hard. So I like to think of it in terms of baking. Imagine if we decided to make a cake from scratch today.
After going to the store, we set out all the ingredients: the flour, butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, baking powder and a pinch of salt. But then maybe we felt too tired to mix it all together and make the cake. Instead, we thought we could just enjoy the cake one ingredient at a time. The thing is we don’t like some of the individual ingredients, so we’d rather leave them out.
The flour is too dry — leave it out. The sugar, butter and vanilla are all good — leave them in! The eggs are just gross when raw — definitely leave those out! And then our cake would never be made “… mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4, NIV).
We are so quick to judge the quality of our lives and the reliability of God based on individual events rather than on the eventual good God is working together. We must know that, just like the master baker has reasons to allow the flour and eggs in right measure into the recipe, Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB 1995), will do the same with dry times and hard times.
And yes, we may have to go through some chaos in the mixing and some heat in the baking, but soon we will rise and live lives that are a sweet offering of hope, grace, peace and comfort to others. That’s how we can consider it pure joy today. We can also make peace with the fact that sorrow and celebration can quite authentically coexist together in a heart. Mixing them together is part of the recipe of life.
We can sit with and tend to all that still needs to be healed and at the same time laugh, plan for great things ahead and declare this a glorious day.
To have both sorrow and celebration in our heart isn’t denial.
It’s deeming life a gift — even if it looks nothing like we thought it would right now.
Our sorrows make our hearts more tender and allow us to grieve. Our celebrations tend to our heart’s need to recognize what is beautiful about our life, get back up and go on.
Let’s embrace the mix of all that’s worthy of celebration while fully allowing sorrow to add what it brings as well — knowing we can trust Jesus’ recipe of purpose in both the pain and the joy.
Father God, when joy feels so very unrealistic, help me consider where glimpses of joy might be found throughout my day today. Help me bring the perspective of both sorrow and celebration to my circumstances, and keep reminding me that Your plans for me are still good. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
James 1:12, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (NIV)
Are there any “ingredients” in your life you wish God would remove? How could God actually be using these trials and difficulties for good? Join in the conversation here today.
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