"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." (James 1:2-4)
About four and a half years ago, Shaun and I were asked to adopt a baby girl that a friend of ours was due to deliver in a few months. She wasn't in a place in her life where she was able or prepared to care for the baby, so she asked us and we accepted. We felt like God was leading us down this path with her and was asking us to stick close to this woman and her family. So we did. I thought that we'd end up with a baby in the end and an extended portion of our family (this is the trial I thought I signed up for).
Little did we know that just before Christmas (literally, I think it was December 23), we'd get a phone call that would completely change everything and turn the world upside down for awhile (this is the trial I actually got). Our friend, who was also carrying our baby, had been rushed to the emergency room with some other health complications (unrelated to the baby entirely) and was not doing well. We were afraid that we were going to lose both her and the baby. We leaned into Jesus and each other in those days as we awaited news and visited our friend in the ICU.
"If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking." (James 1:5)
We prayed and prayed for our daughter and her biological mother. Unfortunately, our sweet girl didn't make it though our friend did pull through and recover- a blessing in the midst of utter sadness. On Christmas Day, she was induced and forced to deliver our deceased child who was 30 weeks along. It was honestly devastating. It was probably one of the most devastating times in my life. I remember crying for hours and telling Shaun that I just needed it to be over so it could fade into a heartbreaking memory. The time felt like it moved so slowly. The only reason I even got through it was because I could actually feel Jesus carrying me through. He plopped person after person along the path I was forced to run as the encouragement I needed to keep going, to endure it.
There was a nurse who'd been there, done that. She'd delivered and lost her own son years before. Now she was "paying it forward" by helping others who were running the race she'd run. It reminds me still of 2 Corinthians 1:4 that talks about how God comes alongside us in hard times and is there for us so that we can be there for others when they go through it too.
My best friend visited me when our daughter was born and mourned with me that our daughters wouldn't ever get to be best friends as we'd planned. The baby still growing in her belly would never meet the baby she now held with me in that hospital room. There were others too, all on the path with me to encourage me to keep going, keep running, endure.
"God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)
This was a trial in my life just as James describes in James 1. And there was a testing in the midst of that trial too. Testing here doesn't refer to the test we think of when we picture that word though. It isn't a search for knowledge that already exists as it would be in a school setting. Testing here is more like the building of endurance, the building of something that isn't quite there yet. Shaun and I got something from that experience that we couldn't get anywhere else. We grew our faith so much in that time because we had no other choice. Jesus says in John 16:33, "'...Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.'"
I don't know what kinds of trials you're facing today or even if you're facing any right now, but I do know that Jesus is carrying you. He loves you and longs for a relationship with you. Every single thing that we go through in our days- good or bad- are an opportunity for great joy just as James says in 1:2 of his letter.
In closing today, remember the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a feeling you get in response to good things happening in your life. It's fleeting and impossible to hold onto. But joy grows deep inside you from Jesus. You can keep it even when everything around you is crashing to the ground. It's a choice you make. It's bigger and better than happiness will ever be. That's what you need to hold onto. Whether things are going well or falling apart, you have Jesus and you can keep your joy in him. Remember this verse describing how God feels about us: "He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession." (James 1:18) Isn't that reason enough for pure joy? We are his prized possession!