This past couple of months has been a wasteland of allergies. They walked into my house uninvited in March and hung out until June, as they do every year, rendering me non-functional for three months. The problem is that those three months also happen to be the busiest times of the year for me so closing all my doors and windows and hunkering down next to an air purifier is not an option. Each year I go through the same thing and manage somehow to get through until June.
June! Magically almost, the allergies disappear, my head clears and I come alive, throw open all my windows, and catch up with life again.
The Bible studies I teach end in May, so I usually try to do a study on my own and I am studying the book of James with Beth Moore this summer. James is a perplexing book, so I am anxious to dive in and learn something new. I opened up the workbook this morning and just said “Lord, I really do need a word from You this morning; do You have something to speak to me?” And of course, He did—through one of my least favorite passages.
James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV). Don’t we just cringe when we read this—let me see, Trials=joy; Joy=trials. Yeah–no.
Trials do not equal joy—trials equal pain—emotional pain, physical pain, pain of loss, pain of grief—no thanks. However, after this past eight years, moving in and out of some extremely difficult trials and losses, learning to trust God in some very dark places, discovering that right in the middle of those dark places—when I stopped blaming Him for letting this happen to me and began a deliberate paean of praise and thanksgiving, His light and His love became overwhelmingly real to the point that I actually didn’t want a certain thing to end just yet because the intensity of His presence in the middle of it was unspeakable. I learned truths about Him that I would never have learned any other way—I experienced His “unquenchable light” and His “unfailing love and comfort” and somewhere along the line, I stopped blaming Him for the difficulties I was facing and I began thanking Him that He was with me and He was for me and He was going to bring me out into His “spacious” room of peace—not sometime later, down the road after it was all over—but right in the midst of it. I remember a friend of John’s calling me a few days after John died and his words struck me—one of those things that you hear and then go away and never forget. He had also lost his wife some years before, and he said to me, “Kathy, I know it sounds strange to say this, but you are going to look back on these first few months and realize that it was the most precious time you have ever experienced with Jesus.” And he was absolutely right. It was.
This past year in a Bible study I was teaching, a woman who had gone through a life-threatening illness said that the nearness of Christ during her illness was so palpable that she never wanted it to end. A good friend of mine some years ago had spent several years battling cancer which continued to surface in another place, and another. I stood at her bed as they were wheeling her into what would be her last surgery, in agonizing pain, and I said to her–desperate for some way to comfort and encourage her “Judy, how are you doing right now, how can I pray?” And I have never forgotten her words “Kathy, you can’t have the peace I have until you are where I am.” She was dying and yet comforting me with the very thing that had comforted her. This was before I went through my own dark night and I believed her because I saw it in her eyes and it was a presence all around her—a fragrance; there was something I saw in her that I knew I had to have.
But I was not to have it unless I “encountered various trials.” That “something” I saw in her eyes was of course, the peace and presence of Jesus.
The Message Bible paraphrases the verse this way: “So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
That “perfect work” He is working is Christ in me. He is working Himself into me—into His “perfect work.” I am not going to be perfect, at least not this side of Heaven, but He is perfect and He is working His work into my actual life—through those dark nights of the soul experiences. Maybe someone else will walk along my particular path and see something supernatural—some supernatural peace in my eyes, and they will say to God, “I want that. I’m not sure what it is, but I want it.” What they want of course is Christ in me.
Beth asks the question “So what are you going to do with all you’re going through?”
In the midst of these various trials, what options do I have? When my spouse was dying, what options did I have? There wasn’t a plan B, so what was I going to do with what I was going through? God does leave us with that choice, and at the age of 55, I started to understand it—I would make the choice to lean into Him; to learn everything I could about Him in the middle of it. I would keep turning my tear-stained face up to Him as I let Him wipe away my tears and shepherd me through it; I would allow Him to use it to train me—to conform me into His image, to do His perfect work in me so that I would come out of it mature, well-developed, not deficient in any way. My friend facing the agonizing pain of cancer had made that choice, and she was in a place of “Shalom Shalom”—perfect peace, right in the middle of it all. Judy had come to a place where she said “I can’t do this thing. Jesus, you must do this through me.” And He did.
And now I understand. Trials=joy. Joy=Jesus and just as He walked in undisturbed composure and peace through unimaginable trials, He will walk through mine, in me—instead of me— so that, as He wrote, “my joy will be full” (John 15:22). And it is.