Friday, January 25, 2013

Be thankful in all things!

Consider it all joy . . .  whenever we face trials of many kinds, because testing of our faith produces many beneficial consequences, like patience, endurance, character, and hope. But the awkward reality of trials is they often involve suffering, and in spite of the benefits, there is no long line to sign up for suffering. James, the brother of Jesus, suggests our trials will produce joy in us; even so, we are much more likely to run from trials than embrace them. Run as we might, trials and suffering are as inevitable as rain.

My most interesting friends are interesting because their testimonies involve suffering. Talk to anyone who lived through unimaginable trials, and their stories of "overcoming" are tinted with joy of experiencing a  revelation of Something infinitely bigger than ourselves. 

I have a friend from my school days, back from fifth grade. After high school graduation, my contact with Ann was confined to high school reunions every five years. (Even though I live five hours away, I never miss a reunion.) One reunion, about twelve years ago, Ann was minus her left arm, all the way up to the shoulder. But an eight year battle with an aggressive cancer hadn't stolen her spirit. She was her usually bubbly self, hugging everyone with one arm, as if nothing had changed. A lot had changed for Ann.

When I finally had a moment with Ann alone, I expressed my compassion for her loss. Her words surprised me. "Debbie, it was the best thing that could have happened to me."

Now obviously, losing her arm didn't cause Ann's joy, otherwise we would all be lopping off our limbs! What I recognized in Ann was something much deeper than the tragic loss of her arm.  Something had changed Ann, for the better. She didn't have self-pity, but a hope that is other-worldly.

Now with social media, I "speak" with Ann regularly.  I had the pleasure to talk to Ann on the phone this week. Her life has been marked by trials, more than her share. And yet, there is pure joy. She speaks freely of God and her faith. And her transformed life through seemingly unbearable hardships. 

Does Ann have it all together? No. Neither do I! (If you do, we need to talk!)

For many, the deal breaker for belief in a caring, personal God, is suffering. How could a loving God allow suffering? Yet, if we didn't face trials, how could we be compassionate to others who have? How could we "feel" their pain?  Would we feel compelled to encourage others if we never needed a kind word of encouragement ourselves? Our trials and suffering bond us to one another, as well as to God.

Did God cause Ann to lose her arm, or 911, or fill-in-the-blank with your own tragedy? I don't believe God causes these incidents to punish us, but He allows them, and shows up in the pain. When we have hit rock bottom, God is always there, when often, no one else is. 

Paradoxically, the moments in our lives that bring us indescribable joy, are not the day we finally bought that dream house, or landed that lucrative job, or anything else that we might have expected to finally be the ultimate producer of joy. These moments don't last as long as we would expect, nor give us the joy we had hoped for. 

Today, consider writing your own testimony  Ponder your own personal suffering and how it changed you. 

God tells us to be thankful in all things. 

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