My husband’s face flickered in the firelight of our campground as he looked at me expectantly while I considered the profound question he’d just posed: what does it look like for you to glorify God? My decades of theological training and seminary degree surely prepared me to answer this question, but this time was different. We weren’t looking for theological responses or biblical citations–this time it was personal. What did I, Alicia, believe I personally needed to be doing with my life to glorify God? In that moment, in the quietness of my spirit, three answers sprang to mind:
Obedience …. Submission …. and Joy
I need to be obedient to God’s instructions to properly call him “Lord.” I need to routinely lay myself at His feet, submitting to His authority and goodness. But that third one caught me off guard, even though I knew immediately it was deeply true. I needed to experience Joy. God is glorified by my Joy. And Joy was not something I was experiencing in my life.
One week earlier we had learned that the twins I carried in my womb had not survived. Yet I was called to experience Joy. I was leaving a job that I loved for a new career path that looked scary and murky. Yet I was called to experience Joy. My marriage was struggling as some deep old wounds were resurfacing. Yet I was called to experience Joy.
In that memorable moment on that fateful camping trip with my husband, I began a quest — a painful quest — a quest for Joy.
And months later, that quest has led me here:
Consider it total joy, my friends, when you encounter many kinds of trials, because these tests of faith lead to sanctification.
James 1:2 (paraphrased in my own translation)
I delved deep into the exegetic behind this passage, honestly hoping the scripture didn’t mean quite what it sounds like. Surely it could not mean to say that when you go through desperate times, life crises, and faith-shaking battles you should see the entire experience as JOY! “Consider it ALL joy,” most translations have settled upon this wording. Surely it was saying something like… “find the little joys when you are going through trials”… or perhaps, “consider the unique type of joy experienced during pain”… or maybe, “decide to be completely joyful in spite of difficult circumstances”…
But that troublesome word “all” means every bit of what it sounds like… and more. Consider it completely joy. Consider it the pinnacle of joy. Consider it utmost joy. Consider each piece of it joy. Consider the whole of it joy.
I’ve wrestled with this passage a hundred times before; but let me tell you, it wasn’t until I meditated on it WHILE going through a deep, profound, painful trial that it started making perfect sense. It’s just true that the most painful things I’ve been through are the best things that have ever happened to me. There are events in life which pierce us to our core and rattle our very foundations–only then do the weaknesses that lie in our core become exposed, and then healed.
If my goal is being shaped into the image of Christ and removing the parts of myself that prevent me from becoming happy and fulfilled, then no greater joy could be found than in suffering. Only through pain does my true nature get exposed–my true value system, my honest priorities, the things in my life I still cling to instead of surrendering to God. Yet in these worst of times, I discover an opportunity to confront myself and knowingly acknowledge God as my Lord again.
In those moments, painful though they are, He is my Savior all over again. I experience Him as my Redeemer, the rescuer of my broken soul and lover of my true self. What could be more joyful or more beautiful than a moment like this?
It shouldn’t be hard to experience the Joy of our salvation. When we know we are broken and hopeless and then someone helps us, saves us, rescues us, joy springs up as the most natural response in the world! Trials only feel different because they expose the brokenness we didn’t already know was there. But once the hidden darkness is revealed through pain, the salvation and redemption is the same! How natural, now it seems, that the pinnacle of joy would be our response in those moments when we are most saved!
This doesn’t mean we slap on a happy face or minimize the difficulty of the experience. On the contrary, in fact! If it’s really true that the purest kind of joy happens when we are saved from our deepest broken places, how dare we hide our brokenness under the banner of joy? They walk hand in hand, like steadfast companions. People will not properly see our joy unless they see the depths from which that joy was borne.
Likewise, as a believer appreciating the value of my salvation, I cannot truly grasp the impact of my suffering until it blossoms into deep ecstatic joy. This is not a quiet or somber kind of joy. It should burst into the world with a force reflecting the reality that the omnipotent ruler of the universe has deigned to reach down and rescue me! How small the trials seem compared to the value they produce! “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen…” (2 Cor 4:17-18).
When I finally see this, how easy it becomes to see the trial as utter, total, utmost joy! It is a deeper, purer, more complete joy than could be produced by anything less traumatic. It is ALL JOY, walking hand in hand with pain on a journey toward complete perfection and restoration.
Praise be to God, who is my Rescuer, my Healer, my Redeemer, my Savior, and my Friend!