I have had the distinct pleasure of being called to jury duty at least a half dozen times within the last 10 years…and yes, just got another summons a few weeks ago. I have served on several small jury’s and had an encounter just this past fall on the inner workings of a federal grand jury. I have sat in a courtroom countless times and yet regardless of the size case or the severity of the case at hand – there has always been a common thread in the reactions of those awaiting the news of whether or not they would be called to serve.
Jury Duty. It’s funny how those two words stir such disgust in people. I was offered condolences. I was given a multitude of tips on how to get out of serving. And consistently across the board every single person made some kind of awful face at the news. My first time heading to a courthouse here in South Carolina – I put all of the warnings and advice aside, and went to fulfill my duty. And low and behold the attitudes of the people at the courthouse were even worse than those who had warned me not to go. It was a spectacle indeed. There were those overly dressed up and ready to demonstrate that they were just too important to be there. There were others who went to great pains to look awful; from their dress, to their facial expressions, to the way they sat in the chair – everything screamed – ‘you know you don’t want ME on this case’! There were those who appeared to be clueless…but didn’t seem to understand that there is a line between clueless and calculating. There were some who thought if they just looked out the window, they wouldn’t be called on as if this were high school (has that trick ever really worked even in school?). Even the lawyers and presiding judge made comments on the painfulness of this process and that it would all be over soon. I sat through that entire experience and came to one resounding conclusion…people hate trials.
It doesn’t matter whose trial it is…trials are inconvenient, stressful, painful, and hard. And yet… James, brother to Jesus, tells us to consider them pure joy. Specifically, he says ‘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.’ (James 1:2-4) Surely, that is a typo right? No, after checking almost every translation available they all say to consider trials as pure ‘joy’ in each one. The only differing verbiage comes from The Message and it says that we should ‘consider it a sheer gift’ – what?! Trials, a gift? A joy?
About 30 min from my house is a really unique place called Cypress Gardens. It is one of the area plantations – a sweet mix of history and beauty filled with random wildlife and scenic views. Sadly it bore the brunt of some major damage in a massive flooding we had this past fall and is currently closed to the public as they try to rebuild. When I was there a few years ago I loved so much about my experience, but was overcome by the massive swamp that encompassed a huge portion of this 170 acre plantation. The swamp was edge to edge lily pads. It was ridiculous. And in many cases there seemed no break – no glimpses of the water they floated in. It was amazing. The ‘water’ was about as disgusting as you could imagine; covered in a nice thick, green, slimy film; a perfect oasis for the many alligators that I knew lay hidden beneath. Why I found this to be so remarkable were the countless waterlilies laced throughout the entire swamp. Waterlilies that were pure white, unblemished, in full beautiful bloom – gorgeous – and all I could do was ask ‘how?’ How on earth could something so beautiful come out of something so disgusting?
Intrigued by the beauty of the waterlilies I went home and ‘googled’ how they could grow in all of that yuck. Turns out – they were designed for the yuck. Rooted deep in the ground beneath the swamp waters – they rise tall and strong so that that their blossoms and their leaves come up tall above the swampy waters. For each lily pad you see on the water – a beautiful bloom was once attached.
James tells us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’; ‘you will face trials of many kinds- when you do think of it as pure joy’; ‘my friends consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way’; and my favorite – ‘consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.’ I hear that, I read that, I clearly see it printed before me and all I can do is ask ‘how’? How on earth can something so hard be counted as pure joy?
In Romans, Paul echoes these same thoughts… Romans 5:3-5 – “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.’
Peter later confirms…in 1 Peter 1:6-9 – “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
And just in case, we haven’t quite gotten the picture just yet…
1 Peter 4:12-13 – “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
There is not one of us that has escaped the experience of trials. Very rarely are they a once in a lifetime thing. For myself, trials have always been an underlying reality – in a way, like the waterlily, it seems as though I too was designed for the yuck. When I was little I lived in a home that had some pretty peculiar experiences. The youngest of three sisters we each had our own room – and we were each to stay in our own room. We had to ask permission to come downstairs – and that was usually only to ask a question, never to just hang out or play or watch TV. I never learned to ride a bike, don’t remember ever playing on our swing set (though we did have one) and only once did I ever have a friend come over. We were not allowed to be in each other’s rooms. I often say it was like we were baby dolls placed on a shelf. When my mom wanted to play with us, she’d bring us off our shelf otherwise that is where we stayed. Now for me, as a mom of four very active children – in need of interaction and quality time and affection and conversation and fuel to their overactive dramatic minds and hearts – I am blown away by the reality that was my childhood. There were times of great sadness and loss, there were times of great fear and insecurity, and the details (too great and too numerous for any retelling) were anything but beautiful. That said, I can tell you that I absolutely look back and count it all joy. I found solace in the comfort of stuffed animals. I found creativity in the multitude of coloring books and stories that filled my shelves. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone…as my sisters each endured and struggled. Oddly I look back on my childhood and it looks strikingly like the swamps of Cypress Gardens. Gross, disgusting, nothing you would want to swim in and yet out of it came something beautiful. I am not defined by my past or my upbringing. I have no disclaimers that say ‘because of these choices, because of these trials, Sarah is this …’
As an adult, the trials simply took on new form. I can easily think of financial trials and countless trials over failing cars. I can go back to multiple times of stress and busyness that placed a strain on my marriage. I can recall difficulties that arose in my pregnancy with Lacie and the hard questions and decisions regarding her health and life. I have vivid memories of enduring a miscarriage alone in the floor of my master bathroom. I can recall a few toxic friendships and poor choices in college. I can still instantly tear up as I recall the Lord allowing everything I loved – friends, work, church, and at the time…my purpose and heart – to be ripped from me with no clear explanation. I cringe a bit at the uncertainties of job changes and the unknowns of ‘what’s next’ that even face me right now. In John 16:33, John sums it up simply ‘in this world you will have trouble…but take heart (find joy, realize the gift) I (Jesus) have overcome the world.’
My sweet friend when it comes to the trials that we face in life – find comfort in the fact that we were designed to rise above the trials. We need to root ourselves into the deep soil that is Jesus Christ – and when we have, He will help us to rise tall and strong even in the most unlikely of scenarios. We have to stop looking angrily at the trials that come our way or that were our past. We have to look for how His hand held onto us…how His hand holds us still. A great pastor, Wayne Corderio explained it this way (and I’m merely paraphrasing) ‘sometimes we go through times of trial where instead of God lifting us over it he grabs us by the hand and drags us right through it. Sometimes that process of dragging us on the ground is repetitive. We are battered and beaten, but even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand.’ …even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand!
It is a fair question to ask…how on earth can something beautiful come from something so disgusting? Perseverance, character, hope, endurance, and a deepened faith in Christ – beautiful! Thank you Lord – if this is what brings me closer to you then keep on dragging me Lord – yes, I will count it ALL joy!