Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”
Nietzsche also said, “After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands”; so I am not placing much stock in what he said. But what is interesting, is that a man who so despised Christianity would, in one of his most famous quotes, essentially paraphrase James. Compare the Bible verse, written thousands of years earlier, to his words.
At the heart of the matter is: how do we respond when we “encounter various trials”? In some cases, the trials do destroy a person when he becomes defeated, bitter, and miserable. I have seen this up close – have you? At other times, someone gets waylaid, a bit off track for a while, but comes around over time…and this is probably the majority of us. Still others rise to occasion. For some people, their near-destruction is the making of them.
Joseph, sold into slavery by his own brothers, enslaved, imprisoned, forgotten…He saves those same brothers. Years later, he tells them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
So what if we don’t have an amazing story like Joseph’s? I don’t. But I have encountered various trials – maybe you have also? My second child was born when my husband was deployed – that was hard. A few months later, we were living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast when Hurricane Katrina devastated the area – that was hard too.
My husband deployed again right after Katrina. While he was gone, I had to sell the house. It sold quickly, with the stipulation that we had to get out two days before Christmas. That year at the mall, we took a picture with Santa to send to Daddy. Two year old Gracie and baby Josh posed with me and Santa, who asked Gracie, “And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?” Eyes wide and shining, she replied, “A Christmas tree.” My heart skipped a beat. See, I couldn’t get the decorations out of the attic and put up a tree…I was selling and packing up a house. Her innocent request just about killed me. I was doing everything I could to keep things together, but still it seemed like everything was just falling apart. We got a tiny artificial tree after that; and now we put it up every year…and we call it Gracie’s Tree.
A few weeks later, I celebrated my birthday in a new city, completely alone with my two little ones. I ordered pizza for us. I didn’t mention that it was my birthday; but the delivery person was so nice, that I burst into tears and gave him a giant tip…I just remember feeling completely overwhelmed by loneliness and sadness. That time in my life was nearly unbearable. Nearly.
My memories are mundane compared to Joseph’s story – but I had to walk alone to know that I was not alone. And I had to feel lost before I could really understand what it meant to be found. I look back and know that those very hard times produced in me an endurance I had never had before. We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
Where is God making you stronger? Can you see good in the trials? It is there, because He is there, with you.
photo credit: 123rf.com #6602889