Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Suffering Joyfully

The other day I received a daily Bible Verse from Air1 Radio.

"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance." Romans 5:3 NLT

Here is a little blitz into the last few years of my life to give you some context of where I am coming from. About 3 years ago, my mother and father-in-law separated, shortly there after my father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away after a short battle. Two months later we welcomed our daughter into our lives, and about 3 months after that I was laid off from my job(in the mortgage industry). Now through all of this was the underlying drama of the in-laws separation and the complete lunacy within the family that followed. Back to the job, I was able to find a job after a short period of time, still within the mortgage industry, and rode the waves of uncertainty, bankruptcies, mergers and more layoffs. Back to the mother in law, she was diagnosed with cancer, more family drama, and then my wife gets diagnosed with a cyst on her thyroid (don't know if it's cancer we would need to wait 6 months or a follow up). Practically in the same breath, I am given wonderful news that my wife is pregnant and then sadly, 3 months later learn that she miscarried. Back to the job scene, I had changed jobs to be closer to home and get out of the mortgage industry, only to find myself laid off once more (with no vacation time saved and very little severance), and just in time for my wife's follow up with the cyst, which has grown a bit and might as well be taken out (still don't know if it's cancer).

Back to the present. So I read this verse and the first reaction is of course uncontrollable laughter. Endurance!?!? When I think of endurance, I have visions of the insane torture of wind sprints, gassers and Alabamas at the end of football practice all with the intent of being able to play more football. I don't recall cheering when the coach would tell us to line up on the goal line with his whistle in his mouth, describing the pain that lay ahead of us, and sounding a lot like John McCain whenever he enunciated a syllable that made him inadvertently chirp his whistle. It also seems entirely unnatural now to rejoice about going through all of the junk over the last 3 years all for the purpose of being able to endure even more!

Now I have always prayed and thanked God for blessings of which I wasn't even aware and I have always found myself being more grateful for the blessings I was aware of after a trial. During the trial is an entirely different thing. Just recently I was sharing with my pastor my plight of being unemployed. I shared with him how stressed I had been and I complained about the line I had heard so many times "Are you enjoying your time off?" Oh yeah, loving it(sarcasm)! I would really enjoy it a lot more if I knew I had a job starting.

The more I think about the verse, the more I understand that I can't put conditions on my joy during my time of suffering. "God, I am not going to rejoice as you build up my endurance unless I know things are going to be easy at the end." There is also a bigger impact when you put this verse in context. Here is Romans 5:1-11:

1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God."

Wow! God is the ultimate personal trainer and it didn't cost me a dime. Being grateful is receiving a present and thanking the person before even opening it. It could be be a pair of socks or a fruit cake. I can't imagine holding off the thanks until you see what it is. "I would say thank you if it wasn't for the fact that I already have 12 pair of socks. What I really wanted was a new Ipod." I'm just a man. There ultimately is nothing special or redeeming about me. I am not Buddy Rich on the drums. I have no special powers or extraordinary intelligence. I screw up ALL the time. I grit my teeth. I don't eat all of my vegetables. I don't listen. As a manager you develop those who show they are worthy and have shown the potential to handle additional responsibility. As a parent, you pay extra attention to the good kid in hopes of turning the bad kids behavior around. So considering all of my wonderful traits I just described, I should be fired. Instead, God has taken me on, to develop my endurance and build my character.

It's not easy to just wipe away the stress (the last test I took I was 412 and doomed for some health ramifications). But I know that through His grace and with prayer, I can find joy during this time, right now. Not only have I had some extra time with the family that I normally wouldn't have, but I have had the wonderful experience of relying on God. If you are familiar with the "Footsteps in the Sand" poem, the author was not aware he was being carried until afterwards.

The difference is that I KNOW I am being carried NOW and I can enjoy the ride. My earthly father would always tease me about me wanting to be carried when I was a kid on our hikes through the Eastern Sierras. I have to admit that fatigue was not the only reason I like being carried, but I was being held safe in his arms. I loved total closeness of it all and knowing that I was going to be ok. Now that I am aware I am being carried by my Heavenly Father, that same feeling is intensified exponentially!! How could you not be joyful in his arms, knowing that he cares and won't put me down? It's easy to get hung up on the "what if's" of this world, but so much more liberating to accept the gifts we are given now.

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