I ’ve been thinking a lot about joy and suffering lately and how, paradoxically, these two unexpectedly go hand-in-hand. In James 1:2-4, it says, “Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line – mature, complete, and wanting nothing.”
I become excited when I read this. These are the qualities I need to have. This is what my character needs to be. But wait, how do I get there again? How do I become a person with this character? It says that it’s through trials and challenges and hard times that a person becomes these things. That’s not the part that gets me excited.
Well, the most obvious in-my-face difficulty right now is how to manage my ever-growing, stretching, uncomfortable, pregnant body. My first pregnancy was a breeze. I was rarely uncomfortable and I embraced and enjoyed every change. It was probably one of the best times of my life.
But it definitely didn’t prepare me for this round… waking up in the middle of the night as if from jet lag, wobbling about to cope with the pain of walking, trying to get enough air into my lungs, and sporadic mood changes that can take me from mad to happy and then leave me bursting into tears over things as small as spilled milk.
But despite how these changes can make me feel like a crazy old woman, I realized that I can embrace this time and find ways to turn it back to Him. I recently came across an inspiring quote by Stanley Jones, an American missionary to India who said, “Don’t bear trouble, use it. Take whatever happens – justice and injustice, pleasure and pain, compliment and criticism – take it up into the purpose of your life and make something out of it. Turn it into testimony.”
I know that my aches and pains are really not that big of a deal. But we all deal with pain in some form or another, from the seemingly small to the catastrophic, and it occurs in every possible situation in which we find ourselves. The question is: How do we respond? I’ve observed friends and family throughout my life, some who’ve turned to God during trials and some who’ve just given up and let Him go. It’s the ones who’ve turned to God who’ve developed endurance and who ultimately live out true joy regardless of the circumstance.
I’ve watched our teammates give up so much and move to the other side of the world to bring God’s love and redemption to a remote island. And I’ve seen them struggle and wrestle with the challenges that have come their way: sickness, injury, homesickness, community misunderstandings, and more. And because of those struggles, they’re no longer the same people they were when they arrived. It’s been a joy to see their change and growth, and without the challenges they’ve faced, they wouldn’t have had the chance to realize this growth.
I remember the struggles we faced when we first moved out to Nosy Mitsio: the loneliness and isolation, the cross-cultural conflicts, and trying to figure out how to do a job we’ve never done before in a place we’ve never lived before. I remember sometimes wondering if that year and a half of struggling on our own would even be worth it. But now that our team is here, I’ve seen how their communities have received them, and I’ve seen how their friends and neighbors are becoming more and more open to hearing about the Gospel. I can see that all that time we spent, taking things slowly, doing it the hard way; it was all definitely worth it.
I was recently walking down the capitol city streets of Tana. When I saw a dead rat lying on the side of the road, I began to think of the prison conditions here. Some of you may have heard the news of the outbreak of plague here, that’s been carried by rats especially in the prisons. And I thought of Paul, who wrote these words from his prison cell:
This is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. But as I walked down these streets thinking of the filth that lies behind every corner (or even right in the middle of the street) and what the prisons must be like, I was jolted by Paul’s words. He was a man so full of the Holy Spirit that he could speak of contentment literally in every situation. And how many other examples do we know of men being locked in prison and who found the strength and comfort to praise Him, who experienced joy in the midst of suffering? There are so many examples.
Everything in life echoes these two contrasting elements of joy and suffering. Like when you push your body to the limits and feel the burn in your muscles that sends endorphins racing through your body, giving you vibrance and energy. Then next time your body is able to endure a little more. And when we put our character through a similar type of training, it produces the same results.
S oon, our team will be heading back to Nosy Mitsio after a time of rest and training. In the next four months, we will begin ministering (more formally) to the people with whom we’ve come to live. There will inevitably be challenges for us; and for the Antakarana who eventually come to know Christ, there will certainly be trials. But I carry this little life inside of me as a reminder that bringing new life to Nosy Mitsio will not come without pain or struggle. Yet when it arrives, all the trials and challenges that came before are what makes the present joy that much sweeter.
May the Holy Spirit show you today how to turn your trials into testimony and to embrace the joy that’s birthed from them.
Lora, Adam and Matimu