Tuesday, November 20, 2012
That hassles might be part of favour
Like many of us, I've often been asked to cite my favourite Bible verse. However, I've never been asked to share my least favourite, and I've had a few. High on the list was James 1:2 - 'Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.' I'd flick really fast past that to something I liked better. Endurance wasn't a quality I was interested in developing, because it suggested that I'd be having to put up with unpleasant things. If all my hopes and plans fell into place, I wouldn't need endurance anyway.
I always chafed at being told to put up with hassles, let alone consider them pure joy! Hassles are annoying, nasty and often sad. Favour is what I wanted to focus on claiming. I wanted the blessings of Abraham, passed down to his spiritual descendents. I wanted to claim the promise that when we rely on Jesus' sacrifice for us, we have been redeemed from the curse of the law. Surely, I reasoned, the curse of the law must include all these annoying hassles. Get them out of my life.
Whenever I heard James 1:2 quoted, I'd listen politely but close my mind. It was a bit of a hassle that it was even in the Bible at all. Count it all joy indeed. It seemed to go against the way God wired the human brain. We automatically like nice stuff and shun bad stuff.
But today got me thinking. I was reading a story that made me realise there really is back-up in nature for James' advice. It was a reflection written by Napoleon Hill (the "Think and Grow Rich" author, but this was a different book). His grandfather used to be a wagon maker. While the neighbours were cultivating plantations of protected oak trees, Napoleon Hill's grandpa used to make sure he had a few oaks standing in open fields where they were exposed to the full force of blazing sun and blasting storms. As a result, timber from them was undoubtedly superior quality. It had struggled to hold its own against the elements, making it tough, flexible and valuable. It could be bended into arc-shaped segments for wagon wheels without breaking, and could also bear the heaviest loads.
What if the same is true of us? Not every unpleasant experience breaks us at all. They might be the sun and wind that strengthen us, fill us with beauty and make us stronger and more valuable.
I took my children out of school determined they would never had to deal with the physical and emotional pain I experienced year after year from bullies. It was treatment I believed had permanently damaged something deep inside of me. What if it made me a stronger person instead? Maybe the times my kids have gone through worrying, anxious experiences which I couldn't prevent have made them stronger too. Maybe I should stop feeling bad that I can't shelter them from all trials.
I've just finished writing a new novel, named "Along for the Ride." I'm hoping it may be one of my most potentially helpful one for readers, and I'm proud of it as I read it over, but I see that I'd never have been able to write it if I hadn't gone through some bad personal experiences, which I drew upon as I wrote it. It's been my way of creating a thing of comfort and beauty out of lots of pain. (I never went through a fraction of what my hero goes through, but I had enough other things happen to shape me so I could understand him.)
For so long I'd assumed trials and favour must be entirely separate and incompatible, like water and electricity, but what if they go together at times? What if some hassles are even part of favour? Perhaps instead of whining, we should be grateful to consider that we've been planted out in the open fields for a particular reason. I used to react to trials by saying, "I can't be in God's favour at all. I'm getting battered and bruised and I want it to stop." Maybe a more appropriate way to respond is, "Okay, these must be some of the heatwaves and storms that are making me stronger and more valuable for some purpose."
Having said that, I do believe the wisdom is in discerning which trials fall into this category. I do strongly believe that some things should be actively resisted. It all keeps life interesting.