If you're a believer who, like me, is grieving the death of a loved one, James' exhortation to "Count it all joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds" can feel both inspirational and impossible.
On one hand, his promise of spiritual purpose and meaning in the midst of heartache and loss is hopeful. On the other, the chasm between the pain of a loved one’s death and joy feels insurmountable.
Grief is a unique trial, in that there is no resolution this side of heaven. From the moment we lose a loved one—a child, a parent, a best friend—life is pervasively, fundamentally altered. Like the optical illusion that relies on positive and negative space to form either a vase or two silhouetted faces, life is suddenly defined by both what's happening and by what's not.
When the empty space left by our loved ones looms large, the ache is soul deep and penetrating.
Yet, it isn't that we as grieving believers don’t want to shift our focus away from pain to joy—the challenge is how.
On this journey into joy, Christ's prayer in Gethsemane offers guidance: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). In that moment, Christ surrendered. Not just to a gruesome death but to the redemptive plan of a sovereign God.
So we also surrender.
Not to our pain and sorrow, but to the truths we know about who God is and His redemptive work in our lives.
And in surrender, we open the door to joy.
Dear friends, this is not an easy task, because it requires that we first feel and then put words to our pain. It is this process of putting words to our struggles, and then offering them up in surrender, that keeps "count it all joy" from becoming a superficial platitude.
In other words, it is as we place our sorrows within the context of God's character and promises for us as believers that our focus can shift to the spiritual reality that fuels joy.
Biblical joy is more than just happiness here on earth.
It is an emotion born not out of understanding, but out of our celebration that Christ loves us enough to strip our souls of sin and transform us to be more like Himself.
As we take these steps of both surrender and celebration, Christ Himself will lead us into joy.