The day, March 20th, has been a sign post in my life. You may find that strange as an opening sentence but let me explain.
March 20, 1979 I was a senior attending a small Christian high school in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. It was on that date that with a bit of fear and also courage I gave, as all seniors at that high school had to at the time, my senior sermon choosing as my topic Count IT All Joy using the text from James 1:2-4 – “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience, but let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (King James Version) In that sermon I expounded for about 5 minutes (and I still have the cassette that I have listened to once in a while!) on how that I felt I have learned the significance of this passage. I shared that I had endured illness – asthma to the extent that I had to drop out of grade 11 because I could not sit in class due to constant coughing and breathing problems. I shared that I had learned about how to be patient and I counted it joyful to be able to say that God had given me patience to endure. Boy was I naive! As four days later I was enjoying a weekend home in Calgary with my family when my mother asked me to clean some silverware as we were having company over. Well I dutifully got out the silverware, started to polish and instantly started to cough and cough. For the next 10 weeks or so I coughed and coughed forcing me to even stay in my dorm room at Prairie High as I could not sit in class, having friends bring by my homework assignments so that I could work in my room. Eventually I had some testing done and found out I had various allergies and the sort and found a solution for the time being.
I said all that to say that over the years I have come to realize that I need to rethink the idea of counting it all joy when stress, suffering, and sickness come into my life or the lives of others and loudly proclaim that I or they are learning or have learned patience. Don’t get me wrong I truly do believe that passage’s premise that there will come a point in one’s life where they can say they have learned patience and to accept all that is their lot in life. However to proclaim that one has pursued patience (yes that seems ironic – the idea of give me patience but please hurry up about it) and is wanting nothing or totally content cannot be fully appreciated until we have undergone testing or as one of my much younger FB friends notes in her blog that she is not finished yet in life.
Over the past number of years, since March 20, 1979 I have encountered numerous situations in my life that has caused me to in essence plead with God to hurry up and finish testing me be it in health (as I have had numerous bouts of asthma, allergy episodes, choking, or even a recent eye surgery for a detached retina that I spoke about in a previous blog.), work, dealing with people, etc. as I am sure that I have learned patience and I just want to count it all joy! Even as I write this I am faced with some ongoing irritating back pain for the past week or so where I have been rubbing ointment, taking medication, etc. and finding it hard to sit and/or stand for any length of time. I would gladly (well I actually am not that devious!) let someone else have this back pain just so that I could enjoy exercising by going on walks, etc. pain free. The pursuit of patience is an elusive thing to say the least and to proclaim as that 17 year old young man did so many years ago it is not something one gains easily nor one proudly ascertains to having attained to as one quickly discovers that pride quickly does lead to the proverbial fall or refining to see if one is truly patient.
I have been fortunate over the past number of years to come into contact with people who have taught me a lot about “counting it all joy” when they have had to go through testing of some kind and found that the testing has caused them to rely more on God and in turn were learning patience in life. During the past decade of my life or so I have had in various ways been touched by the lives of those who have had to go through the agonizing disease of cancer including a dear college friend and an aunt. Though I no longer have the writings that my college friend Lee wrote as she faced the last few days of her life back in 2006 before passing away from cancer I remember her stating that she felt at peace knowing that God had a plan for her in enduring this disease. Yes she struggled at times with the medications and lot but in my last visit with her and her husband Darcy I remember the joy she displayed in knowing that at the end of life everything was meant for her good. I am not saying she was being masochistic and rejoicing that she had cancer, as I don’t think anyone if they are truly honest says they are happy for their illness or suffering. I believe she was saying she had and was learning patience in spite of her suffering, just like the apostle Paul stated in Second Corinthians (or 2 Corinthians like a certain unnamed politician announced it!) after he had begged God to remove something that was bothering him (and there has been debate over the years whether it referred to a health issue, relational situation, etc.) “And he (God) said unto me, ’My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” Again I don’t think the apostle Paul was being masochistic and saying to God bring on all the bad things in life but he had learned that in whatever situation he was faced with that as He trusted God he was learning patience and growing in the strength that God granted him and I believe granted my friend Lee and even my aunt Helen who wrote about as she faced cancer herself and eventually passed away a few years ago. They learned patience in spite of their suffering.
Again, please do not hear me say that I or any of my other friends or relatives who have gone through trials jump up and down saying whoopee look at me I get to have pain so that I can learn patience. Indeed I have marveled, from a distance at a couple of friends and relatives who very recently have been undergoing some testing through health issues and I am sure they would rather not have gone through or go through what they have endured. Harkening back to that relatively naïve 17 year old who has become a hopefully more mature 54 year old man patience is not learned over a few days, months or even years but it is a life long experience that demands we keep plodding on and trusting God. As I said even this past week I have been in some, what to me feels terrible pain, and had to put up with a postponed doctor’s visit and a therapist telling me that I have a disc out of place in my back, and for sure I would gladly forego the pain if I could. Yet as a friend shared with me online perhaps God is seeking to teach me something in all this, and in my thinking that could indeed mean learning patience as I constantly get up from my chair and pace or try to get comfortable in bed because of the pain.
Yes the truths of James 1:2-4 are still valid but as I have tried to point out perhaps we should rethink the concept of counting it all joy when faced with trials. It is when we endure or learn to accept what God is doing in our lives that I believe we learn patience and then can count it all joy in life. So if I had to do my sermon all over again and get in a time machine I would tell that young 17 year old that no I hadn’t learned patience but was learning very slowly and maybe haphazardly what it meant to be patient.
I hope you have found this blog informative and hopefully encouraging as I have shared where I am at in my life. God bless.