I want everything to return to normal. A silent phone. No one barging through the door and pulling me in different directions. A thousand miles placed back on the odometer of my car. For loved ones to live in those same old houses. Favorite church members to resume their proper places and greet me with the bright smiles I’ve grown accustomed to. For rundown buildings, corner grocery stores, two-lane highways, and old bridges to rise up and once again become landmarks so I can find my way to Grandmother’s house, to old schoolyards, to off-the-road ponds where we cast fishing lines years ago.
I have this idea in my head that I’ll be the first to go, leaving everything exactly as it’s always been, a lot like bookmarks between yellowing pages of dusty old books I have yet to finish.
Happy events turn the pages of our lives and cart us off to places far beyond our imagination. Marriage is a great example of that–transporting us from all that we’ve known to cities and states, sites and venues that unsettle the nerves until we form new customs and connect to those with similar views. New jobs disrupt our routines, bringing us face-to-face with unfamiliar cultures, different languages, and a host of inconveniences.
But none of those events have a more profound effect on us than trials and tribulations. Nothing transforms our souls and spur spiritual growth like a horrible trial.
If you’re anything like me, you hate trouble and the worry that comes with it. Tribulations press you in spiritual soft spots that make you twist and turn, tug and pull in unexpected directions. They rub against the grain. They are uncomfortable.
Often, I’m so busy analyzing ways out of a trial that I don’t appreciate how it can create a good work in me. I’m totally unaware that the spiritual fire burning underfoot is preparing me for my final dress rehearsal before I see the King. While I’m in this fire, I don’t understand it. God’s word has grown cold and I’ve forgotten that fiery trials are present to reshape me like molten glass. I’ve failed to comprehend what’s really happening and I’ve lost sight of the fact that I’m not fighting “flesh and blood,” but “evil in the heavenly realms.”
To ease our distress, we point fingers. “If the doctor hadn’t been so arrogant and full of himself, my baby wouldn’t have . . .” “I tell you what, if she marches in here today with that attitude, I’m going to nail her.” “Well, if you had just listened to me, then . . .” “I don’t trust you! I thought I married a better man. I trusted you!”
“Why me, Lord?”
Isn’t that our first cry?
Sometimes we get in our heads that we should take the high road and be more “proactive.” But all that does is create more fires and before you know it, the heat and flames implode and consume us.
God’s word tells us:
“2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
God warns us that trials will come and we are to be prepared by:
11Put(ting) on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 17And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:11-17)
How can I do any of this?
Begin by changing the way you look at suffering.
For too long, we have taken to self-pity—overburdening the brotherhood of believers with our trials because we either refuse to pray or feel as if we are too weak to do so. At times, we’ve become stubborn and feel like it’s God’s fault that I didn’t get what I wanted.
Losing a child to suicide, a disease, an accident or in any manner is a tragedy. It hurts. Unexpectedly burying a husband or wife is almost unimaginable. Hearing that your step-father wouldn’t feed your mother in her last days is disturbing and enough to send you into a fitful rage. (Ask me about that some time, and one day I’ll share how I got through that season of my life.)
But isn’t God there with you through it all? Did he not see and hear the calamity around you? Do you not remember that God said to repay evildoers with good so that hot coals are heaped upon them? Did God not say that vengeance is his?
We don’t get to choose our trials. Satan does a fine job poking and prodding us until he finds the right mixture of trouble to bestow upon you and me. And when he finds out what works—guess what?—he will continue to work it until our death.
Let’s not fool ourselves. This world is wicked. It’s nothing like the world God first created. We’ve done a fine job of mistreating it. Every minute of the day evil spirits work tirelessly to convince others to spiritually attack us. Make no mistake about it–Satan has you and I on his hit list. These attacks come from within your household; from birth mothers to second cousins; from the head of companies to the lawn care service.
If I must suffer, I don’t want to suffer as a murderer, thief, or as any other criminal. I want my suffering to mean something. I want to be accused of believing in God and laying my life down for him. I want to do so while calling out his name. But I can’t do that until I change my views on trials and tribulations.
To change our outlook, we must:
1. “. . . not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”
2. “. . . rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, . . .”
3. “. . . so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” When he reveals his glory through your sufferings, you will be overjoyed, indeed.
4. Know we are blessed. “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
5. Be not ashamed to suffer for Christ Jesus. “. . . do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (I Peter 4:12)
Our sufferings should mature us in Christ Jesus. No child has ever grown to adulthood without stumbling and falling down. I don’t care how educated you are you need to be trained for your new job, then you will be tested and tried before being promoted. How is it that we know these things about life, but can’t wrap our arms around the fact that trials and tribulations exist to strengthen us? Since we are children of God, we must go through growing pains to reach the rewards of our faith.
Many of you know what it’s like to call on God when the flames reach your earlobes. When my son was diagnosed with a bone disease six years ago, I had no idea where God was leading us, but I knew he was leading. It never occurred to me to doubt or become overburdened with fear. If this diagnosis had come ten years ago, I would have been a mess. I remember having a talk with God on the way to the hospital. I said, “God, I have no idea what you want to do about this, but no matter what happens, I know you’ve made the right decision. I know you’ve got this.”
Now, my husband is going through health issues. Some of you might respond by saying, “How is she doing this?” “She must be losing her mind.” “Is Donna some holy-roller … a charismatic believer who has lost touch with reality?”
I’m not only a reader but a “believer” of God’s word. If you read the word long enough, often enough, it becomes a part of you. And if it is a part of you, then you know how this story ends. Don’t you? We live. We have heartaches. We climb mountains. We suffer. We fall. We become ill. We die … to live. I don’t get to choose how treacherous my mountains will become. I don’t get to control Satan and convince him which roadblocks “not” to use. Even if I tried, he’d be too busy putting up so many roadblocks that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. So, what should I do? Lean on someone else? They’re fighting the same fight.
First, dig into the book of James. Read it until it becomes who you are.
Second, change your way of thinking. Redefine trials and tribulations. Think of them as gold nuggets which need to be purified over a fire, heated with the hottest heat, burning off impurities until all that’s left is the gold in its purest form. Spiritually speaking, what’s left is “a royal priesthood,” a beautiful, spiritual specimen who is pleasing to God.
Third, remember your spiritual behavior during your trials and tribulations is a testimony for those around you, and it may be the one and only chance they get to witness God’s word in action.
By the time you go through Steps 1 and 2, there’s no room for whining and complaining.
I must confess. I like routine. I want things to remain the same. I want my husband to be well and getting on my nerves. I want Grandmother to still be in that long, narrow, white house where the floor creaks right before you get to the kitchen door; where closets smell of mothballs; where living rooms have more vintage whatnots than I can count. I want to hear my Momma’s flip-flops tap the hallway floor. I want to peek through the doorway and find her asleep with her eyes half open, snoring the roof off the bedroom ceiling, her iced Pepsi melted to a murky liquid.
Things change. Friends move away. Loved ones die and trade this chaotic world for a heavenly, peaceful rest that’s beyond our understanding.
And here you and I sit, left behind to fight these trials and tribulations we hate and for which we don’t have the patience.
Yet, God never commands us to do something we cannot do. So, if God says to “Consider it pure joy when you face trials, . . .” then I think you and I can safely say, “We can count it pure joy.”
“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1)
I hope you feel encouraged.
I love you!
Donna B. Comeaux
no credentials other than I’m
your sister in Christ Jesus
Writer, Poet, Author
All scriptures from the NIV version of the Bible.
(adapted from my original article in the Ruby for Women Magazine, 2015 Autumn Issue)