My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 (NRSV)
As I mentioned in Another Unexpected Sabbath, I’ve found myself sidelined from some of my favorite activities because of a foot injury. The realization that I wasn’t just hurt but actually injured was difficult – especially with the beautiful fall weather we’ve been enjoying. Sharing my struggle with a friend led me to a changed point of view:
“Someone asked me last week what might happen if I thanked God for this injury. Could I find a way to be grateful each day? I don’t think what Paul or this person was suggesting was that I be thankful I’m injured but rather in the midst of this circumstance what about it can I give thanks.”
And so this has been my challenge, or rather, my joy.
Running is probably not in my future until at least 2015. I can either dwell on what I can’t do, complaining in my heart on every nice day or envying every runner I pass, or I can choose to allow this time to be framed into something different. I mentioned to a friend that I was trying to be grateful for the injury, and she told me to let her know if I figure it out. So what does gratitude for what I cannot do look like?
But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, – Romans 5:3 (CEB)
Well, I haven’t taken pride in my problem, but the Greek word for “pride” also means, “to glory, joy or rejoice.” It’s not the problem in which I rejoice, but rather in the midst of the problem. This is a choice. I can either choose to just be in my problem, with that as the focus of my energy, or in the midst of it, I can choose joy.
I started reading Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine D. Pohl last week. I didn’t even finish the first chapter before I decided I had to read this book within a community (the Seven ladies may be back!). The first practice is gratitude. (Thank you, Holy Spirit, for helping me learn to be grateful.)
“If we really understand our lives as redeemed by costly grace, then our primary response can only be gratitude…grace (charis) and thankfulness, thanksgiving, or gratitude (eucharistia) share the same root. If grace and gratitude are central and belong together, why then are they not more prominent in how we live?” (Pohl, 17-18)
Yes, grace and gratitude must.
endurance produces character, and character produces hope. – Romans 5:4 (CEB)
I finished the chapters on gratitude, but then set the book aside in order to savor it with my Seven friends. Luckily, another book arrived in the mail: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Dr. Brene Brown. Mutual vulnerability is one of the foundational elements of my new worshipping community. This book is also excellent, and I recommend it to anyone who would like to be a human or live with other humans in a life-giving way.
About mid-way through, Brown discusses the armor we wear to protect our vulnerability. The first is “foreboding joy.” You know what this is. This is when something amazing is happening and you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach of what could go wrong. An example: Eldest will get his temporary driving permit next week. This is a significant step in his path of independence. There is the anticipation that I can soon send him to get milk at the grocery store. This is a joyful milestone in the life of our family. But what comes into any parent’s mind when you think about your teenager with a driver’s license? What if he’s in an accident? What if he dies? What if he kills someone else?
This is foreboding joy. In a moment that we should savor and enjoy, we prevent giving ourselves completely over to it because of what might (but probably won’t ever) happen. It’s not allowing ourselves to enjoy the beauty of fall because winter is coming. It’s not laughing out loud because we might look or sound funny. (When is the last time you laughed like this?) The longer we wear this armor, the more we withdraw from the joys of life in order to protect ourselves from what may take that joy away.
So how do we take this armor off: by practicing gratitude.
In the thousands of interviews Brown conducted, she found that “every participant who spoke about the ability to stay open to joy also talked about the importance of practicing gratitude.” (122) She goes on to say, “every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments [of vulnerability], we build resilience and cultivate hope.” (126)
This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5 (CEB)
I guess Paul and James are right. But what does this have to do with my foot?
My life verse this year is this passage in Romans 5. As I said in Travelling Partners, this verse always chooses me and I am always surprised at how it speaks into my life over the year. I assumed it was going to be about endurance but I’m finding it’s about joy. And since joy is found in gratitude, this is where I’m putting my energy.
Today I’m grateful for the way the sun came through the leaves of the tree outside my window and the delicious cup of coffee that I enjoyed as I wrote this post. I am thankful for those travelling with me on the journey of this new worshipping community as we meet tonight to talk about who Jesus is. And I’m thankful that transcending any circumstance we find ourselves in, God offers us grace and joy. And I’m going to offer God gratitude in response.