In every season of our lives, we will face a challenge. I remember at Tomoka Elementary School, in Ormond Beach, the dreaded fitness week was one of those challenges. While always a healthy kid, I never could do a pull up, or run the fastest mile or do very many push-ups. Whether it was intentional or not, we always ended up comparing ourselves to one another and feeling insecure. The only station I was at all good at was flexibility, because as a dancer that came naturally for me. But whenever it came around to the “opportunity” to run the mile, I broke out in a cold sweat.
As I grew older, it wasn’t Elementary School Fitness Week that scared me anymore, but the Middle School cafeteria and finding a spot at the table with my friends before they all filled up. Middle School in and of itself was a challenge and I clung to my church youth group, my few best friends and a healthy family structure to get me through. But if given a time-machine that would take me back to these three years, I think I would pass up the chance. High School was a confident time for me mostly because of my Musical Theater family and the Arts community, but I still grew fearful around audition season or when it was time to take my AP tests. While I have had a wonderful childhood and young adulthood, I know that the times I grew most were in the midst of a challenge. It is the time I can look back and remember the pruning that took place when things didn’t go my way. But that is very Biblical, is it not?
Over the last year, I have been trying to take better care of my body and treat it as the Temple of God that it is. I try to get 7 hours of sleep, I eat healthy (most of the time) and I drink a lot of water. I have an ever-changing exercise routine that spans from weight-training, to yoga; from jogging to dance. I love to move and to keep my muscles engaged. One recent workout found me nodding along to the coach’s words that advised us several times towards the end, to find the joy in the challenge and to smile through the pain. While she didn’t realize how Biblical this true reality is, it reminded me of the words of James, the brother of Jesus’.
“2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
While the vast majority of us don’t jump at the chance to go through trials and storms in our lives, we can still appreciate the growth that comes from the pain. If we work towards our own self-awareness, and as we mature, we begin to see where God was with us, growing us, shaping us and pruning us even while in the midst of what seemed like an insurmountable challenge. It doesn’t help when you see a cute little bumper sticker or read a Hallmark card that says something like, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Yuck, yeah right! These phrases always convince me that people don’t actually read Scripture, only the parts that paint a cheerful picture. God absolutely allows us more than we can handle. Speaking only for myself here, God knows that I am person that struggles with pride and if I can’t do it on my own, or a fail miserably (and sometimes I do), I would get over myself, sooner or later, and turn to God for wisdom and help. But…somewhere along the lines of cultural Christianity, we let ourselves believe that lie that once we accepted God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, life would do a 180 degree turn around. Now while that theology helps sell the Prosperity Gospel for some well-known televangelists, it doesn’t resemble the Gospel truth in the least bit.
We will all face challenges whether we follow Jesus or not, but when we follow Jesus we can face these challenges with JOY. In my workout the other day I was told to find the joy in the challenge and to smile through the pain. What might this look like for you in this season? What challenge or sets of challenges are you facing? Is it in your career, parenting, theology, life’s calling, in your marriage, in your friendships or in your faith? Have you acknowledged them, have you thanked God for those challenges and have you sought out someone to face it with you? Joy is always easier in community because the challenge feels more surmountable when someone walking it with you. The other important part of joy is that rubs off on those we do life with. And I don’t have to tell you that the world needs much, much more of it.
I pray that you and I both can find the joy in the challenge and to smile through the pain. Not in an artificial, inauthentic kind of way, but in the confidence of knowing WHO walks with us through it and what we will learn along the way.