James, the brother of Jesus, has some credibility on the topic of pain and hardship. For 30 years, he carried the weight of leading an ostracized community in crisis. He lived in the epicenter of uncomfortable, painful, yet unavoidable circumstances, and his instruction to us remains consistent—consider trials as pure joy.
At first glance, this idea sounds impossible. If James knew the extent of our pain, he would never tell us to think of it as joy.
But what if James was on to something? What if, no matter how much we dislike our circumstances, there’s still something joyful to be discovered? But how?
The answer lies within the concept of coexisting emotions—multiple emotions being experienced in the same moment. When James instructs us to reframe our trials, he isn’t instructing us to diminish the validity of the pain they bring. He’s simply asking us to adjust our perspectives to see beyond the initial sting of pain, anger, sorrow, etc. And to look ahead at the possibilities in front of us.
While there is discomfort with the process, there is also joy in discovering things that we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to discover had we not faced that trial. Discomfort and joy coexist.
While there is pain with loss, there is also joy in what we can learn not only about the person or thing we lost, but also about ourselves. There is sorrow yet there is celebration of life and new beginnings. Pain and joy coexist.
James then tells us that the testing of our faith is actually what produces perseverance. Perseverance builds courage, and courage allows us to stand firm even in the midst of a fallen world. Courage and brokenness coexist.
This is difficult. We want immediate relief when we face trials, but James challenges us to shift our thinking and to begin to desire wisdom. Wisdom brings perspective, and perspective allows us to persevere.
So, don’t avoid hard circumstances or bail out in the middle of your pain; instead, experience your emotions, reframe your thinking, and persevere. On the other side of the trial you will be strengthened, and there will be joy.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2–4)
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