We are now almost two weeks into my mother’s hospital stay, and it continues. I will not relist the trauma of everything that has happened and everything she faces. But the road has been rough, for her more than anyone. The daily grind back and forth to the hospital, talking with doctors and nurses, making potentially life and death decisions on the spot, and signing off on them, answering questions and texts, and so on and so on, is a full-time job in and of itself. This doesn’t even count for all the other daily events and responsibilities in your life. For those who are caregivers to others with failing health, the path you walk cannot be fully understood, until one walks it themselves. Mercy and grace should be prayed for daily for such as these.
Strangely, the Scriptures describe these types of events in the book of James as “opportunities for great joy” because our “faith is being tested” and our “endurance is growing.” This the Scriptures say, will leave us more “complete…not lacking anything.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4 (NLT)
This seems counterintuitive at first thought. How could so much distress be an opportunity for joy and growth? But I must also consider that the guy who wrote it watched his brother Jesus die the most horrible death imaginable and then come back to life. Joy. And he himself, was likely stoned to death by rocks, or thrown off a tower to his death. All this, because of his faith and association with Jesus. Perseverance.
There are moments when your faith must fall into the pressure cooker of this broken world. It is then that you discover whether what you’ve been reading and proclaiming from the Scriptures all your life is real, or if you’ve built your life on a message than can fall at the first hint of suffering. It is here that you discover whether the Cross of Christ is merely something you wear around your neck and plaster on a t-shirt for attention, or if it’s truly the lifestyle of tension you embrace with the Christ, who invited you to bear it in Luke 9:23.
“Opportunity” is not the word I would choose in the natural for this arduous and tiresome journey. But surprisingly, it is the word my faith is drawn to at every unseen turn. Fittingly, there have been opportunities for joy, growth, and developing perseverance for me. I thought I would share just a few. Some of these may apply in your context, some may not. Take them for what they are worth. They are simply opportunities for me personally.
-The current state and road ahead seems rough for my mom. But the 77 years prior have been filled with a lot of fullness, joy, and laughter. I think my mom has squeezed more out of a life than is probably humanly possible. I can only think of this and smile. Spend more time being grateful for what has been, rather than fretting about what lies ahead. We’ll generally find that gratitude for what has been, will give us strength to face what lies ahead. Faith.
-Conversely, people often say, “those were the good old days, I wish we could go back to those times.” Maybe, maybe not. But it’s very likely the moment in which you currently reside right now, is the same moment that in twenty years from now, you will say “those were the good old days, I wish we could go back to those times.” So you may as well take stock, be in the moment where God has you now, and enjoy and absorb it fully. Growth.
-Laughter is NOT overrated, it is a gift. When it shows up to your doorstep, even in the midst of pain, always give it a welcome chair in which to sit. Don’t feel sorry or guilty for laughing when you’re in a storm. It’s very likely that laughter is the breeze God sent to your sails to push you further down and out of the waters of sorrow. Joy.
-In most cases, blood really is thicker than water. Even if they’re a bit dysfunctional, if you have a family that rises to the occasion when you need them most, thank the Lord for it. And if you’ve experienced this, the next time you’re at a family gathering trying to figure out your quick exit plan, reconsider it, stay a little longer, and be thankful you have somebody. Perseverance.
-When people are in crisis, don’t say “Is there anything I can do?”, unless you’re willing to do anything. As a Pastor, I’ve said this many times, but what I really meant was “Is there anything I can do for you that won’t inconvenience me?” Growth.
-As a Pastor, I’ve been mostly reactive to people’s needs in crisis, waiting for them to tell me what they need. I’ve learned that most people in crisis won’t tell you what they really need because they don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Prayerfully assess their situation and yours, then be as proactive as you are able. Rather than ask them what they need, say something more like, “I am prepared and would be honored to do ____ for you to help carry your burden with you. Does that work for you and when would be the best time?” If they still decline, then perhaps they really do want to be left alone, which will be the case for some. But at least I was proactive and didn’t assume anything. Growth.
-When others are in crisis, when possible, take the time to call them rather than text or message them, at least the first time. As a Pastor and friend, I’ve probably texted when I should have called or just shown up. There is no substitute for a caring voice or a caring presence. Sure, some would rather text or be left alone. But if that be the case, leave it with them not to answer your call, and leave a voicemail expressing your care. Labor with others. Perseverance.
-When you find yourself in crisis, it’s okay to be vulnerable and transparent. But be equally careful that you don’t cross over from vulnerability to victimhood. Don’t abuse the charity of others. With that said, it’s not a sign of weakness to be vulnerable and accept help when the waters are crushing over you. Moments like this provide the Church and families their greatest occasions for beauty and to represent the glory of Christ. Your vulnerability is not weakness, but instead the opportunity for the Church to be what she was created to be, the hands and feet of Christ. Never deny another person an opportunity for growth or joy, or the opportunity to develop perseverance by carrying your burden with you.
Joy…Growth…Faith Tested…Perseverance…Completion. It’s all true.