We were sitting there at the diner, she and I, with tortilla soup and migas and glasses of tea lodged between us. “I just lost faith,” she told me as her hands shook. “I can’t see a God in all this.” I shook my head in understanding, because I get it. There’s no judgment or trying to change hearts. There were no words left. All I could see was the soup spoon brought to my own lips by an unwilling arm, and her precious face before me. My dear friend who is suffering. My own heart that was breaking.
Everywhere I look these days, it’s heavy. Strokes and seizures and pain that never ends. Marriages suffering and children suffering and hearts suffering. I just want to say to God, enough already. It’s spinning out of control. Can’t we just wash it all away and see nothing but rainbows? Isn’t God bigger than darkness? But then the check came, and the heavy remained.
“Consider it pure joy. . . 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.”
I’m not real big on lumping trials and suffering in the same basket with joy, because it sounds pretty disingenuous to me. It’s not joyful when relationships rip apart and your heart aches until you throw up. You don’t jump up and down giggling when people disappoint and abandon you and your sleep is taken over by nightmares. There’s no giving thanks when the car breaks down and sex hurts and relationships rip open. You know what I want to say to those people who tell me things will work out and we’ll all be singing Alleluia in the end? That there’s joy in the suffering?
Shut up and get me some Advil.
So I’ve been thinking lately about perseverance. Adhering to a certain belief or purpose with an incredible persistence. In Psalm 22, the author pleads to God with a clinched fist. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, and hearing the words of my groaning? I cry by day, and you do not answer, and by night but I find no rest.
Yet you are Holy.
That sentence whispers and screams and crawls inside my head. It rings with persistence. And when I curl up in a puddle of tears, or I sit before friends who ache with no words of encouragement, I remember. Like a refrain that can’t be stopped. Like a bedrock that cannot be shaken. Through all the many, many trials. Sometimes all I can do is raise the soup spoon to my lips. I can’t fix it or control it or make someone see the world like I do. It’s all so taken over by hate, and our hearts are consumed. And so I sit with my hands folded, enveloped inside myself, and know that the light will someday come. That God is true. Even when life is never, ever fair.
It is in these moments that I start to get it. Believing when it doesn’t makes sense to believe. Knowing God exists despite all the darkness. And I understand what James is saying about being tested, and being persistent, and how blessed that awareness can be.
Spiritual maturity comes from suffering. And in that growth we find joy after all.