Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2–3).
Growing up in the church, I heard this passage oft quoted when someone was grieved or struggling. Unfortunately, it’s a common theme among believers that grief over heartache or suffering must be short-lived if we are to prove our trust in God. Many times, it’s assumed that if we don’t quickly get past our sorrow and “find joy” (aka: appear to be happy), we’re not trusting God. I believe James had much more in mind when he wrote this, and it’s easily missed when we don’t look deeper into the original context and instead throw this piece of Bible passage out as a trite “fix-all.”
Within church culture, it’s easy to adopt the mentality that when we encounter trials, it may be acceptable to shed a few tears. Then (if we are really mature), we pull up our “big girl pants” and push the feelings away under the titles of “trusting that God has a plan” and “He will work all things out for good.” Attempting to walk in obedience to this command, we make ourselves strong, push away our hurts, and ultimately deny God the glory He deserves for working His healing in our hearts.
I have been exposed to this process so repetitively that it has become ingrained in my mind and heart as a pattern to follow. Deep emotions are uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable to me and uncomfortable for others. If I’m really trusting God, then I can be happy. I won’t continue to grieve, right?
Ironically, I don’t believe James intended for us to get the idea that we have to be strong in ourselves and ignore the difficulty and pain. He goes on to say that we should allow steadfastness (or perseverance) have its full effect so we may be mature and complete and lacking nothing. This perseverance doesn’t mean (as many of us often think) pushing forward in our faith and pushing our emotions away.
In the Greek, “perseverance” is the word hupomone, meaning “to remain or endure under.” HELPS Word-studies goes on to explain that this is a God-empowered ability given to those who believe in Him to “‘remain (endure) under’ the challenges He allots in life.” Obviously, we are not being instructed to remove ourselves from the trial by our own efforts of trusting in God. Rather it is His strength working in us that gives us the perseverance and endurance to trust Him and to allow Him to strengthen us through the struggle.
Why Grief Exists
In 1 Peter 1, Peter echoes James’ sentiments. Peter begins by laying a foundational vision of the hope we have in Christ, the power and grace of His glory, and the promises in which we can rest assured. Then, he continues, comparable to James’ admonition to “count it all joy”: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6).
Hold on a second. Peter brings up the reality of the process, of the emotion in the midst of the trials. We have been grieved! This word “grieved” in the Greek is lupeo, which means to experience deep emotional pain, sorrow or intense sadness. (Ladies, it’s the same word that’s used to describe the pain of childbirth. How is that for a visual?)
But Peter doesn’t stop there. He continues that this grief (not our own efforts to count it all joy) exists so that the tested genuineness of our faith may bring Christ all the praise and the glory. And that’s our ultimate aim, right? As believers, we’re called to image and glorify Christ on this earth—not ourselves. I’ve found that if I put forth my own effort to trust God, apart from relying on Him, I deny the power of God in my life. In my pride, I believe I have what it takes to live the life of faith.
However, if I’m willing to patiently endure the process of sorrow (by the grace God supplies), walking through each phase with Him, I experience His comfort, His peace and His presence in ways that are never possible when I choose to “count it all joy” in my own strength and remove myself from feeling those deep emotions. Ultimately, He—not I—will get the glory when He brings me to the other side, full of inexpressible and glorious joy!
This concept goes against everything that has been ingrained in me for so long. Grief typically equals tears. And I don’t like tears so much—at least not my own. Tears are often translated as weakness in our Christian culture. I’m a strong person if I can hold myself together. Now, tears are OK for babies, for kids, but I am a grown-up. I shouldn’t cry, should I?
Tears Are Good
As I was processing through this concept, I came across the video “The Healing Power of Tears,” and it opened my eyes to why crying may be a positive and not a negative.