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Consider it Pure Joy

There was a song I used to sing with kids when I worked in daycare. It told the story of going on a lion hunt and coming to a mountain. “Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, can’t go around it, gotta go through it.”

These lyrics went through my head this week as I was faced with a challenge that feels as daunting as going through a mountain. Every fall, our school division requires us to assess our students in math and language arts. It’s a good idea to know where our kids are at in their skills and assessing them is helpful. The mountain I’m facing is that I have trouble understanding the math tool they’ve given us. Suffice it to say that while it is a good model, I feel the method of testing is unclear. It’s one of those “don’t get me started” issues. As a student in high school, I loved math, but I have become a bit math-phobic with this task.

Luckily, a math consultant has been giving me guidance, but even so, I’ve gotten somewhat worked up about it all lately. I stopped at a co-worker’s room after school one day and vented about it all. I am not alone in my feelings, but after a while I heard myself say, “There’s no way around this. I know I just have to go through it.” There was nothing I wanted to do less, but if I was going to catch that lion, I knew I had to go through the mountain.

Even with guidance and resolve, though, I’ve had a few emotional meltdowns and 4 am wake-ups lately. Something had to change if I was going to stay healthy and happy at my job. I realized I was hanging on to anger: anger at the people who designed this assessment poorly. It was on this week’s Tuesday run that a Word from God came to me.

It may sound strange to talk about a “Word” from God. Did I see a burning bush like Moses? Is she hearing things, you may wonder? Well, I’d say no … and yes. I did hear something but it didn’t come out of a burning bush. Some scripture came to me in a song I was listening to on my iPod as I ran and I realized it addressed my dilemma. God doesn’t give Math help (at least not as far as I know) but gives wisdom when we are facing trials.

I truly can’t remember which song it was by the group Beautiful Eulogy, but the lyrics referred to a verse from the New Testament. “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.” James 2:1-2 The verses talk about the character that is produced in us when we lean on God for wisdom in the mountains we face.

I had been feverishly working on lesson plans, anxiously running on the hamster wheel trying to get my assessments done, but I realized I hadn’t been giving my trials to God. There was something of a surrender that happened as I ran. I confessed my hopeless feelings. I realized that getting through the mountain somehow meant reconfiguring this task. Instead of seeing it as the bane of my existence, I felt directed to see it as something God could use to form my character.

It kind of felt like I was sobering up. Few would argue that I had a case in my complaints against “The System”, but it wasn’t helping me address my task. More important, it was only serving to keep me steeped in anger and frustration. I remembered back a few years ago when our community studied a tiny classic from the 1700‘s, still in print today by Jeremiah Burroughs called “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”. It’s one of those books I could read over and over for the rest of my life. The whole book comes from one verse which is much like the verse from James: “I have learned, in whatever state I am in, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11) Burroughs says our afflictions can become something

Jeremiah Burroughs (1600-1646) was a well known preacher in his day

that draws us closer to God as we trust that God is with us in all circumstances, not just the good times. He writes that our attitude can become inward and quiet as we “melt our will into God’s will.”

He writes about “murmuring” against God, and that when we murmur and complain at what life gives us, we undo our prayers. Instead of living in trust that God knows us and will provide for us, it makes our souls restless and discontent. It’s like living with the glass half empty, focusing on what life should be but isn’t. Busted! That was me.

This morning as I’m writing this blog, I’ve googled this wonderful little book and even reading over the chapter headings is a great review of the book (those writers from long ago were prolific writers). Chapter headings read as more Words from God: “There must be grace to make the soul steady”; “Do not grasp too much of the world”; “Exercise much faith”. Another chapter heading seemed to diagnose exactly where I’d been going wrong: “Do not pore too much on afflictions”. It was exactly what I’d been doing, and it was making me miserable.

There was a turn of heart in the rest of my week. My burden seemed to feel a lot less, even though the task was still ahead of me. Instead of looking at my trials, it was like I surrendered to the Mystery that is God, who I know from experience works healing into whatever we are going through. I began having more hopeful (and maybe even more mature) thoughts about Math, thinking that maybe in the big picture, this “new” way of doing math could help me make a shift in my teaching.

At our Wednesday night study, my friend Cal said “Hang on to hope Lydia!” as I was leaving. We had been kind of joking around, but his words stuck with me. He didn’t know the struggle that had gone on, but he was confirming what Burroughs had said.

It’s an upside down way of living, this way that Christ shows us. The world would not encourage us to consider trials “pure joy”, or to be content in every circumstance. In the world’s way of thinking, this is nonsense and actually impossible, but I remembered this week that with God, anything is possible. Like a thread of hope, this Word from God wove its way through the rest of my week. I want to hang on to this hope and am grateful for the nudge God gave me.

“To be content as a result of some external thing is like warming a man’s clothes by the fire.  But to be content through an inward disposition of the soul is like the warmth that a man’s clothes have from the natural heat of his body.”

~ Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

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