Today we are introducing the writing topic for the month of April,
Beauty under Pressure.
This is one of the main concepts behind The Pearl Press; how God takes all of life's pressure, struggles, irritants, and actually uses them for our good. FOR OUR GOOD. That's right, He uses them to actually better us and to form us into the pearl He created and destined us to be. Here to kick us off is Tirza!
I don't understand suffering. I know it exists, but for years it has existed merely as an abstract thought in my head. What I've always known is that it's not fun, it's not pretty, it's not good. Reading James 1 was confusing for me, so I spent a lot of time avoiding the passage.
How would I count trials in my life as joy? How can I be "perfect and complete"? Granted, I have never actually experienced real suffering. I've needed money, I've been sick, I've been through my fair share of heartaches. Those were challenging times, but it never reached the point where I was hurting so badly that I would ask the Lord to take my life away. I was never face-to-face with extreme suffering until a few years ago. I didn't know what James 1 was talking about until God used my dad to teach me a very real lesson.
I was living in Seattle in 2013. At that point, I had been living there for seven years. I decided to move back to Jakarta, Indonesia that year because I heard news that my dad was having serious health issues. In April, a few days after my birthday, my dad suffered a heart attack. Things just deteriorated after that. His kidneys failed, and he had to come into the hospital twice a week to undergo dialysis. I'm an only child and a daddy's girl, and I decided to move back home. I arrived home on October 14, 2013.
The following year was probably one of the hardest seasons in my life. I saw my dad in great pain. It was hard for him to even move. He had lost his independence - he wasn't able to drive anymore. He walked with a cane. He walked very, very slowly. The person I saw upon arriving back home was certainly not the dad I had grown up adoring. He was tired and angry and desperate.
The most difficult thing for my dad was to keep serving the Lord. You see, my dad was a pastor, and at that time he had been in the ministry for thirty-three years. Even when he was sick, he continued to minister through his sickness. To be honest, my dad was livid. At himself and at God. He had spent thirty years preaching about the goodness of God, praying for miracles, seeing God answer prayers. In 2013, he was sick and desperate and wondering where that same God was. This truly broke my heart.
Suffering and trials and the lowest points of our lives uncover a sort of rawness in us. We are vulnerable and honest. Gloriously, brutally, honest with ourselves and with God. I observed that between my dad and His God. There was no more thoughts of superficial worries or the thought of images or popular opinions. It was just him and God. It's difficult to explain, but it was beautiful. No, not the pain. The pain was ugly and cruel. I'm talking about desperation and his reaching out to God and the grace of the Father.
I always thought that James was talking about a graduation from one level of faith to another, something like what you'd find in a video game. You complete level one and go on to level two. The student in me wants to understand it as a completion of an academic level. However, getting a front row seat to my dad's journey gave James one a drastically different tone. James, a leader in the church, was relaying a message to the Christians in his time. They had been through a lot - mainly, persecution. Some were reconsidering their decision to follow Jesus, others were losing hope in prison, or dying of illness. Most of them, though were in a place of desperation. What was a church leader to say? What can anyone say in these situations?
I realized that it wasn't about being happy or about relief from the pain. It's always about connecting with a gracious Father and being completely real with him. The steadfastness to endure the trials is a gift of grace, nothing we can conjure up on our own. It comes when we pray an honest prayer: "Father, if at all possible, please let this cup pass from me." Maybe we even feel like sweating blood. Sometimes, the pain doesn't go away. We simply endure it, with God's grace. Often, I get trapped into thinking that when the passage says "perfect and complete," that meant a miraculous removal of the trial and a message that congratulates us from passing this game level.
My dad passed away in October 2014. It was a peaceful and beautiful thing. He was in extreme pain and had difficulty breathing, but he started praying. And at the very end, he looked up with such peace, as if he was greeting a dear friend.
It seems to me that the perfect and complete goal mentioned by James is a real acknowledgement of our identity - and God's. It's the perfection of completion experienced by Job at the end of his story or the one experienced by Stephen when the sky opened up upon his stoning. God is God and we are the fragile human beings that we are, desperate and dependent on him.
Perfection and completeness finds us when we embrace our true identity and our dependence on God. True beauty beneath extreme pressure is possible when we look to Him, the Creator and Perfector and Finisher of our faith.