I remember when Michael died thinking that I was stuck in a really bad movie. If I’d just wake up, then the nightmare would end. Or maybe this was all some horribly sick joke. Michael wasn’t really dead; he was just pretending. Any minute he would jump out and say, “Surprise!” I wasn’t sure how he had convinced so many people to go along with this hoax — hmmmm, who was in on this? I remember thinking I’d kill Michael for doing this to me – no I’d hug him, then I’d kill him for putting me through this nightmare.
Unfortunately, no one changed the channel of my life to a better movie. No matter how many nights I went to sleep, I awoke each morning to the same devastating nightmare. Psychologists call this phase of grief denial; for me it seemed like survival. I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with such intense heartache. The pain was so raw, it hurt physically.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the pain wouldn’t always feel quite so raw. You never “get over” losing someone you love, but you do learn to live with the pain. I remember the surprise I felt when I realized that I had felt joy again – even experienced laughter. Then I felt guilty. I felt like feeling joy somehow diminished my love for Michael. I now realize I didn’t love Michael any less because I was experiencing positive emotions. In fact, I was beginning to heal. Just as a physical wound scabs over, the wounds in my heart were beginning to form scabs. There would definitely be scars, but they wouldn’t always be so open and so fresh.
This morning I was reading in James, where he writes, “Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials, because they produce character and perseverance” (my paraphrase). While no trial is pleasant, it is possible to experience joy in the midst of the pain. Joy isn’t dependent on circumstances – it is a fruit of the Spirit that depends on God.
Today my trials are different, but the struggle is the same. I am tempted to be anxious and worry myself sick over things that are outside of my control. All the while God wants to build my character and develop perseverance in my life. I know the trials of life are not in vain and that is why I choose to find the joy in the trial. No, I’m not exactly happy about the hardship, but I consider it joy to suffer if it makes me more like Jesus.