Opportunities for Joy

Nov 25, 2008 |Brenna Kate Simonds

When crying babies come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

I was shoving my breakfast into my mouth as quickly as possible. My very fussy newborn son, colicky and cranky, was becoming increasingly discontent in his bouncy seat. With my free hand, I grabbed my Recovery Bible to read a quick verse as his squirms and moans escalated. I decided James was as good a place as any to read, and came across these verses in the first chapter:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

At that point, two minutes into my not-so-quiet time, my son began screaming at the top of his lungs. I took that as his saying that he'd been disregarded long enough and wanted to be picked up. I looked down at my half-eaten breakfast, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Great joy. What an appropriate passage for the current state of my life.

My son, then still a newborn, was high-need from the beginning. Anyone who has a high-need child knows exactly what I'm talking about. It's nearly impossible to accurately describe the "high-need" child unless you have one yourself or have experienced one at length. I'll give you a glimpse into what this looked like in our case.

He was never one of those babies that you could put down easily for a nap or a diaper change, or so you could try and get something done ... well, for any reason. In fact, he generally screamed at the very instant you attempted to lower him into a horizontal position.

Then, at 2 weeks old, he started screaming for no reason we could find. And he wouldn't stop. We eventually learned that he not only had a bad case of colic, but he also had acid reflux that required medication, and he was sensitive to many of the foods I was eating and consequently feeding him. So I went through the long and tedious process of eliminating all potentially irritating foods from my diet. We eventually figured out that dairy, soy, corn, wheat, nuts and most seeds all sent his system into screams of pain.

He was also a horrible sleeper. We tried every trick in the book to get him to sleep better: We tilted his mattress so the acid reflux wouldn't bother him as much. We swaddled him. We rocked him, we played music for him; we put the fan on while he was sleeping for background noise. We tried bedtime routines, reading books, everything short of letting him scream for hours.

I prayed and prayed that God would make him sleep better. I asked friends and family to pray with me. I read sleep books and scoured the Internet for any ideas on how to improve this situation, implementing all sorts of ideas that I thought might help, but my son refused to be wooed to sleep by any of these expert methods.

I eventually realized I should probably be praying that God would give me strength to deal with whatever my son needed. I didn't want to pray that! And the epistle of James was of no comfort. Being sleep-deprived and malnourished, I wasn't particularly interested in hearing about how this trial was producing endurance and perseverance in me, especially after nine months of it.

What made it worse was that in public, he was often a happy go-lucky baby. At church, everyone would exclaim, "What a good baby! What a happy baby!" I wanted to respond, "Well, you should come over to our house later this afternoon and stay for about eight hours." Though I held my tongue, in my heart I wanted everyone else to know how much I was suffering. I also grew bitter and resentful at those around me whom I felt weren't helping me as much as I deserved.

Maybe I expect my faith to come easily. Maybe I've bought into the lie that if I'm living for God, everything will be peaches and roses and happiness. And my friends can be like Job's friends: quick to criticize, assign blame and point the finger, but slow to offer help and encouragement.

There are definitely some things I'd do differently if I had to go through this again. I'd ask for more help. I'd reach out more. I'd read stories in the Bible that demonstrated God's faithfulness, as well as look back on my own life and remind myself of the times God has shown Himself true and strong in my life thus far. I'd pray more "Your will be done" prayers, rather than always just asking for God to change my circumstances.

As I write this, my son has recently turned 1 and still doesn't sleep through the night. In fact, it's a good night if he only wakes up once or twice. And I'm actually totally OK with that. When people ask me if he's sleeping through the night and I say no, they look at me as if I have three heads.

But coming from where I've been, one to two wakings a night is like a walk in the park. He now regularly takes his naps in a bed rather than on my lap or in a moving stroller. His temperament is a thousand times better, and I can tell he's getting enough sleep. He's now pretty easy-going at home and in public, and everyone still comments on how happy and well-behaved he is.

And I'm different. Sure, I still get frustrated. I still wish he slept better and wish I could put milk in my coffee and peanut butter on my gluten-free bread, but my attitude has changed. My prayers have changed. I now pray that God will give me pockets of time to spend with Him. I pray that I would have time to pray. I pray while out walking with my dog and my sleeping son in the stroller. I read the Bible and pray on my knees during those times when he does go down for a nap.

And I have some joy. Not all the time, and I certainly wouldn't categorize it as "great joy," but it's there. I'm definitely learning to be content despite, and in the midst of, this trial.

Trials test our faith. My faith has certainly been tested during the past year, as well as a few times before that, and I'm sure it will be again. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I asked lots of the typical questions, like why God allow our faith to be tested, and how God want us to respond to trials.

These verses in 1 Peter 1:6-7 answer both questions:

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

You know what my favorite parts of that passage are? The parts where it says there is "wonderful joy ahead" and that our trials will last "for a little while." This trial will not last forever. I can honestly look back at the various trials I've been through — struggling with my weight, my sexuality, my health — and praise God that He allowed me to come through those things. My faith is stronger for it.

James writes later on in his letter, "God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." Awesome.

Amy Carmichael, a missionary who cared for orphans in India for 55 years, said it best when she wrote, "In acceptance lieth peace." I've found in my life that acceptance is everything. When trials come, I tend to go into fight mode. As Paul prayed for God to take his thorn away, I cry out over and over for God to take my trials away. God has responded to me the same way He responded to Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

So these days, while I still pray that God would do something supernatural in many of my circumstances, I also pray for the strength and patience to endure whatever He allows to come my way. I pray for joy, acceptance and contentment in everything I experience. I pray He would grow me to the point where I will truly consider my trials to be opportunities for joy.

Copyright 2008 Brenna Kate Simonds. All rights reserved.

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