Pure Joy

It has been a minute, or about 3 months, since I have written anything. God continues to put amazing new opportunities, people, and experiences in my life that have challenged, grown, and taught me. As each month passes, I take a retrospective look at the year… a sort of YTD report on life (I blame this analogy on my job working with data, charting things, and finding trends over time). As I sit and recollect the last 12 months, there is one data point that stands out to me — trials. James 1:2–4 tells us to “consider it pure joy” when we face trials because we learn perseverance. I’d be lying if I said pure joy was experienced shortly after events like a break up or losing close friends. But I’d also be lying if I said there wasn’t anything I needed to learn through those trials or that there was some growth that needed to happen. It was certainly not some epic waste of time. The pure joy comes from what I’m doing right here and what happened earlier this week. That pure joy is experiencing God’s love, grace, and forgiveness and in turn reflecting it back on the world around us. Pure joy can come from even the most painful experiences, either our own fault or the fault of others. Those trials can be redeemed by God as lessons that show us how to move forward and be better for it if we are in a place to receive it. I know that in my heart, if I am to live a life in the image of Christ, I have to learn to react to trials like him.

Earlier this year I burnt a bridge. A whole highway’s worth of bridges really (sorry E91 Life Group). I had created a toxic and dramatic environment with an ex-girlfriend, my small group, and the leader of said group. At the same time I began losing focus in work and felt abandoned on a difficult project I was assigned to. I attempted to stay the course, focus on my relationship with Christ, and work toward building up the community I was involved with, but emotions, impatience, assumptions, and spiritual immaturity got the better of me. I allowed anger and resentment to build up. I turned the people I once considered friends into villains. When I had finally convinced myself that nothing good would come from it, I walked away and I cut all ties — a full on slash and burn. No more small group, no more job in Fishers, no more Broad Ripple apartment, no more north side. I convinced myself I could escape it all and “start fresh”.

And as time went on that proved to be partially true. There were plenty of fresh starts. God brought new opportunities and new people into my life. A new apartment, new job, new church, and even a new small group. New, new, new!!! But right in the middle of all of this “new car smell” goodness sat me. With some old car stank wafting along despite how grateful I was for all of the new.

See, I hadn’t learned or even acknowledged the lesson God had set before me with those trials. I tried to hide from them and pave over it all. I tried to pave over anger and resentment. My half-hearted attempts at forgiving myself and others were not going to cut it. Just like a poorly re-paved street, cracks started to form and the ugliness beneath it all re-emerged with a few deep potholes. I knew my brokenness was still there when the leader of the group reached out to me months after I had gone silent. I lashed out with anger and sent a vitriol laced text and ended any future dialogue. In the days and weeks that followed that text, I wrestled with what it meant to truly show grace and forgive. I prayed for understanding. I prayed for peace and the ability to forgive and love those who had wronged me (intentionally or unintentionally). And as always, God answered.

Earlier in the week I started my day off like any other day at the office. While I was listening to my music I followed a recommendation (and branched out of my standard genre of music that sounds like robots fighting) to listen to a new album I’d never heard from Ben Rector. I hit the shuffle button on the album and first I heard the track “More Like Love”, which was part one of a one-two punch, message from God. This song made me think about all of things I prioritized and it has a verse that particularly struck me, followed by the refrain;

“I find the farther that I climb
There’s always another line
Of mountain tops
It’s never going to stop
And the more of anything I do
The thing that always ends up true
Is getting what I want
Will never be enough

So I just wanna look more like love
I just wanna look more like love
This whole world is spinning crazy
I can’t quite keep up
It’s the one thing around here
That we don’t have quite enough of
So I just wanna look a little more
Like love”

The next track that came on was “Like The World Is Going to End”. Punch two, lights out… or lights on depending on how you look at it. The message to this song is mostly self-explanatory — live like the world is going to end. What would you suddenly find important as well as suddenly find worthless? One line from the song goes, “Callin’ everbody I’d ever hurt and reconcilin”. Did it need to be anymore clear? I fought back tears sitting at my desk when I finished listening to these two songs.

Hebrews 12:1 says “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. My sin was my Anger and it was certainly hindering me. I couldn’t make sense of claiming to be a follower of Christ while I clung to this darkness. I knew Christ certainly wouldn’t. And there was that word again, perseverance. Defined as “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”. I knew all along that it would be easier to try to hide from my pain and problems, but that wasn’t perseverance at all and it achieved nothing. And so with the encouragement I found in those song lyrics along with what I can only describe as God’s presence, I decided to reach out to the old group leader with grace, an apology, and an offer to meet up and talk. I experienced joy. Pure joy. His response was one of grace, excitement, and kindness. Exactly what Jesus would have done and exactly what I know God needed me to see and understand.