Learning to count: kind of a ramble

I think of James’s admonition to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials,” (James 1:2), and I can become discouraged thinking, that just wouldn’t be me, and since it’s not me, perhaps I have no earnest expectation at all of glorious joy. I don’t count it joy when I have pain, or even when things that are Supposed to Work don’t work: like computers, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, a vanguard form of artificial intelligence that more often than not I find an artificial and rather poor representation of intelligence. I don’t count it much joy when I am too tired to enjoy anything; and honestly, most sources of my joy right now are external; and perhaps the greatest of these is six weeks old and learning how to smile.

But I realize that these are feelings, not realities, and as such are highly subject to torque. I am not counting as joy what I believe James intends to be counted as joy because I have not learned how to count correctly, at least, not consistently correctly. But then, what trials have I ever, ever endured that would begin to qualify as tests of sanctified patience? Corruptible software? I would have to be terribly self-deceived to think of transitory inconvenience as a trial. And yet, life is a trying thing. It’s designed to be.

I think of Paul instructing early Christians who had real trials, like martyrdom and persecution, when he wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). This helps me to understand how to begin to count correctly.

James and Paul are talking about real joy, not the stuff of Pollyanna’s Glad Game. Joy is a future state of which we catch occasional glimmers now, as in a dark mirror. We don’t need to delude ourselves that seemingly bad things are seemingly good things in order to rack up joy. Joy is racked up for us. Joy is not a feeling; joy is a fruit. I count it all joy that I don’t have to grin my way through life to be joyful.

I tend to equate usefulness with joy. I think of the Gospel writer Mark, who perhaps wasn’t very brave, if indeed he was the fleeing young man of Mark 14:51-52, and who perhaps wasn’t as reliable as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:38), but who ultimately received the accolade “useful” from his restored comrade Paul (2 Timothy 4:11). Certainly Mark would later count his earlier failures all joy, because he became useful to his Lord.

In learning to count, I suppose it is important to know what it is that is to be counted. The career of Saul, king of Israel, instructs us that brilliance and temporal victories may never culminate in joy at all. And Mark the evangelist, not mentioned for his brilliance or acumen or particular success in anything, persevered to become useful as a good and faithful servant, and enter into the joy of his Lord. And he probably never kept a tally; it was all counted for him, and all counted for joy.

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