“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Counting trials as joyful is no walk in the park. It’s no piece of cake to embrace trials even if you know you’ll be lacking in nothing when you do. Being thankful in all things is a command—because it doesn’t come naturally or easily.
However, it’s possible—and it’s right. Even as I experience my first Thanksgiving without Kim.
There’s a deep inescapable emptiness that comes from loss. It’s real. Again, my most significant lesson was that you must face loss. You should never sugarcoat it. Emptiness is real. There’s pain. There’s dread. There’s loneliness.
I’ll never forget a retreat Kim and I organized for a Sunday School class back in Mableton, Georgia early in our marriage. Every year, our class of young couples would plan a retreat. Kim and I were the class teachers, and one year we invited a Wycliffe Bible Translators missionary to speak. He took us deep into The Beatitudes.
His teaching stayed with us our whole marriage.
He translated “Blessed” as “Profoundly happy” for the purposes of his weekend sessions. His teaching carried the idea of the profundity of blessedness. Blessed is not simple, shallow happiness. It’s much deeper. It’s profound! As when peace passes understanding. Or comparable to grace that is sufficient or when mercies are new every morning. It’s downright miraculous. Even in the emptiness of loss you can be profoundly happy, joyful. Jesus said it best:
“And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” Matthew 5:2-12
To excerpt a portion, we might say, “Profoundly happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Or we might go on to read, “Profoundly happy are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” His use of profoundly happy was simply meant to help self-centered people realize simple ‘feel-good’ happiness was not the point. The kind of blessedness spoken of in The Beatitudes was much deeper. Again, it’s profound. We can experience emptiness brought on by loss and hold on to fullness of joy at the same time. “Rejoice and be glad,” Jesus says, “for your reward is great in heaven…” Matthew 5:12.
This Thanksgiving is empty, yet full. Joy fills loss when you mourn with hope. In the face of loss, it’s necessary to remember our reward is great when we get to heaven. Therefore, there is a fullness of joy in the emptiness of loss. I can be thankful.
“My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:2