Letting Life Drain Away
Text: James 1: 2-4
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Oh, Boy! I just can’t wait for something bad to happen so I can count it as all joy! My life is just a little too good right now, I wish some trials would come along…I’m just not yet complete. I sure miss the good old days when everything was so much more of a struggle……
Is this scripture nuts? What are we to think about this kind of advice? How can this be helpful? When someone’s life has just been turned upside down – this isn’t going to bring any comfort, this isn’t going to help; this isn’t what they want to hear. I know if it were me that was in the middle of some catastrophe it isn’t what I would want to hear. As I write these words, hurricane Michael is taking aim at the coasts of Florida and Alabama and I’m pretty certain those who suffer as a result of this latest storm would not want to hear about counting it all as joy.
So what are we to make of this? I’ve heard many interpretations on scriptures like this one – and this isn’t the only one for sure – and I think the most tragic result of these interpretations is the belief that God actually sends calamity for testing and to make us complete. Maybe in some weird way, people take comfort in the idea that God has caused the trouble, and it is not the result of the randomness of the universe, poor choices or just plain old bad luck. Having God send the calamity absolves us from any responsibility. I have also heard it stated that God will not give us any more than we can handle. I remember after hurricane Katrina devastated parts of New Orleans that Pat Robertson stated that God had done this because New Orleans was such a sinful city.
I don’t believe God sends calamity.
I don’t believe God ever gives us something to handle.
But I do believe this scripture.
Now that may surprise some of you….particularly because I’ve just ranted about it for a few minutes, so let me explain. I said I believe the scripture…in other words I believe there is truth to be found in what is written there. It can easily be misinterpreted and it can easily be abused and it can be over-emphasized. But there is still truth to be found.
A number of years ago we spent about 10 days in New England, taking in the fall color and enjoying the spectacular scenery in that part of the country. We spent most of our time in New Hampshire, but we did manage a brief side trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, near Bar Harbor – or Bah Habah – whichever you prefer. Acadia is a special place – one of my favorites – I love the diversity that is found there.
If you visit Acadia, one of the places you will see is a spot along the coast that they call “Thunder Hole”. The pictures don’t really do it justice, and it is hard to capture the entire scene in a photograph, so I will need to tell you about it. The Maine coast in this area is very rocky and there is a break in the rock right at this spot. Think of it like a miniature canyon; the sides of the canyon are probably 15 or 20 feet high and it runs a length of 75 to 100 feet. At the end of the canyon is rock that has been rounded and carved out by the breaking surf. When a wave comes in, the water moves along this canyon and then smashes into the rounded out hole at the end. When that collision takes place, there is quite a satisfying “thwump” and thus the name Thunder Hole.
We visited Thunder Hole two times while we were in Acadia – we didn’t really plan it that way, but that is how it worked out. The first time we were there the sea was fairly calm and it was low tide. Thunder Hole performed pretty well, but we thought that high tide might be more spectacular. When we returned the second time, the tide was much higher – but Thunder Hole was not as good. I found that to be an interesting thing.
As I thought about it, I realized that in order to get a really great sound and a good splash, the canyon that I described needs to be almost empty. If you can get the timing to be just right, so the space in between the swells allows time for the canyon to drain, then the next swell comes in unimpeded. Therefore it comes in a little faster and hits the hole with some energy still left in the wave. During the high tide, the canyon was always full of water and the incoming swell had to work its way through all that water before crashing into the hole, and it wasn’t as spectacular. Low tide was much better.
I think we experience tides in life as well. We have times of high tide and we have times of low tide. The scripture I read a few minutes ago was talking about those times of low tide, those times of trial. But life is a little like Thunder Hole; there are ways in which life is better at low tide.
Calamity has a way of focusing our energies into the few things in our lives that are most important. If you talk to someone who has had a scare with a loved one, maybe a heart attack or a stroke or a car accident, for example, they will tell you that the rest of the world just stopped, nothing else mattered at that moment. They may have had a very busy day planned, but all those appointments and all those busy tasks that had to be accomplished, just drained away. They drained away, just like the canyon at Thunder Hole had to drain – allowing the wave to come in unimpeded – sometimes our lives need to drain away, so we can see what is truly important. Calamity and trials do that for us. They help us drain away all the clutter, so we can see what really matters and in that experience we become richer and more complete.
Last week I spent some time talking about meditation and how the practice of meditation can help our minds begin to let go of some of the debris that is stuck in there. I talked about how meditation can at times allow us to move to a new level of spirituality and a new level of focus and a new level of relationship with God. In many ways, calamity can perform the same function. It can move us to a new level and a greater understanding of the things we should be focused on.
I’m not sure that I would go so far as to claim that all calamity should be counted as joy, but from a certain perspective, there is always something to be thankful for. As the old saying goes, there is a silver lining in every dark cloud. This is the truth that I believe lies in this scripture; that in spite of our times of trial, in spite of our times of low tide, we can still be thankful and we can still learn new ideas and new perspectives.
Low tide comes for all of us at one time or the other. But knowing that in some ways, life is better at low tide may help us through those struggles. Remember Thunder Hole when the low tide comes.
And that is food for thought. Go in peace and go with God.