When we go through trials and tribulations, it's easy to think that we are on some sort of divergent course from "normal." Why, this isn't normal, we tell ourselves. I was living a normal life, and then this trial slammed down on me! Sometimes it's a sick loved one who needs care. Sometimes it's a needy friend, who hangs onto us, who unloads all of their problems onto us. Sometimes it's pain and suffering ourselves, our physical bodies being in disrepair.
What do we think about this, when we look at this passage:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-3)
This is not a "suck it up" gospel. This is not a "get over it and deal with it" gospel. Sometimes you'll hear Christians telling you to do that very thing. You will hear Christians saying "suck it up" and "get over it." But this passage is a word of encouragement to us. It is not saying "suck it up." It is saying, "this is what God is doing in your life." This is reality. This is normal. What path you were on before is NOT normal. Normal is NOT 500 channels. Normal is not the Xbox. Normal is not flyfishing. Normal is not leisure. God rested on the seventh day, but he didn't play Xbox on the seventh day. Rest is different from leisure. He didn't kick back and watch the Discovery Channel. That is not rest; that is leisure, which is different from rest.
Suffering is normal for the Christian. It is a sanctification process. Let's look at 2 Corinthians 11. Here Paul is describing the suffering that he is going through:
[I've been] in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11: 23b-28)
Is Paul worth less than we are? Is Paul under God's wrath? There's this new thing--it's not really a new thing--it's a wicked, false gospel that has been spread for ages--it's called the prosperity gospel, and it's running rampant in all the churches now. What the prosperity gospel says is that if you are not prosperous, you're doing it wrong. If you are suffering, you are doing it wrong; you have no faith; God has not blessed you. You should be wealthy; you should be healthy; and you should have a good relationship with God. You should not have any doubts, you should not have any suffering, if you are truly a child of God, if you are truly faithful. This is a lie! All throughout, Scripture says that suffering is normal. In fact, suffering is preferred, because we know that it is God's process of sanctifying us, of making us more a child of God.
This is God's work: the testing of our faith that produces endurance, and that endurance is going to have a perfecting effect on us. Perfection is happening, which will be fully realized at the moment of physical body death. Our life agent continues on, and it's perfected. This is normal. Paul was being perfected with all that punishment. He wasn't under the wrath of God; he was under the sanctification of God. So don't let anyone tell you that this is not normal, that as soon as this is over, you can get back on with your NORMAL life. You don't WANT to get back on with your normal life. This is how you know you are a child of God.
Caregiving is the exercising of the second great commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. This is hard work, but it is true work; it is godly work. When God placed Adam in the garden, he set him to work immediately. This is BEFORE the fall. We think of the fall as being a punishment, and that work and toil and labor is a result of the fall. What God says in the curse on Adam is that his work is going to be tough. The earth is not going to yield up it's harvest as easily as it did before. But work, labor is part of normal life. It's when we think that it is not better, our flesh is rubbing against our souls, and we end up feeling the toil of the curse of life. We, too, have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we don't want to believe anymore that work is good. God worked six days out of the seven days. That is normal. God works. He gives you rest one day out of the seven. The work is not tough. The work brings pleasure. To work is not toil. There is work before the fall and work after the fall, but the work after becomes toil.
I want to talk about forgiveness. When you forgive someone, who is benefiting the most? Who is the one who benefits the most from forgiveness? We automatically assume it's the person who is forgiven, because obviously a great load has been removed from that person's shoulders. Thank goodness I have been forgiven! Now I am at peace! But in actuality, it is the person who forgives who benefits the more, because they have obtained a spirit of forgiveness. They are training their flesh to forgive. Their perfect soul that has been justified by God is teaching its body--it's captive body--to forgive.
Once we understand the spirit of forgiveness, once we have the spirit of forgiveness, we can then understand the God who forgives us. When we are able to forgive, we can then hear and understand why God has forgiven us our transgressions, our wickednesses, which we commit daily. God forgives us. Likewise, when you care for another individual, who is the person benefiting? Obviously the person being cared for. You're keeping them healthy; you are comforting them. They obviously benefit, but guess what? All of us are destined for the dustbin. To dust we shall return. You can only stave off death of the physical body for so long.
The person who benefits the most from caregiving is the caregiver. Just like forgiveness, the caregiver is receiving a spirit of caregiving; and will understand what caregiving is; and will then better understand Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate caregiver, who came to earth and suffered for us and died for us and washed our feet and took care of us. Caregiving is God's sanctifying work in us.