“My mom won’t let me.”
How many times did we say those words as near-sighted teenagers? Whether it was a curfew extension, getting a new pair of shoes, or taking a weekend trip with friends. Back in the days of living-with-our-parents, everything looked different. For most of us, boundaries were established, allowance was set, and curfew was virtually immovable. Almost every decision, be it going to lunch after church or spending the night at a friend’s house, was under the scrutiny of our parent’s judgment.
And we hated it.
I can well remember whining time and again, usually in a huff, to my best friend. “UGH. I want to, but my mom won’t let me… She doesn’t even have a good reason! I know; she’s the worst.” (Oh, to be young and disrespectful.)
I even heard these words in college: “I would love to go on an international mission trip, but my dad would never let me.” And even though college students are more than capable of making their own decisions, this still held weight, and dads not letting meant some students didn’t go.
“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.”
This familiar passage has recently wrecked me. It’s that little word I noticed for possibly the first time, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s an imperative that carries authority and responsibility, and I’ve read right past it for the last ten years.
James was the book I thought I knew. The one I had under control. The one from which I had probably already learned everything I was going to learn.
Until last week.
I barely made it through the first three verses when the word LET jumped off the page…
Because the command to let implies that you could also not let.
You could go through trials, your faith could be tested, you could even choose joy along the way – but you could still not let steadfastness have its full effect in you.
I knew that joy was mine for the taking. I knew I could choose to celebrate hard times and grow from them. And I knew I could resist, I could grow in bitterness, and I could fight my way through every tough experience.
But I always thought that the perseverance, the steadfastness, the patience would happen either way. Whether I chose bitterness or joy, perseverance would be developed, and it would make me “perfect and complete.” Whether I celebrated or wept my way through the valleys, I would come out on the other side “lacking in nothing.”
But this idea of letting is changing my perspective entirely.
A parent exercises the letting because they have authority to make decisions for their children, but more so because they have the responsibility. My fourteen-year-old self would have had a sleepover every night, I never would have studied, and I would have played games and giggled with my friends for hours upon hours. My parents knew they needed to exercise the authority to not let me, and they had a responsibility to make the hard decisions that I wasn’t mature enough to make.
But the stakes are higher now.
It’s not just your weekend plans; it’s your sanctification. It’s being formed into the likeness of our King. It’s being better tomorrow than we were today. It’s choosing the hard path, because we know “easy” isn’t going to make us any more like Jesus. You certainly have the authority to not let steadfastness have its full effect. You have the authority to fight change, avoid growth, and barely survive the trials that you can’t avoid.
But on the flip side, and with ever-increasing significance, you have the responsibility to let it.
I woke up this morning not wanting to choose joy and not wanting to let steadfastness have any effect, let alone a full one. I wanted to sit on my couch and binge watch The Office. I wanted to turn off my phone, lock my door, and eat every last drop of the Blue Bell Rocky Road ice cream sitting in my freezer.
But even in the midst of hard weeks and harder days, we can choose growth. Won’t you? Won’t you take a deep breath, step back, and reevaluate your entire perspective of joy, suffering, and these little, inescapable “trials”?
Will you decide to decide that steadfastness is worth it? Will you choose joy and growth? Maybe it’s a decision you’ll have to make every single morning for a season.
For me, it’s a decision I have to make every single hour most days…
And even through the tears of trials and the struggle to find joy in them, I want to know when I’m in the thick of it that this testing is making me steadfast – immovable – and that I’m choosing to let that steadfastness make me whole. I’m choosing to let it, even when it hurts. I’m choosing to fight through “the testing of my faith” valiantly, acknowledging that I have the authority to grow and the responsibility to let it.