Kindergarten is a magical time, a little sliver of near perfection. I still vividly remember the smells, the colors and the stories. To this day, every time I smell a whiff of fresh popcorn, I immediately see Mrs. Sullivan in my mind’s eye. My little sister called her Mrs. Sullivision, which is even more a reason to smile when I think of her sneaking her fresh popcorn while we “slept” on little plastic mats. I cannot hear the word angel without thinking of the glittery green angel who floated above our table suspended by clear fishing wire, indicating that we, indeed, belonged to the Green Angel as opposed to the rival tables who were under the guidance and looming protection of the Red and Blue Angels.
The best days in Kindergarten, with the possible exception of glorious field trip days, were the days you got picked to be line leader. It’s not that there weren’t still other children in the class, it was that you got to be the foremost, the director, the primary of that whole little grubby-fingered mob. First to cubbies, first to the circle for story time, first to the bus line. You were in charge, and it felt glorious.
This morning as I was studying the book of James and came upon some haunting and familiar verses:
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.
I tend to not enjoy verses that seem near impossible to me, which is why I have always read these verses with a cloud of guilt and failure hanging over my head. Because I don’t tend to consider it joy when I have a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. I don’t like inconveniences and curve balls and sickness and sudden bouts of creeping sadness. I naturally consider them unwelcome intruders, not welcome friends. How dare James write that? Was he not human? Clearly he never had bad days or never responded poorly to them.
As I dug into the very first word, consider, more deeply, God parted the clouds of guilt and cynicism. The Greek word there is hegeomai, which literally means “to lead.” James wasn’t saying that our only thought or response to hardships should be joy. He was human after all, which means he assumed there would be plenty of fear, confusion, self-pity and anger.
He was simply challenging us to choose joy as the line leader. He was, in a sense, telling us, “Let your leading thought, let your directing thought be the joy that will come from the conformation to Christ that comes from hardships.”
I think I misjudged you, James. You are a smart fella, telling us to lead our thoughts, not let our first thoughts or responses lead us. We get to choose which thoughts get put out front at the head of the thought train. And the most fitting line leader is most assuredly joy, for the joy we find when circumstances push us closer to Christ can put the other unruly thoughts in their proper places, the back of the line.