The last conversation I had with my mother before she died was about picking blackberries that grew wild in the fields out behind our farmhouse. We talked about picking them by the bucketful. We talked about those delicious cobblers she would make with heaping cups of sugar. We also talked about all the scratches our arms would have to endure to retrieve each plump and juicy berry after reaching into the thorny brambles, deep under the vines where the biggest and best could be found.

For some reason, that conversation about blackberries has become a kind of metaphor for me for the realities of life. After all, the best blackberries rarely come thorn-free (am I right?) just as a spiritually fruitful life rarely exists without the presence of thorn-filled circumstances—pain, heartbreak, difficulty, even death. We have to learn as Christians to “count it all joy,” knowing that joy is not the absence of sorrow but the activation of faith and hope in the midst of sorrow. Of course, with heaping cups of soul-soothing grace mixed in as well.

James 1:2-3 says: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (ESV).

And steadfastness is our goal. We want patient resolve and honest acceptance that God rights every wrong and makes “all things new” in His time (Rev 21:5). I wish I could undo my mother’s death and have a thousand conversations with her about all kinds of things, but right now, I deliberately choose joy and gratitude for our final blackberry picking conversation. And I “count it all joy” that I had her for all my childhood years (many don’t have that luxury).

What challenging circumstance is God asking you to count as joy today? It’s okay if you’re not quite there yet. You will be. God will take your hand through the valley and lead you into fields of joy in due season. Just keep holding tightly to Him.

*Originally published by The Joyful Life Magazine.