Monday, December 3, 2012

Privilege & Guilt: to renounce or embrace?

I am now a part of the unemployed - strange. I belonged to this label a year ago but felt depressed by it’s crushing reality. Today I feel liberated and excited about what is to come. I have come to recognize and confess that this is the luxury of being married and living a lifestyle that can survive on one income. It is a luxury to be able to walk away from a job & a luxury knowing that we will still be able to meet all of our needs while I am not working. Before I quit my job, I felt guilty about the prospect of such a luxury. This idea of “luxury” and the fact that I did not want to abuse it kept me at a job that I had grown to despise. In my stubbornness I stayed, as well as out of financial necessity. I felt guilty for not being as grateful for my seemingly purposeless job that many others in this state really, really need and desire. So I stayed. I had what felt like a huge student loan payment (exceeding the amount of most of our bills) to make every month and I did want to pay that, even if it meant sacrificing my desire to be working somewhere else, wherever that may be. So I stayed. I struggled through these mixed emotions of guilt, responsible living, necessity, longing and discontentment for what felt like a much longer period of time than it actually was. Despite all of my internal warring with myself, I knew that the day I got to walk away from the job I had no desire to move forward in, it would be a luxury.

If I were a part of a different socio-economic class or I was not a native born citizen of the United States, it is safe to say that I probably would not have such a luxury. Would I even ask myself the same questions? What do I really want to do? Why can’t I find a job I love? Are such questions a product of my privilege or a product of the heart I was created with - one that can’t be still, one that craves to know the why, one that isn’t satisfied with accepting the answers she’s always been fed and one that desperately (oh, so desperately!) wants to please the Lord in every crevice of her life. Although the latter sounds more noble and holds much truth, I believe that the answer is both. My privilege and my heart make up who I am, so it really only makes sense that both would cause me to ask such questions.  

This is not a new struggle for me. Life has often lost it’s luster amid the ocean of self-condemnation that has drowned my joy and gratitude. The waves swallowing up the blessings, battering me to believe that I was not only unworthy of such things, but that I was living in selfishness if I enjoyed them too much. I am not quite sure how I had come to employ this rationale, but I know when and why they began to take root in this sensitive heart of mine. My first interactions with extreme poverty opened my eyes to what I truly had and bore my guilt in return. Once I saw it, I started recognizing it everywhere, even here in the U.S. At the age of 21, of course convinced that I knew much more than I really did, I confessed this to a wise, trusted friend as I explained feeling guilty for taking an overseas trip that wasn’t specifically for mission. He immediately responded and in love said to me, “Don’t do that to yourself, Lindsey. You will become bitter and miss the joy God intends for you to find in life.” (Not to mention we had a discussion about what qualifies something as a “mission trip” - certainly not the agenda nor the destination, but the intent. Which hopefully is always the same no matter where we go!) What he said did not alleviate the guilt I still carried, but it did propel me to consider what the appropriate way to deal with the tense relationship between the blessings in my life and the guilt I felt for having them. 

So for the last five years I have pondered such things, praying that God would help me not to waste the blessings I have been given. I believe that if we want to be humble people who do not take our provisions for granted, then we are going to have to admit that we’re privileged in comparison to the rest of the world. I have driven myself nearly insane asking the why - Why God was I born in the U.S.? Why wasn’t I born into a tent city or a dump? Why me? Maybe the answers will someday be revealed, but until then I must renounce the guilt and allow my empathetic feelings to encourage me to use my privileges for the sake of blessing others. Is this not what the Bible asks of us? Israel was blessed to be a blessing and a light for the nations. Is this not the example Christ showed us? Jesus did not keep His glory for Himself but extended His power to heal - in the moments He encountered brokenness during His time on earth and as He died on the cross, offering healing to all humankind for eternity. 

That day of luxury, it arrived. I got to leave my job as a result of financial provision. I am now freed up to pursue what I really want to do. I am confident that I am not wasting this luxury as I accepted an unpaid internship with an organization that is fighting human trafficking! God lifted the burden of my impending guilt by providing this opportunity and my gratitude spills over daily as I am loving my new job. To be able to live the life I know He has asked me to live,  I cannot allow my feelings of guilt to keep from doing something - I wrote a former post about Empathy and how it can propel or cripple us. I know that the only way to continue to live and grow in faithfulness is to admit to being privileged, renounce the guilt I carry for being so, and embrace the blessings for the sake of something more - knowing that it matters not what I have been given but what I will do with the blessings. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sacrifice & Fullness of Joy

I have long elevated the sacrifice of missionaries and I have long wanted to be one. I actually wanted the dirty, the poor and the harder way. I have tasted it in small sums and my heart overflowed with the emotion of feeling like “This! This is what we were created for. This is was I was created for!” I do not doubt this truth yet God is opening my eyes to the different ways He asks different hearts to sacrifice. In an attempt to make God’s will more easily understood, I have long reduced God’s will for my own life to His collective will for His people - to make disciples of all nations. To share the love of Christ with those who have not yet heard His name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - the only hope for salvation. This call IS God’s will for me and I am confident of that. But my finite mind has pictured it so small - in a single package, in a certain life that if not carried out precisely as I’ve imagined it so (or others have projected), I’d somehow be missing God’s will and living in disobedience. My heart longs to live in a foreign land, away from the America I often disdain, with beautiful people who live and love despite poverty unimagined in the Western world - this picture is where I long to thrive. 

I thought that this picture would be my sacrifice - sacrifice of home, family, country, native language and native worldview. True, these things would be still my sacrifice but in my heart, they would be my JOY. These days I have come to recognize the illuminating truth that my life here and now, this is my sacrifice.  Why? Because everything inside of me cries, “Father, if there is another way, let it be. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” I have questioned over and over that if my desire is to go preach the gospel on a foreign mission field, then why am I stuck here? Isn’t that a worthy desire, Lord? A longing YOU placed in my bones? 

As I had no idea how to confront or answer these questions, I found myself wanting to reject this life that the hand of God has built for me. Yes, my choices led me here, but He paved for the way and I have had to repent as I have forgotten these truths in my darkest of days - failing to be grateful. In this life, our life, we have recently received confirmation after confirmation that we are where God wants us. This is a big pill for my stubborn heart to swallow because I have not wanted it...I have not wanted it in comparison to life I think I want, which has always been the life I thought God wanted for me too.  Full time ministry in the church, the Western church, has been more difficult and painful than I could have ever imagined, as I’ve described some in my last post: Revelations & Words of Honey . This reality - the sincere and harsh disappointment that ministry was worse than I expected - only made the staying all the more difficult. I thought this was the easy the route. I thought that God was preparing us for something harder and even “greater” still - this was where He was easing us into full time service for Him - among believers in our own culture, where it is “easy.” 

Going to the field would not be my sacrifice as it would be for others...maybe as it even would be for my for now, staying is my sacrifice. Accepting this life with gratitude and trusting is my sacrifice. Continuing to hope and look for daily opportunities to engage in the mission of God in my current context, this is my sacrifice. Allowing God to dismantle and transform my perspective regarding what it means to carry out His mission, yes, this is my sacrifice. Then, as it all collides, these sacrifices in the life I live today do become joy! They become my joy as the Spirit whispers a gentle reminder: 

“You make known to me the path of life; 
in your presence there is fullness of joy; 
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” 
Psalm 16:11 

No matter where I live, at times more sacrificially than others, I live in the presence of God where there is fullness of joy. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Revelations & Words of Honey

I want to speak my mind. I want to share my heart with you, not just my opinion. For those of us who feel deeply connected to what we believe, let us share. Even if we disagree with one another, can’t we have peaceful dialogue? I’m learning to be a better listener, will you join me? I have felt stifled for too long - something I never thought this strong soul would succumb to, but I did. I have cried thousands of silent tears as you have hurt me beyond what I feel free to share with you - how can that be? And would you be so hurtful if you knew it stung the way it does? The beauty of the earth faded a bit as I shrank back from being who I am. I had lost faith in the shreds of goodness in humanity, in everyone’s Imago Dei. Then in a sudden dark twist, my pain and rejection and playing-the-victim role becomes sin for this beaten down heart. Lord, I do not want to doubt that they are Your image bearers, but I cannot see You in them. Am I blinded by their sin? Or am I blinded by my own hurt that now categorized certain people beyond grace? Dear sister or brother, I really do not want to categorize you this way. I want to see you through the eyes of our shared Savior. Can you resolve to try to see me the same way? 

Gracious words are like honeycomb, 
sweetness to the soul and healthy to the body. 
Proverbs 16:24 

About two months ago, the hits were coming hard - daily. Maybe the encouragement and the unfair, short sighted judgement were truly in balance, yet the latter always seems to eclipse the former when one is on the receiving end of both. Ever since my husband and I entered into full time ministry, I have been trying and failing miserably at not taking such judgements personally. As I’ve struggled not to do so, I have undergone some serious self examination. Why am I so hurt by these opinions? Am I really that insecure? Does the praise or criticism of others really determine what I do or how I feel? After seeking advice from older pastors and committed followers of Jesus we greatly respect, none of my above questions were at the root of my deep-seated hurt. What it really comes down to is kindness, grace, understanding, humility and true Christian community - none of which I felt the recipient of as people lodged blunt complaints and positions at us. It was in how such criticisms were delivered. I strive to have an open heart and open ears to hear and consider all suggestions as we seek to work together in the body, yet I found this to be extremely painful when the “suggestions” came with personal attacks and one sided arguments, void of actually wanting an answer. My heart longed for the honeycomb, which I believe can be present even amidst a disagreement. I refused to believe that my own brothers and sisters in Christ could hurt me just as much as the rest of humanity, if not more. This naivety of mine led to my pain, my disappointment and ultimately my doubting of whether or not this is actually my calling. It was when this utter disappointment of what I thought ministry would be like met the harsh reality that I hit my funk. Why are we doing this? Surely, this is not what God intends for us - is it? I don’t know if I’m cut out for this...

As I continued a cycle of hurt, frustration, confession, tearful prayers and recommitment-to-ministry-no-matter-what, I searched deeper and deeper. During the summer I had gone through a study of the book of James which teaches on wisdom and righteous living, with so much similarity to the teachings & words of Jesus found in the gospels. I recalled one of the challenges from the study - to stop asking God what would you have me do, but who would you have me be? While obsessing over why God was allowing us to walk through this dark time or a bigger question yet, why is ministry so devastatingly disappointing, I had forgotten to ask my Father what do you want me to learn? How are you wanting to transform me? 

When I shifted my focus, I had a revelation. Rather, the Spirit prompted a revelation. Right now, for me, sharing in the sufferings of Christ is to understand His rejection. He was rejected by His own beloved creation - those He came to serve. In the recent past, I have felt rejected by those that I serve. Those that seem to forget I have a love for them, those that forget I too am trying to follow Jesus the best I know how, those that forget that I am a normal person, with a sensitive heart in fact! Our Savior continued in His mission despite rejection - it may have grieved His heart, but it did not sway His commitment. He sought them. He rebuked them. They ran from truth and plotted against Him. I cannot say that my commitment to those I serve has been as unwavering as Jesus’ - but I wish it to be so. Not for them, but first for Him. Yet for them, also. And so, I serve on with my heart accepting rejection from time to time, drawing strength from the example of my Savior. 

And now I ask of you dear sister or brother, can we speak words that drip with honey to one another? If we misunderstand one another, can we start with questions and not accusations? Can we not find unity in the Holy Spirit, even if we cannot find unity between our opinions? I believe we can and as I try, I will assume the best of you - that you are trying too.