Only someone who processes life by writing will be able to fully appreciate how difficult blogging has become for me. Another week has passed; another rush of images, thoughts, frustrations, joys, stretching my faith muscles to their limit until I’m straining under the weight of it all. My last few blogs have been in-depth explanations of particular instances where I hear God speak to me. It’s been a good chunk of time since I’ve been able to hear Him so distinctly, so I tend to get pretty excitable with each intimate moment I share with Him and my writings run over with them.
Let me emphasize, emphatically, that this week Stephanie has been far less pretty than the gentle and contrite creature that sat in the lap of Jesus last week, enjoying rest and intimacy. It got messy this week. Stephanie grew fangs and has been more like a ravenous, irritable little girl, who’s gotten tired.
Tired of trying to adapt to a culture with expectations that I feel I constantly fall short of.
Tired of getting up at 5 am, after 5-6 hours of sleep.
Tired of the halting, awkward missed messages and texts at weird hours of the day from family and friends that I can never seem to keep up with like I want to.
Tired of people telling me how thin or and tired-looking I’ve gotten.
Tired of trying to find room in my already bloated cranium for more Swahili verbs, a better command of Scripture, a detailed understanding of the Qur’an and all the information I receive in each class each day.
Tired of picking distractions, even here and now in Gideonite training, rather than time with Jesus and getting even more frustrated with myself.
Tired, tired, tired.
Whine, whine, whine.
I’m not much of a trooper when I’m really stressed out, honestly. I’m about as tough and durable as a china doll under pressure, lacking all the grace and beauty of one.
I’m sharing this mostly because I wanted to identify my humanity for what it is: self-centered, entitled, insecure, grumpy, short-tempered, and prone to make molehills into mountains. It’s all in my heart and it’s being exposed under strain and pressure. While I’m so grateful to have to deal with it and learn to work past it, I’m horrified that I can’t seem to control my tongue and the frustration that registers on my face when I’m journaling all this out.
Jesus still doesn’t despise me. He knows me. He knows this. I’m on His lap still being held with all the ferocity and love, even though I’m kicking and flailing my limbs because I can’t have my way. Then there’s that pesky little passage that’s meant to be central to our Christian lives:
I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work…Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. (Galatians 2:19-20, MSG)
So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed to the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspectives. Your old life is dead. Your new life…..is with Christ in God. He is your life. (Colossians 3:1-4 MSG)
There goes my feeling of entitlement. Right out the window.
Do I identify myself to Christ so much so that I count these inconveniences or difficulties all as nothing? Have I left my attachments and concerns with my life, what happens to me, what I have? Do I love Jesus, as I ought to? Do I?
Honest answer: No.
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. It’s not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. ….All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. (Philippians 1:6-7MSG)
While I can’t pretend to be as doubtless as Paul is in this passage, I’ve got my mustard seed faith and thankfully, God deems that more than enough. John 21:15 – 17 recounts the time when Jesus asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?” each time followed by, “Feed my sheep.” I honestly never understood this passage. Why ask the same question when you already know the answer, Jesus?
The first two times, Jesus uses the word agape, which, any Christian liberal arts student can tell you by looking down at their forearm/wrist tattoo, means unconditional love. How could he say he loved Jesus without condition or limitation after literally denying that he knew Him just days prior? He knew he faltered, Jesus knew he faltered, but Jesus still asked. Peter refuses to give a straight answer both times, deflecting, refusing to use agape, using instead phileo, which basically means to feel affection for, to like as a friend.
16 Again He said to him the second time, Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father]? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I love You [that I have a deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend]. He said to him, Shepherd (tend) My sheep.
Then, Jesus asks again, but this time, it’s different.
17 He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend]? Peter was grieved (was saddened and hurt) that He should ask him the third time, Do you love Me? And he said to Him, Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [that I have a deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend]. Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep.
Jesus knew that Peter didn’t love him unconditionally. Peter knew it too. Jesus wanted Peter to understand that He understood. He knew Peter didn’t love Him as he should, but rather just really, really liked Him. He knew that Peter denied Him, and would falter in the future under pressure from Jewish legalism, yet He still commanded Peter to go minister to His people. He commissioned a fallen man, who He knew would fall again, who only really, really liked Him, to go out into the world and make disciples.
So, this is my life. Really, really liking and feeling affection for Jesus and it somehow being okay even though it’s not what He deserves. I guess our entire relationship is an eternal exchange of giving what the other doesn’t deserve. Friendly liking to burning love, otherworldly adoration to affection that’s in danger of faltering under pressure. Still the calling on my life remains, as it remains on yours. Take heart, guys. I certainly am.
We’ve been spending more time learning about Tanzania culture, (social norms, taboos, etc) and planning ministry opportunities. It’s all so foreign to me and mostly just statistics and facts from Tori with nothing attached to people or relationships yet. I think I know what it means to hear that 40% of all girls 16 and younger have been sexually assaulted by family members. It makes me burn with righteous anger and I even cry sometimes, but it’ll be so different when I have those precious girls in front of me, looking expectantly at me as I haltingly try to communicate in my limited Swahili. I think I know what it means when I hear that one months wages to support a family with 7 children is 50 US dollars, but when I see children with big eyes and thin arms reaching out to me, asking for food, it’ll be different.
I think I know, but I have no idea. Us decently intelligent, chronically apathetic twenty-somethings with college degrees think we know things because we’ve ventured past the opportunities and education that maybe our parents were offered, but what are we really? For all our philosophical and post-modern thoughts we stole from someone else about the church and the grace of God that we idolize as we hashtag the words ‘blessed’ on tweets with pictures of our bibles…what are we doing with ourselves?
Someone else smarter than me said that, “We are educated past our point of obedience.” This is the blessing and the curse of my generation that I have to fight tooth and nail in a society, in the church where pretty words and clever concepts are hailed as king while actions scrub the kitchen floor in nameless, faceless obscurity. I am so much the former, and so little the latter.
God help me actually learn what all these words mean: ‘a life poured out’ and ‘servant hood’ and ‘to make disciples of the nations’ and ‘setting the captives free’. They’re just words right now, flat as the pages that tell me about percentages and struggles in a land I’ve never been. Pray that they’ll leap off the page; that God will breathe onto them and they’ll grow sinews and flesh and be able to walk around and live out their essence in my life…because all this head knowledge is getting me nowhere.
Also, I’ll sincerely work on a lighthearted update at some point. This girl has too much time on her hands to think, but soon I guess I’ll be doing more than pondering.
Two weeks until Tanzania, and I’m nowhere near prepared.