When we lived overseas, I had lots of time to pray.
Riding in the back of a tuk-tuk, my legs dangling and collecting the dust of India.
Rocking a Kenyan baby to sleep, her breathing grow deeper and slower.
Sitting through yet another church service in a language I couldn’t understand.
Then I came back to America .... and at first, praying was easy. It was a habit, a muscle that had grown strong. When you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from (or you’re still sick from the last meal) ... when you’re given 5 minutes’ notice that it’s you preaching the Sunday Sermon ... ... when a bunch of angry African men are about to beat up your husband ... .... your praying muscles grow strong, and hearing the voice of God becomes startlingly clear.
These days, the voice of the Lord seems faint. It’s crowded out by my to do list, our schedule (that mysteriously fills up by itself), and the burdens of others.
I love that my days are filled with intense ministry, building relationships with the poor and those trying to rebuild their lives. I am thankful ... and yet, driving home through the ghettos of Houston, what I’m left with are their burdens; the complex burdens of economic struggle and no education; the struggle when there’s never enough food to go around. They search for relief, and I’m hard-pressed to help them find it.
Then there are my co-workers: independent, intelligent friends who don’t know Jesus. They are beautiful, fascinating people - and most of them, desperately lost. I hear it echoing in their fears, and I hear their searching, too ...
her father is dying slowly
his wife was just diagnosed with a mental illness
she wonders if her long-term boyfriend will ever marry her
he can’t take another day in this dead-end job
In all the hurt and struggle - when I don’t know what to say - these burdens stack up.
When I finally came before the Lord, I felt the burdens scatter before him like so many marbles.
My mind raced, and I implored him -- how do I help them, and what answer should I give? After a time, peace finally came.
I remembered a recent conversation with a Bhutanese refugee family. Their home has been ravaged by ethnic conflict since 1948. They have never been to school. They’ve fled two countries, been chased with fiery sticks for their faith in Jesus, and now that they are finally safe in America, most of their extensive farming skills are irrelevant. They consistently remind me that they have no education, no skills.
I ask them worriedly what they propose to do -- in their fifties, they are trying to learn a new language and culture and work their assembly-line jobs, all with the goal of being able to pay rent.
When they speak, I’m struck by their wisdom: “We will work hard. And we will trust the Lord, who is good. Has he not already solved our biggest problem?”
My “uneducated” refugee friends know the truth --
Without Jesus, the best we can do is apply band-aids. And band-aids don't help the hemorrhaging pain from our own sin, from the fallenness we live in.
How do I forget this so easily? How is it possible that in between Easters, I become dull to the miracle of resurrection - that in his love, Jesus solved the biggest problem. With love and a lot of blood, he gave us a very powerful solution to our human struggle.
When my refugee friends are mired in fear and confusion, when my co-workers share those burdens that keep them up at night ... I have a choice in my response. Because I know the real answer they seek. But too often, I settle for the band-aids of sympathy and logical solutions. I keep silent about my faith, the axis on which my life turns.
And so I pray for more courage.
Courage, to gently and boldly tell my co-workers that those band-aids won’t heal the wound - it’s only Christ that will.
I pray for courage to not try so hard. In the midst of ministry, I pray for courage to not consider myself important than I am. Many refugees I serve have figured it out anyway - “The Lord will care for us,” they say.