“How did I find myself here?” I thought as I scrubbed the old man’s feces off the floor.
“This is not my job!!” came the next rebellious thought.
I laughed under my breath as I remembered a hurried prayer from last week: “Jesus, teach me humility. Show me what it means to love like you did.”
The thing about serving Jesus … he always asks for more, not less.
It reminds me of when my little cousin learned how to walk. The poor kid had no chance. My mom was on one side of the room, arms outstretched. “Just one little step!” she cried. “You can do it, baby!”
He was not having it. He glanced suspiciously at the circle of faces hovering above. We were all grinning hugely, clapping for him, urging him to trust his wobbly, chubby legs.
His furrowed brow communicated that this did NOT seem fun to him - but oh, he so badly wanted to please these people that loved him so.
Shaky step by shaky step, he launched himself forward. Every step he took, we asked for another - until he was all the way across the room. Cheers abounded. He got a cookie.
He couldn’t have known it then - that those first wobbly steps were only the beginning. He couldn’t have known that what seemed like a risky, terrible idea to him was actually quite safe and natural.
Today this kid zooms around the yard. I gasp for air trying to keep up with him. But, I still remember those shaky steps in the beginning.
Sometimes I think Jesus must feel this way - the amused and patient Father, watching us take our first wobbly steps as we follow him. He must know that he has bigger plans; the further we go, the more he will ask.
It would be unnatural, nonsense for an active and fully grown child to revert back to crawling, to wobbly baby steps. And yet, how often in my own faith journey do I petulantly want just that?
I’ll know God has called me to love deeper, to be more sacrificial. In a moment of holy zeal sitting in a cool, air conditioned church, I’ll even ask God to make me more humble.
But the moment it arrives - when humility looks like scrubbing someone else’s toilet? When loving like Jesus looks like not casting the first stone, or forgiving seventy times seven?
I whine and wish I didn’t know better. I’ll try to manipulate the situation so I’m exempt - from talking to that awkward person. Or having to go out of my way to visit a family that's barely holding on. Or giving my shopping money to a missionary that really needs it. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that last yelled request for a cup of water (while I’m already in the kitchen).
I’m the most spoiled of God’s children. Worse yet, if I’m not very careful, I can become comfortable.
For me, I can’t let myself get too comfortable.
Life overseas is so fraught with challenge that I am aware multiple times every day that I need Christ. I cry out to him frantically, consult him constantly … and my desperation feeds a healthy and intimate connection with him.
Even a simple trip to the grocery store in a foreign country is exhausting. Imagine yourself in such a situation:
How do you get there? Are you using a public transit system? If so, it probably doesn’t have English writing anywhere - and you can’t ask directions if you don’t have an interpreter with you.
When you get there, how do you tell how much something *actually* costs? If those tomatoes are 8,000 Tanzanian Shillings … quick, do some math in your head! Is that a good deal, or are you about to blow the week’s budget on some fruit (because they might be giving you ‘white people’ prices). And wait, you’re probably hauling water for your team - the city water is not safe. That means you need at least a few gallons. You don’t have a car. Make sure you don’t buy too much to carry home! (Did you check how much water the team had before you left?) If not, you may run out before tonight.
As you leave, there’s a tiny child, belly distended. She doesn’t speak - she just holds out her hand pleadingly.
You’re not sure you have enough money with you to get home on the bus and to give her something. You know it’s foolish to carry too much cash on you, but still you kick yourself for not bringing more. Should you give her some of your tomatoes? If you do, will there be enough for the team to eat tonight? And - is she being sold by a pimp? Will giving her something only serve to promote a system of injustice, leaving the little one with nothing? Your heart aches and your first instinct is to take her back with you- but you don’t know this culture or this land and if that’s okay. Where is her mom?! …. Oh, Jesus, have mercy.
Life in a foreign land - you know you need Jesus. Every day. I found myself desperate for him.
“After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still, small voice.”
That still, small voice became louder every day until it was quite clear.
In the U.S.? I don’t need Jesus at the grocery store, thank you very much. I know exactly how to get there in my own car. I can buy what I want with the money I earned from the job I work. And, I’m probably gabbing on my cell phone while looking up traffic on Google Maps AND thinking about what color I should re-paint the kitchen … all while at the store.
But - where is the still, small voice? I’m comfortable. I don’t know I need him.
Soon, I’m living as though Jesus is one of those relatives I only see on major holidays.
And so I have learned that I have to put myself in situations - to ask for opportunities, and then pursue them - where I will be uncomfortable.
It’s in the discomfort, in the awkward, in the desperate that my heart yells for Jesus.
And I find him. That still, small voice that grows louder when I practice listening.
I'm learning that an adventurous life of faith is NOT about a geographical location, or even about what fills your days. It’s an orientation of the soul.
At the moment, making myself uncomfortable looks like working with refugees and teaching them about American life.
And so it is that I found myself showing an elderly Burmese couple how to clean their toilet - because they’ve never had indoor plumbing before. No one ever taught them basic hygiene.
Jesus invites me lower, to deeper levels of humility. On shaky legs of faith I looked up at my Father.
“Jesus, really? I barely know these people.”
“And child, as God of the universe, I washed dirty feet. Whatever you do for them, you do for me. You can do it. Just one more step.”
What do you think? Does being comfortable mean it’s harder to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice? How do you make space in your life to hear the voice of the Father?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!