Thursday, October 18, 2018

Like the Nations

When in the midst of discouragement in Indonesia I recognized that many who were born and raised in America and struggling with discouragement overseas would wish to go home and long for the easier/better life back in the USA. Since I was raised overseas and have been quite disillusioned with America, I did not feel that pull. I do not think that America is the answer, and I think the subtle message of, "Maybe you just need to go home and rest for a while" is that the wealth and comforts of America are where our healing and hope lie, which is .... totally not a Christian answer.

I have been in Dallas nearly two months now. It has been a balm for the soul, having our own space, our own schedule, a place to be for a while without traipsing all over everywhere. Stability. We know the city, so we have familiarity. We have friends here, really great friends who make being here just fun and encouraging because it's so great to be with them. I'm so glad that God is opening Dallas as an American home for our family (ironically. After all my years of complaining about Dallas when we first moved here!). However after two months my husband is ready to go back to teaching overseas, which he loves. And my kids are eager to go home "and never leave again" says Judah, and I am so glad he feels that his home is Papua.

But me? The truth is that though I deeply love Papua, when I think about returning my stomach knots, and it's purely because of how comfortable it is here. Shopping and cooking is indescribably easier here than it is in Papua. I like not sweating over the oven. I marvel every Sunday at the taken-for-granted air conditioning and comfortable seats and cups of coffee everyone is holding. We have had a cold or two in the 5 months we've been in the USA, but nothing more. I like being healthy. It is utterly remarkable that I can think of just about anything I need/want and order it on amazon for a decent price and get it in two days. Even what's in the Dollar Tree for a buck is... shocking. The library. The parks. Grabbing a warm coffee out on a cold Fall night feels like a scintillating pleasure. Guilt tripping is not really helpful but I'm still in the stage where I am looking at life in middle class America and am astounded at how lavish it is, how taken for granted. It looks good right now, ya'll. It looks so nice and easy.

Giving it up this time around to go back overseas is not at easy as it was the first time.  As I have evaluated how I'm feeling, I recognize that it is pretty much entirely the comfortableness that I am clinging to, that I am loathe to give up.

I'm going through a Bible study on 1 Samuel that The Village Church women's ministry made available online. I was struck by the Israelite's demand for Samuel to appoint a king over them, so that they would be like the nations around them. It's not an irrational request. From the perspective of history, tribal governance developed into kingdoms as civilizations evolved. The king is what provided order, power, and greatness to the powers around Israel (also oppression and taxation and great risk if the king happened to be bad, but nevermind). If they wished to be great for God, they needed a king.

Except that the point of Israel was not to succeed or find stability in the scale of the world. They were specifically called to holiness, to be set apart, to be a people for God. In submission to His leadership they provide a witness to the nations of something different, of a greatness that is defined by His glory, not by the measurement of military might or the sovereign's fame. But Israel found their own inability to actually follow God lead to a lack of stability and so they wanted a king to provide stability, which of course did not work out for them. They patched the external issue, the lack of governmental stability, instead of the core issue, the human inability to obediently submit to God's best. The internal rot of man remained.

I am the same. An idol, or perhaps THE core idol of my culture is comfort. Some part of me does believe that in comfort and convenience I find my rest. There's what I'm loathe to give up as we head back overseas.

In truth it is, like a king, a false promise. Comfort and convenience are nice. But they are not what provides peace (as is evidenced by our entirely comfortable society that is absolutely chock full of anxiety, depression, and meaninglessness). Comfort and convenience are only good for me when they provide space from overwhelming daily burdens and stress and in order to turn to God and deal with the pain. Generally, though, the human soul uses comfort and convenience to distract from pain and suffering and fill the soul. It is not enough so we look for more, distract more. In reality is that all good is mysteriously found deep in the heart of God, a path that is iscrutable by the values and logic of the world. Once changed by Jesus it is generally in self-denial and service and suffering that we find the glorious beauty of knowing God. It makes no sense.

It seems so silly, but I am in the stage where I am in a stage where I am declaring to myself that my hope is not found in a fulfilling career. Peace is not found in having a good doctor and medication readily accessible.  Love does not come from regular date nights or goodness from carefully curated shopping and meal lists that I can successfully execute to keep my family going. Being like the nations is not the goal, and so I can return to our life in Papua secure that whatever the external difficulties or instabilities, the promises of God for love, joy, peace, and hope are found in the path of walking with Jesus no matter where He leads.

The Spirit whispers this to my heart and I pray for the faith to walk in obedience.

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