Mold is my constant companion — and my undying enemy. I even composed a haiku for it, which anyone living in tropical regions will appreciate:
Mold creeps in as spores
Like fuzzy burglars intent
On stealing my shoes
It’s annoying. Not earth-shattering, just annoying. But sometimes you wouldn’t know the difference from my reaction.
G.K. Chesterton, ever the seer, playfully describes his friend’s affliction:
“Every day his drawer was jammed, and every day in consequence it was something else that rhymes to it. But I pointed out to him that this sense of wrong was really subjective and relative; it rested entirely upon the assumption that the drawer could, should, and would come out easily. “But if,” I said, “you picture to yourself that you are pulling against some powerful and oppressive enemy, the struggle will become merely exciting and not exasperating. Imagine that you are tugging up a lifeboat out of the sea. Imagine that you are roping up a fellow-creature out of an Alpine crevasse. …
“Shortly after this I left him; but I have no doubt at all… that every day of his life he hangs on to the handle of that drawer with a flushed face and eyes bright with battle.” (G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered, “On Running After One’s Hat”)
Chesterton displays the best of his tongue-in-cheek style here, but it doesn’t mean he’s not sincere. I have no doubt that his friend continued to condemn his drawer daily, flushed face and all. Perhaps our exertion of imagination isn’t worthwhile in a matter as small as a drawer. But I believe it’s essential in the matter of the obstacles we routinely face as overseas workers.
We have plenty of jammed drawers: government paperwork, irregular verbs, difficult neighbors. Assuming that our tasks and responsibilities can, should, and will go according to plan — that is, smoothly and just like our home country — is a dangerous idea. It sets us up to feel wronged and bitter when they inevitably don’t.
Our response to a problem flows from our expectations. If we recognize that we aren’t entitled to have everything “go right” — if we acknowledge that it rarely will — then we can forestall our resentment. This isn’t defeatism, because we don’t put all our hope in our own plans. We’re not saying our work is doomed to fail, but simply that our sovereign God will lead us through unexpected twists that produce something better than we were able to foresee.
It’s tiring to know and expect that our plans will frequently be frustrated, but the alternative is to live in constant, angry crisis. That’s a level of exhaustion no one can afford.
Imagining the reality
What’s more, our annoyance and sense of being wronged by inconveniences can be turned into something else with a bit of imagination. In our case, it’s not fantastical imagination, but holy imagination, the kind that looks beyond what is visible to see the spiritual reality.
We can imagine, quite rightly, that we are struggling against a real enemy, not flesh and blood or tangible things, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesian 6:12). Imagine that pulling out that drawer is an act of holy belligerence to defy the work of Satan and bring God’s Kingdom to bear in your sphere of influence. In fact, it is.
We pull out the drawer daily. We persevere through another day of wilting heat and humidity; we study the next language lesson; we trust God for another visa renewal; we initiate conversation with the lady next door or in the market; we offer our empathy for one more heart-rending story; we prepare the next sermon or lesson plan; we clean one more baby bottom.
In all these mundane, sometimes unpleasant things, beneath the surface of what our eyes can see, there is a deeper reality: we are in the midst of something even more dramatic than rescuing adrift sailors or fallen mountaineers. God has allowed us to be part of his work of rescuing eternal souls and redeeming the whole cosmos.
Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 6: we need to put on the full armor of God for this monumental task. Do we remember this? Do we consider that we need the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit — just to be fit to pull out a metaphorical jammed drawer?
Our tasks are not small tasks; done in faith, to God’s glory, there is no small task. That carefully bandaged wound in a village clinic? That cup of water offered to a beggar? That impromptu counseling session with a distraught young woman? They are of eternal significance. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Missions is adventure… but not how we show on social media
Chesterton sums up his observations at the end of his essay: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
It’s a pithy phrase; but is it trite? Can we really see inconveniences as adventures? What’s more, with the recent trendiness of “adventures,” the pursuit of which can be self-centered and showy, can we trust someone telling us to search them out?
Let’s not blame Chesterton for 21st century buzzwords. I don’t think he’s denying true brokenness; I think he’s trying to help us see the world through a lens of hopeful longing rather than annoyance.
Sometimes, when bad things happen, we have to sit down and cry. As Christians, we are people who lament, with the approval and encouragement of our God (see the Psalms). Loss and injustice drive us to sorrow and anger, a reflection of God’s anger over sin and brokenness. These things should not be glossed over.
But for lesser issues, our attitude does create much of our experience. If I personify mold as a presumptuous invader, arm myself with gloves and cleaning solution, and write funny stories about it, I can laugh and roll my eyes and feel accomplished. If I consider it an affront to normal human life, I just get mad. Picturing our problems as adventures takes the sting of surprise out of them: we expect wild things to happen.
It was easy to find the adventure in the beginning, wasn’t it? When we first land in-country, it’s easy to laugh at language mistakes and getting lost. We have fun at the alley-way market buying mysterious foods. We delight in deciphering characters on the hastily-scribbled gas tank bill. But it doesn’t last. It’s not enough. The surface level of cross-cultural fun wears off once you realize that you really can’t get cheese here, and the flying termite house infestation season is a real thing. And this is your life now.
New experiences are fun and exciting, and we get enough of a high from them to pull us through the problems for a little while. But when the high disappears, where does that leave us? Our conviction has to come from a deeper place.
The only adventure worth our very lives is that of following Jesus and making disciples of all the nations. Not only is following God the greatest adventure, the result is the most thrilling end we could dream of: not an epic photo album and gripping set of stories, but the new heavens and new earth, an eternity with our Father and the people he brought into his Kingdom.