Let’s talk about the weather… even though frankly, I’d really rather not –
-but that is because it is miserably, uncomfortably hot these days.
When we talk about the weather here, we say we have three seasons:
miserably, uncomfortably hot, and
That miserably, uncomfortably hot has begun… well over 104’F/40’C during the afternoon… every day, most of the day. We still have a long chunk of time (and I know it will only get worse) before we get to the start of the rains and a return to the simple hot, probably sometime in mid to late June.
I dread this time every year; I also recognize that this, too, shall pass. I can finally accept that productivity declines, naps are imperative, tempers run short, power and water cuts will be frequent (and if you are on one of those lines that gets cut first, then remember that God is developing long-suffering in your life), clothes will be dripping sweat most of the time and some nights sleeping on a wet cotton cloth on the relative coolness of the tile floor is a simple given. I have friends who evaluate the heat by how many showers they take in a day – a 5 shower day is pretty bad. Other friends of mine categorize using an independent heat index – how long it takes to start sweating again once dried off after a shower.
And that has been March, April and May every year I have lived in this desert land.
…yesterday I caught myself doing one of those things I detest. One of my new-to-Niger-this-year friends mentioned that it was getting very hot in the afternoons. I replied with some supposedly witty comment to the effect of “you ain’t felt nothing’ yet!”
How did my comment encourage, edify or exhort my friend? It didn’t. Not one iota. In fact, it was probably discouraging. Instead of benefiting my friend, I have decided that those words somehow exalted me and my status as one of the vets of many Marches, Aprils and Mays. With those words, I swaggered arrogant, using my status as a long-termer to make myself look good… and tough… and maybe a little unfazed by the heat when someone else was wondering how in the world she was going to survive… I like to think, after all, that I am one of those “real” missionaries.
Maybe because of the nature of one of the particular ministries with which I’m involved – with the constant interplay between the new or limited term folks, newbies, versus the long-term vets, oldies – I easily catch myself adopting this boastful, arrogant attitude. Not helpful by any stretch of the imagination, I flaunt past experiences and challenging times I’ve survived like trophies for which I’ve competed and thus earned. This focuses attention on me. In a sense, I step into the limelight to take credit for what, in reality, God has done. I can make myself look more important or more spiritual that way, right?
There is a corollary:
I miss opportunities to direct eyes towards God, towards both the comfort as well as the miraculous thrill of experiencing His sustaining grace offered to each of His servants, regardless of status, length of service, place of service, type of ministry or difficult situation.
Many years ago, someone much wiser than I recorded these words:
“Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…” (Jeremiah 9:22-23, NASB)
When I came to the mission field, I expected cultural challenges and occasional times of tension between seasoned workers and those with less experience. I recognized that both groups would have potential great contributions to make to the team effort and that the perspectives, skills and knowledge of each would be different and would carry significant value. I was also not so naive as to believe we would all get along perfectly all of the time. What I did not expect was that one day, I’d find I had adopted the veteran “culture,” myself, forgetting or minimizing in my mind what it was like to be fresh to the field, living it all for the very first time. I forgot just how the know-it-all, done-it-all, survived-much-worse-than-this message intentionally or unintentionally communicated by the oldies could so completely take any and all wind out of my sails.
And let me tell you – in this sort of heat? Any breeze is a necessary and delightful respite.
As a newbie, I had determined to maintain an attitude that valued teamwork, unity and only constructive confrontation in battles worth fighting. Now that many consider me a weathered vet of what it means to live and minister in this place, I easily forget that determination. I make those funny but cutting comments that are no better than boasting about the wrong things and that work against the hope of unity far more often than I care to count.
I guess I could blame it on hot season… If I actually said that out loud here, people would understand, laugh and mostly likely agree.
When I’m honest, though, I know the problem originates from within… all the number on the thermometer does is reveal what stays mostly hidden on the inside.
If you are a new-to-the field missionary, how does it make you feel when veteran missionaries minimize your struggles or compare what you are going through to their past experiences or other occasions that seem more traumatic?
If you are a seasoned overseas worker, what checks and balances do you use to prevent boasting about yourself or your past accomplishments? How can you still use those same experiences and stories to encourage rather than discourage less seasoned colleagues?
photo credits to my colleague, Jessica Neff
– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa