I recently hit a bit of a wall, so to speak. Maybe this wall is one for the mid-termers, the ones who have been in a place long enough to know intricately the unique beauties and breakdowns. Or maybe this wall is a seasonal one, with which many of you will resonate no matter your length of days away from your home country.
This was my wall: I could not hear another American friend describe their multi-ten-thousand-dollar kitchen renovation. I could not hear another family member talk of the fifth massive camper they have now bought. I could not hear of the extended holidays and vacations and gadgets and gear for another hobby and the cost of inflation and soaring real estate prices and all of the other American things… not anymore.
When my friends and family would start to talk about them, my brain would shut down, I would mumble “mmhmm”-type responses, and afterwards, go back to my room alone to cry. I realized that this was not the mature or godly response, but I seemed unable to change it.
Why the tears? It has taken me some time to understand, and maybe I am still processing. But, in our seventh year on this field, in this particular place, I am keenly noticing the gap between our life and the lives of most of our American friends. I am holding, deep in my body and heart, the challenges that come with these extremes. I am feeling, deeply, the many discrepancies of our lives, often pondering if we will ever fit back in, or if we would even want to.
But mostly, I am craving for these friends, for these family members, to be a witness to my life here. To acknowledge, even in the smallest way, that it is very difficult to hold a massive kitchen reno in one hand and the extreme poverty behind our fence in the other. To understand, in some basic way, that my mind is heavily with our dear friends who have been unjustly threatened with their lives for money following a car accident that was not their fault, and not on the details of your two month, snow-bird vacation for the sixth year in a row. I crave for someone to know, to take the time to listen to my heart, to bear with me gently, in this middle, in-between place.
So much of what we bear daily is our own; so much of our lives are unseen. This is true for my own life and for the lives of my family and friends an ocean away. Do I know it is unrealistic to expect this kind of understanding from those I love on another continent? Do I realize that they are trying, in their own multifaceted ways, to connect, to share their lives and witness mine? Yes, and yes. And I can see, in my most honest moments, that I am in my own place of selfishness when I cease to listen well to the things they have to share, simply because it is hard for me to do so.
Would I perhaps make a similar choice someday, and see that even my choices now are not purely selfless? Do I recognize that my own heart struggles with the same issues that I blatantly see in others? Do I acknowledge that I am not alone in these wonderings, in these questions? Yes to all of it.
And yet. In some seasons, perhaps it is okay to put away the Pinterest pictures, to tune out a little when these types of things are shared, in the interest of protecting my heart against bitterness and my mind against pride. I am not a better person for witnessing what God has put in my life in Africa. I am no holier for holding the extremes with care. I, truly, am not that different than the ones I tune out.
In his graciousness, God has gently reminded me that he is the one to bear witness to my life. He knows. He sees my broken heart, my conflicted priorities, my judgment of others, my compassion for others. He knows, he takes the time to listen to my heart, when I take the time to share it, and he bears with me gently.
God has tenderly reminded me that his love transcends all extremes, as Romans 8:38-39 speaks to us: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And so when I sit back in my room and cry, I can pour out my overwhelmed, unseen heart to him. I can list the conflicted emotions and trust he will hear and hold them. I can repent of my judgement, of my hypocrisy, and receive his forgiveness. I can rest in knowing that he knows. I can rest in knowing that his love bridges the vastest of extremes.
And in time, I can be restored in Christ, in order to listen well again, in order to hold these extremes of my life tenderly and to care for those on both sides with love. Soon, I will be able to tune back in, joyfully, to rejoice with my friends and family on both sides of the ocean, and to extend the unending love of God, in this messy middle place.