Just the other day, some dear friends and former mentors and teachers happened to come for a visit to our field. Having served here in Paraguay faithfully for MANY years themselves, they thought they’d come back for a visit. Currently, this couple is serving to train and equip missionary candidates for future tribal church planting ministry at our Missionary Training Center in Missouri. As we hugged, shook hands, and greeted one another, they eventually got around to asking this question, “If there was one thing you wish someone would have told you before coming here, what would it be? In other words, if there was one thing you could have done to prepare yourself for what was to come, what do you wish someone else would have told you?” As I thought about it, many different answers came to my mind. But as the day went on and I was out with a number of different Paraguayan friends, it became much clearer to answer in my mind.
My answer to this question is this, “Are you ready to love in ways that you’ve never loved before?”
The longer that we’ve been here, the more we realize how hard it is to love. No amount of enthusiasm and zeal can prepare you to feel the weight of some of the experiences you’re bound to face as a missionary. Eventually and inevitably, the zeal and enthusiasm fades. Eventually and inevitably, you find yourself wishing you could go home, wishing you didn’t have to rack your brain each day to learn language, wishing you didn’t have to look like an idiot again because you know you’re bound to make the same mistake you made yesterday, etc. Let me give you just a quick example of what it has looked like for me…
Language learning is literally the biggest roller coaster I’ve ever been on. One day you’re out there talking and everything is going so smoothly. You say to yourself, “I’m doing it! I’m talking in Spanish! I can learn this language, it’s actually possible!” The next day, you can’t barely say “hello” correctly. I know it sound’s ridiculous, but it’s true for many others as well. Anyways, there have been several times where I’ve been in a car with friends and I’m having one of those days where I can’t talk as well as I normally can. My friend turns to me with a napkin and proceeds to wipe the “drool” from my face and treat me like a baby because I can’t talk as good as I could the day before. You may not think that it’s hard to deal with. And you know what? It’s not bad if it’s only one time. But I actually struggle to have a good attitude when it happens 3-5 times and I’m unable to say or do anything back! Having to sit there and wear the humiliation like a shirt while everyone else laughs is not all that fun. Trust me, I know.
Whenever there have been situations where I’ve had “drool” wiped from my lips and people have been laughing, I’ve found myself exposed, and caught in a moment of weakness. But as I’ve had opportunity to reflect on those situations, it’s become evident that I have some wrong thinking that needs to be adjusted. Because when it comes down to it, that’s what I really am! I’m a baby! I’m nothing more than a pathetic little worm that has a facade of being a great big person. But secretly I know that I’m not like that. I’m a weak pathetic little man who likes to try and pretend that I’m someone I’m not. And it’s situations like this where I’m out of my comfort zone, looking like a baby, feeling like a baby, where I’ve had no other alternative than to bow my heart to God and say, “Lord, help me to see who I really am. Help me to remember that I’m nothing! Help me to love people!”
The Heart of the Matter…
God has been faithful to show us our hearts as we’ve been in situations that have exposed ourselves for who we really are. One of the things that God has continued to impress upon my heart is how prideful I really am. Whenever I have feelings where I think that I’m superior, I’m better than I’m being made out to be, I don’t deserve to be treated this way, etc. what I’m literally saying is that I’m a good person. Not only that, but that I’m better than I really am. And biblically, that’s not true at all. Biblically, I don’t deserve a thing! My father in law used to always use a quote from someone else who used to say, “Anything short of hell is God’s grace. He was never obligated to do a thing for you.” When it comes down to it, I don’t deserve to be treated well, and I certainly don’t deserve the Son of God dying in my place.
How to Love
So, how do you love someone that’s treating you like a baby? How do you love someone who isn’t loving you? The more I’ve considered this, the more I realize that it’s nigh to impossible if I’m trying to love out of myself. I just don’t think I have the capacity to do this. I’ve sat there, in moments of weakness where I’m struggling to put on the Spirit, and thought to myself, “I just don’t think I can show this person love right now…” But then there have been other opportunities when I do choose to put on the Spirit and I come to this conclusion, “God, I know that I’m unable to love a person like this in my flesh. But I know that You can! Help me to love the unlovable, to learn from the unteachable, and to humble myself to prideful men.” It’s been incredible to experience the growth of my relationships with other people, not as a result of my love, but as a result of the love of Christ living within me.
Loving people is more than saying, “I love you.” At times, when a circumstance or situation is staring you in the face and you feel you want to react, it’s a choice to respond to the Spirit of God and choose to overlook the ways that you’ve been exposed and mocked. It’s a choice to be OK when a drunken guy spits beer on the ground and it splashes up on your bare legs. It’s a choice to sympathize with someone when they ask you for money and proceed to show you their bloody hernia. It’s a choice to walk out your front door even though you’re sick and you are a terrible soccer player but you’re going to stand in the goal and let people score on you all day. It’s a choice to be OK making mistake after mistake until that word or phrase sticks in your mind. Love is a choice to put on the Spirit of God, and love from His power instead of our own flesh.
So, what do I wish someone would have told me before coming here? “Get ready to be stripped of yourself and love people despite it.”