i have been reading the missions chapter of john piper’s “desiring god,” and marveling at the great benefits that have been mine in leaving the life i knew and moving to japan. they are innumerable. there has been sadness, certainly — it has been difficult to not be the one to visit my dear widowed grandmother on a lonely weekend, or take flowers to my grandpa’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death. i want to be the one to hold my step-mother’s hand while my dad is in surgery, or call my mama down to help me when my husband leaves, or spend weekends laughing with my brother and sister-in-law. i want to support my husband’s family through difficult times, or drive to a friend’s house to surprise her, or enjoy the fruits of communicating and living in my native tongue. but i don’t get to — i can say with complete honesty that the freedom in Christ that is mine, the sweet communion with Him that i have come to know as a part of my living here, has been a hundred times more valuable to me than those missed experiences. i would trade all those things in a heartbeat for what i have already received. and there is still time! what other treasures will be mine at the end of our time in Japan?
next month, we will have been here for five years. this being able to agree with paul when he says in philippians, “i count it all loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” — it has not been a simple thing, easily understood or grasped. there has been weeping, depression, anxiety, anger, frustration. i have ended angry conversations with my family by hanging up on them. i have spent days in a sad stupor when dear friends have gotten married, had babies, gone through crises, without me present. i have looked at the sky, pounded my hands on the steering wheel, and asked, “what are you doing, God?” i have cursed the culture, the language that makes it so difficult for me to relate with and understand my surroundings. i have fought with my husband more times than i can count out of sheer frustration or cultural exhaustion, or simply having no one else to blame. i have wondered in fear if my children will be scarred for life, if they will grow up feeling “different” and it will somehow mar their experiences of childhood. these are not new things, new experiences. there is nothing new under our old and tired sun.
in late college, i made a habit of reading old missionary biographies: william carey, jim elliot, amy carmicheal. somewhere deep inside, these stories stirred up a doubt that had yet to be reconciled with my experiences of God. i simply didn’t believe it to be possible to know suffering, want, loss — at one’s own choosing! — and have real peace, joy beyond circumstances. it seemed to me that these believers had subscribed themselves to a different brand of christianity than i had not yet encountered, and i doubted it to be possible. after all, my christian upbringing, my cultural surroundings, sent mainly the message that acting right brought right feelings, so if could just get my life in order and do the right things… but this method never produced lasting results. i felt better — what i had come to term “peace” or “joy” — for only a short time before falling back into regret, guilt, frustration, despair. i couldn’t imagine a life that was characterized by the fruit of the spirit, but only one that had rare experiential knowledge of them. i assumed this to be the reality of a fallen world. real fulfillment, i thought, wasn’t possible, though i had called myself a follower of Christ and made Him my main ambition for close to 13 years. there were too many things in the way.
in God’s great mercy, He called me up on my “i’ll do anything” prayer, and used the experience of leaving home and family to bring to the surface the dark, the dirty, the dross — the things in the way. putting myself in His hands and telling Him i’d go wherever He took me, regardless of where that was, was like throwing gas on the fire and melting away all my excuses. He could then go about the work of sorting through the lies, the mixed messages, the wounds, the fears, the anxieties, the unbeliefs present in my life, helping me to address them and apply the truth of Scripture to them. and after all that, with the arguments of men and my foolish ambitions demolished, He could call me to Himself and build upon a new foundation. grace, mercy, abiding, death to self, perseverance, prayer, grit, hard hard hard work. and then peace, joy, patience, love. and then self-control, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness.
He did these things, and now i can say it — it’s true! those missionaries, they knew it in the depths of their being, that Jesus could bring them anything they needed and make them safe in the presence of their enemies. paul was right, he had experienced it: there is nothing that compares to knowing Jesus, and sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings. and i’m going to write it down and record it, make a stone of remembrance for the trials that are ahead in life: “it’s true! He showed you, jamie, and He will show you again. today, you know — experientially know — the truth that Christ surpasses all, and you will believe that with faith in the times when it doesn’t seem possible.”
God, thank you for this great and wonderful gift: faith. i have barely understood the depth of meaning in this one word, where belief meets experience, meets hope, meets discipline, meets love. its thrown around like an old ball, and has lost its shape with the tossings. reform it in my mind, God. make my understanding of faith true to its likeness. it is not a trite word for people in pain. it is not a flag or banner to wave in order to set one apart: “there is a person of faith.” it is the blood and guts of a life in Christ. it describes the grinding act of rubber tires flying across the asphalt, heating up, shaping down, molding away, moving.
may no one ever see me and think, “there goes a woman with great faith.” but may they know the reality, the truth! “there goes a woman, who was helpless and fearful and lost in her anxiety, and had great desire to know God. she told Him she would do anything, and He made her do it, and He gave her great blessings because she obeyed, even though her desire was completely naive.”
this is how He loves us.