After nine months of living in Japan, I had become slightly more accustomed to what it meant to be a hostess in my new culture. It wasn’t entirely different from what I was used to in America, but one of the missing elements was clear communication with those I was serving — how do I give them cues that I’m reaching my time limit? Is it okay for me to leave the room to put Jones down for a nap? How do I properly excuse myself? What cues will they give when they are getting ready to leave? If I don’t ask them to leave, WILL THEY STAY FOREVER? (Sometimes it certainly felt that way, when a tired and jumbled brain simply demanded a nap.)
This time, however, it wasn’t language or culture that was stressing me out. Instead, it was the good ole’, hard-learned childhood skill of SHARING. Though it had been pounded into me from preschool on, I just didn’t want to do it. That’s right: I didn’t want to share my stuff with my friends.
I had just made chocolate chip cookie dough a few days before, with those precious few chocolate chips, and the bowl of dough was sitting in my fridge, beckoning to me. I knew Jesus wanted me to bake those cookies for my friends, but I didn’t want to. Didn’t He know how much I was giving up to live in a culture not my own? Why do I also have to give up the chocolate chips I just opened in a care package? These cookies would be my therapy for the coming days. And the coffee beans, too? The ones sent monthly by friends? These were two of the four coveted C’s I carried close to my heart, along with cereal and cheese. It sounds silly, but I assure you, it wasn’t. God wanted me to offer these very simple, normal things to my two friends sitting in my living room, laughing with my one-year-old boy, and enjoying the chance to catch up with one another. Only they had ceased to become simple and normal to me, and were instead precious, coveted, and MINE.
I remember praying as I ground the beans, asking Jesus to open my heart and my hands so that I could freely give to those around me anything He might ask me to give. I imagine that many of us have a romantic notion of that ‘thing’ being something much bigger than coffee beans — like maybe our car, or a big check, or a year of our lives. But Jesus knows what we keep close to our hearts, what we’ve decided is ours alone and simply cannot be given away. I filled the carafe with water and recalled the message of Jesus in Luke, that if I love those who love me, to what credit is that? Anyone could do the same. Similarly, if I gave what was easily given, there was nothing special in it. Anyone can freely share something of little value to them. Its the things we don’t want to share that Jesus cares about. And although the coffee beans and chocolate chips had very little value in and of themselves, they had become spiritually significant because I held them in high regard at the time, as reminders of home and a way of life that I was no longer living.
I baked some cookies (probably the bare minimum) and served coffee with a smile, and my friends and I passed the afternoon away. I’m sure they had no idea what inner turmoil I had faced while turning on the oven. I made the decision to share my things, but not lightly and certainly not happily. I felt resentful that God would call me to give up time with my mom, the language I understood, the fellowship and comforts of home, AND my chocolate chips. It was just too much. But as much as I cherished the four C’s, I also cherished a free and gentle heart, as well as an open home, so I was committed to giving whatever I had, no matter how I felt about it on the inside.
There were years of instances just like this one — times where God was asking me to give up my naptime, my privacy, my special food items, my treasured books, my husband’s time, my ideas of a comfortable living space, my convenience, you name it. I honestly felt like each time, the tightly-bound grip of my heart loosened just slightly with my choice to give, even though it really was the last thing I wanted to do. And then, just like that, it was gone. One day, a guest asked for coffee, and I didn’t think twice before I made it. I remember handing him the steaming mug, and walking back to the kitchen in private shock that there was no mental anguish over whether or not to grind the beans.
I’m not saying I will never struggle with handing my treasures over to God for His own purposes, nor do I say this lightly. There was one instance in which I had to excuse myself to cry in the bathroom after I’d walked in on an American house guest enjoying the last bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. (!!) I’m not proud of these gut reactions, but somehow, with enough decision and practice, my heart has come to a place of freedom and peace where it’s no longer a burden to share even my most precious things with others. And sometimes, it’s even a delight. Time enough has passed for me to see the ways in which God will provide for me, ways that are new and unexpected, so there is no room for the cavernous anxieties of the past.
Though the context of my story has been overseas living, I don’t pretend to believe that it is a necessary catalyst for this kind of growth in others. Jesus brought me here because it was where I needed to go, so He could do His best work in me. But He also wants to do this work in YOU, in your unique context and circumstances. Say ‘yes’, even when it’s hard.. even when it’s the last thing you want to do.