Life among the pagodas
While many of those near and dear to us are supportive of our commitment to spend the foreseeable future in Myanmar, there have been a few voices that are rather funereal about the whole thing, as if I should feel that I am walking straight into my coffin, and missing out on everything wonderful (because only life in America has wonderful things to offer, right?).
“So sad you’re leaving. Especially because there’s no way I’ll visit you. Isn’t there anything nice over there?”
“It’s outrageous that you’re raising money to go over there. I think it’s too much; it’s not worth it for that cost.”
“Those people don’t deserve to hear the gospel. Especially not the Muslims.”
“You’ll have no security if you do this, especially in the financial sense. You’re not building up equity anywhere. It’s irresponsible.”
“I know so many messed up missionary kids.”
I wouldn’t be nearly so troubled by such remarks if they weren’t coming from people who profess to be Christians. I am pained by the words simply because they bear so much resemblance to those of the rich young ruler, and unless he had a change of heart, he lost true Life. The underlying attitude: “there are limits to what I will do to follow Christ. There are some things God isn’t going to get from me; they cost too much on every level and the task is too impossible.”
[Side note on impossible tasks: Some moments, I do wonder why I’m here, and why it will be so long before I can actually verbalize the gospel in Burmese, much less find someone who will want to discuss it. But my doubt is not allowed to linger. I know my tongue is worse than that of Moses, and my comprehension even more abysmal. But God’s response to Moses is no less true for me: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Ex. 4:11).]
Is obeying God worth it to me, even if I see no great accomplishments at the end? If by some financial misfortune I end my life with no equity and few liquid assets? If I come home with no great “results” to report? Is it worth it even if parenting a third culture kid is really, really difficult? Yes, it’s worth it. Why? Because we have been given the best possible fuel for this journey.
Some are fueled by this expatriate lifestyle because it seems so exotic, risky, and satisfying to one’s wanderlust. It is an escape from the workaday issues and problematic relationships in North America. It’s a superiority card to hold above all those other Christians who aren’t as committed, and haven’t left the continent. That is not good fuel for the road; these motivations will plunge a person into breakdown at some point.
But this, this is the best reason to obey: “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” (Psalm 63:3)
If I lose my assets, my family, my health, and decades of my comfy day-to-day life in order to follow him, it is worth every second. His love surpasses all aspects of life; all other things God made and declared “Good!” still pale in comparison to fellowship with him. (If you’re a professing Christian and you can’t bring yourself to agree with the above statement, I beg you to spend some time asking yourself, “why don’t I believe this? What it is that I trust more than God? What does this say about my relationship with God?”)
We Christians love to recite the promise of Romans 8: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” We fear death, and so we obsess over how death isn’t the end, how Christ has conquered it. This is true, of course! But have you ever given thought to the ways in which your life might be separating you from God?
A dominant part of the Christian identity is that we follow a God whose love is a life-taking sort of love. He gave his life on our behalf and for centuries since Christians have been bedeviling the world with their dogged resolve to follow that love, at the cost of their very lives. We make much of death—the short term cost—and comfort ourselves with the promise of what lies beyond it. It’s easy to speak of giving God your death, but that will only happen if you first give him your life. (It usually doesn’t take as long to die as it does to live. What’s the life expectancy these days anyway?)
“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:9)
Take yourself to this Wellspring and drink. You won’t know until you taste it; the comforts of having one’s own way prove to be nothing but a cup of brackish water next to this choice Wine.
“Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
– C.S Lewis