I stood on the beach, arms crossed, staring out at the clear blue water of the ocean as tears slowly trickled down my face. Then almost as soon as they began they were finished. My eyes hardened as well as my heart. I was angry with God.
This view that had always seemed so stunning and peaceful had turned into a prison. We were trapped on this island! We had already tried to leave on 3 separate occasions over the last week, drifting out to sea all day under the blistering hot sun waiting for the right wind to push us along, but to no avail. I became even more infuriated as I thought about how perfect the winds were the day before, but no, we couldn’t leave then because it was a Sunday and it’s a taboo to travel long distances on a Sunday!
All things considered, I had held myself together pretty well up unto this point, but I knew I was coming to my breaking point, and here it was. On the beach, before God, I’d had enough!
I’d had enough of seeing the yachts and fancy sailboats sitting out in the waters near our village, sometimes for days. A constant reminder of all that I didn’t have – from the basics of a shower and toilet to a variety of food and drinks. I wondered why other people had it so easy.
I’d had enough of beans and rice and nothing else for the past week! I’d had enough of getting soaked in my sleep because of the leak in the roof and the sound of mice chewing through our mattress and mosquito net all night long!
So I stood there and let God have it. Rambling off my complaints one by one, I could’ve easily put the Israelites in the wilderness to shame. After all, they were in the desert. At least I had a beautiful view to look at. But at that point, it may have well had been the desert to me. I wanted nothing more than to leave that place, and for very good reasons.
“We have no food!” I complained to God. Then I heard the immediate correction: “You have beans and rice, manna from heaven.” “But we have no house!” I continued. Then another correction: “You have a place to sleep and to keep your few belongings.” The list continued and one by one they were shot down. In the depths of my heart I knew my complaints were unfounded and I knew that I was really making a bigger deal out of the whole situation than it really was. But even knowing this in the depths of my soul, my heart became harder and I became angrier. I wanted to be angry.
I was having a Davidic moment of raw emotion to God, but I never got around to the praise and thanks part. I didn’t even have enemies chasing after me to kill me. My son was playing on the beach, not plotting how he would ambush me as Absalom did to his father, David. My situation wasn’t really that bad, but the questions I asked God and the anger and selfishness that poured from my heart at that point were unprecedented.
W e actually did leave Nosy Mitsio that afternoon on our fourth attempt to make it off. After 6 hours the wind stopped and we rowed 3 more hours the rest of the way in the dark to finally arrive at the port on the mainland. Since then we’ve stayed in town to help coordinate the ordering and shipping of materials for our house and our team members’ houses and to wait until our house is almost finished.
Being off Nosy Mitsio has given me a lot of time to reflect and really examine my heart. In the midst of all those challenges and even after, the Holy Spirit corrected me and reminded me of many verses and stories from the Bible. But I wanted to ignore them. It hurt too much. The two-edged sword sunk deep into my heart and twisted as I was reminded of all the hardship and persecution the people of God have faced throughout history:
“I could speak of… how the faithful accepted torture instead of earthly deliverance because they believed they would obtain a better life in the resurrection. Others suffered mockery and whippings; they were placed in chains and in prisons. The faithful were stoned, sawn in two, killed by the sword, clothed only in sheepskins and goatskins; they were penniless, afflicted, and tormented. The world was not worthy of these saints. They wondered across deserts, crossed mountains, and lived in the caves, cracks, and crevasses of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:35-38)
The sword pierced again as I remembered the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-13: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances. I know how to survive in tight situations, and I know how to enjoy having plenty. In fact, I have learned how to face any circumstances: fed or hungry, with or without. I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength.”
I’m ashamed. I’ve been far from content and haven’t experienced anything like what the early Christians and even some today experience. I wrestled with God and was faced with this question: Was I really willing to sacrifice everything for Christ? Isn’t that what being a Christian means: being willing to follow Christ no matter what the cost, to take up our cross, to walk the path Jesus walked, to sacrifice? And this path is not easy. It’s not a choice we should take lightly. This path snaps our back and tears our muscles. It breaks us and gives us new life.
But at some point I’d decided I’d had enough of the breaking and tearing. Was I willing to sacrifice everything for Christ? The answer was NO. I had to face the realization of this answer. If the answer is no, then I’ve turned my back on Christ. And if I’ve turned my back on Christ, then… I’m a fake! A picture of Jesus being taken before the counsel and flogged flashes before me, but it’s not Peter who’s denied him and run away this time, it’s me.
G od has been stripping me away layer by layer. The deeper he gets at exposing who I really am, the more it hurts and the more I become resistant. I’ve come to the end of myself, wondering if God is really making me new when all I see and smell is rottenness. But maybe that’s just it: in order to make us new and refine our character, our eyes must be opened to our own filth.
I recall the story of Jacob as he wrestled with a man all night long, not knowing he was wrestling with some sort of messenger from God. Finally the man struck Jacob on the hip socket , throwing it out of joint. Then Jacob was given a new name, Israel, and was blessed because he had struggled with God and with men and had prevailed. Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, recounts a time when she tells this story to her son and then adds:
Jacob walked away with a limp, but I felt like I had more than a limp at this point. I was crippled because instead of fighting to see the blessing like Jacob did, I fought hard not to see it. I was ready to give up the fight. But even in my stubbornness, just like with the children of Israel, God still revealed himself to me. My story, my struggle, is the same story that’s been written over and over again throughout the Bible.
I wanted to be enough just the way I am. I didn’t want to go through a life full of difficulties; I wanted my share of the good life. But it’s in those struggles that I see God’s grace. It’s there that I see my lack and it’s there that God shows me he’s enough, and more than enough. It’s there that God breaks me down, only to build again and to make me new. If I don’t recognize the overwhelming fullness of God’s grace in my own life, and my need for it, then how could I even begin to demonstrate that grace to others?
I write this with great humility because I know I have a long way to go and that it’s a constant struggle for all of us. I wouldn’t even be willing to write this to you now, for fear of exposing my own hypocrisy, to be seen as the fake that I am, if it weren’t for the fact that all our heroes of the faith have been in this same position. There was David and Peter as I already mentioned, and there was Abraham and Moses, Elijah and Job, and many more. But perhaps the most vocal about his weaknesses and shortcomings, while at the same time the most triumphant, was Paul. He constantly encouraged the church in their pursuit of Christ while he boldly declared his sufferings. And yet he clearly stated, repeatedly, that what he was telling the church to do was something he hadn’t yet lived up to.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12)
Of his hardships, Paul said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:17) So though Paul proudly proclaimed his sufferings, he did it because those were the things that proved him weak and made him rely on God even more. It gives me comfort to know I’m not alone in this.
And in a fit of self-doubt and anguish, Paul penned these famous words:
This challenge exists for all of us: we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Without death, there is no resurrection. And yet it’s such a hard path! How could any of us have the strength to do it if that strength didn’t come from Christ himself? What a grace we’ve been given to know that even our God faced this same struggle as a human. If there were any other way, Jesus would’ve avoided his own struggle, and he asked God to take it from him. Even in the midst of it, Jesus felt like God had forsaken him. But Jesus did it; he followed through. And in the end he saw the resurrection and he brought it for all of us who follow him on that difficult path.
I thank God for his grace to challenge me. “For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He corrects each one He takes as His own. Endure hardship as God’s discipline and rejoice that he is treating you as His children.” (Hebrews 12:6-7) If I were never exposed for the fake that I am, then how could God ever make me real? That’s the mystery and wonder of his grace, that through death comes life, and life abundantly. His grace is sufficient for me.
May you feel the power of God’s grace in your life,
Lora, Adam, and Matimu