The church I attend recently began a small-group discipleship ministry for our women. As part of getting to know each other better, the leader of my group asked us to share a little-known fact about ourselves. I decided to tell the group about living in Argentina in the early-1970’s. The usual questions regarding life in a foreign country followed, accompanied by my well-practiced answers. Being so far away from family and friends at a time when communication was limited to snail mail was decidedly difficult, but the opportunity to experience a different culture and learn a second language was priceless.We spent two years abroad because my dad accepted a temporary transfer to work for the Argentine subsidiary of his U.S. employer. Thus, part of the pre-move preparations involved my parents’ 2-week, company-paid attendance at a local Berlitz total-immersion language school. It was a stressful, morning-to-night grind, no English allowed.Unlike my beleaguered parents, I began my language studies once we landed in Argentina. I was enrolled in an American school where I had classes in English in the morning and classes in Spanish in the afternoon. That, plus daily interaction with native speakers in our community, provided an excellent learning environment. Nonetheless, my parents hired a tutor to help me with the intricacies of sentence structure and verb tenses.Community ImmersionJust as I benefitted greatly from learning Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, Christians thrive best when we’re part of God’s visible church. Scripture is clear that each of us has an important, God-ordained place in His body (1Corinthians 12:12-30) and that we should not neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Furthermore, God’s family is composed of members of varying ages, abilities, and spiritual maturities, just like biological families. We are called to do life together in compassionate covenant communities, where we rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and come alongside each other to teach, support, and encourage according to the gifts we’ve been given (Romans 12:3-21).
Comfort—we all crave it, and too often we live for it. I wake up each morning to a fresh brewed pot of Starbucks, preferably Sumatra, but any dark roast will do. Sipping that first strong cup eases me into focus. Nice, right? But this pleasurable morning routine doesn’t hold up away from home, where such an aromatic wakeup is rare. Coffeemakers in hotel rooms are typically in the bathroom (just gross!), and don’t even get me started on powered creamer. So I resort to Diet Coke or to covering my sleep-wrecked self with a coat and a pair of sun glasses to embark on a search for a nearby barista. Over time, my morning pleasure, my comfortable way of easing into the day, has come to own me.
What’s your thing? Maybe it’s that mid-afternoon chocolate bar or nightly cocktail. Maybe it’s something completely unrelated to food and drink. Whatever it is, we can so easily worship the comfort god rather than the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). We worship this idol of comfort by orienting our lives on whatever promises to provide it in the fastest, easiest, most enjoyable way, and the more we indulge, the harder it is to cope without our comfort-providing substances. Our comforts become a prison of our own making.
The day after our honeymoon, just eighteen months after I had accepted Christ as my personal Savior, I moved to Covenant Theological Seminary with my husband who planned to become a pastor. Outwardly, I bravely faced the new things God was calling me to; inwardly, I felt great tension between who I was becoming and who I used to be. By His grace and mercy, God was changing me from the inside out.
My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was fourteen. In my grief after her passing, my life turned upside down and inside out. I didn’t know how to allow myself to feel the pain and loss, so I numbed myself to the pain instead. If you can imagine any girl from your middle school or high school who bullied others, struggled with cutting, or engaged in substance abuse—I was like her. After graduation, I vowed I would never come back to my hometown—facing the shame and pain of my past was something I didn’t have the courage or strength to do on my own. I desired to forget the past—to untether myself from the person I had been.
When we left seminary in 2009, God called my husband to serve in a church just fourteen miles from my hometown. As a new Christian one of the first verses I had memorized was 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, (s)he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” When we moved back to serve in a church so close to my past life, I tried to let this verse fill every nook and cranny of my heart. It is easy to say 2 Corinthians 5:17 from memory—it is more difficult to live by these words and walk in them.
It was the answer to prayer I didn’t want to get. It was not only disappointing—it was costly.
It was one of those life situations that getting the answer I wanted would have had no grand effect on the universe, but have made my life (and my family’s life) quite lovely. Time, prayer, wise counsel, and careful planning had all gone into setting the stage. The answer I wanted would have allowed me to honor God in so many ways. The correct answer to my prayer was obvious, and I couldn’t wait to receive my blessing from the Lord’s hand.
But the answer that seemed so right never materialized. I felt as though God had failed me even though I had done everything right. I prepared for a season of action, yet God had me continue in this season of waiting. In between the sharp pains of disappointment, questions swirled like brittle leaves on a blustery day. Why had it turned out this way? Why did I have to suffer? Didn’t God care?