I remember very vividly being a young girl and sitting in the pews at church and listening to the high school students talk about their experiences traveling to far off, exotic places, like North Carolina, for conferences or service trips. Mostly, I remember a phrase they oft-repeated that made me bristle and recoil, which was, “you just wouldn’t understand if you weren’t there.”
You see, I looked forward to youth Sunday, to hearing from the big kids about what it means to go out and serve God, and I always wondered why they took their place at the pulpit if they knew it was humanly impossible to explain to us homebodies what it meant to go where they went and do what they did.
Many years later I’ve had many the humbling privilege to travel across the world to serve God, and it is certainly is hard to find the words. And my first impulse (extrovert that I am) is to assume that I’m feeling out of sorts because I’m not talking about my experiences enough.
Some of those conversations have been heartening, others frustrating. I don’t want to sum up my experience in silly stories and soundbytes, and sometimes I’m left with the empty feeling that I’ve misrepresented China, the people, and the depth of my experience there. Perhaps this is how zealous evangelists feel when they’ve only managed to choke out the bare bones outline of sin and salvation, rather than the whole of Jesus’ ministry, its impact on them, and the weight of the cross.
But I’ve always wondered, like the kids on youth Sunday in front of the church, on whose behalf those evangelists were really speaking. And a couple days ago, as I began to pour over my fieldnotes in a quiet corner of a brightly lit room alongside other graduate students, I was transported back to the dirt roads of China’s countrysides and the moms and the dads and the children who have touched me there. I fought back tears, but inside something felt full and honest and right with my heart the way it hasn’t been since I returned (despite the fact that I was crying in a room full of people).
And I realized that Jesus also calls us into a secret place, a place where the Father sees and knows our hearts and will “reward us openly” (Matthew 6:6). What I have been missing in my own efforts to readjust to this place and this culture is the prayer and the communion that God provides, a holy moment where I can be witness to this life and those of my friends back in China at the same time.
And where I don’t have to sum things up for others or do the readjusting on my own, because God knows me deeply and wants to do that with me.
Of course, it’s not so secret to write about these things on this blog, and I hope you won’t receive these words as another, “you just had to be there, you don’t understand.” Truthfully, my experiences in China have changed me from the inside out in a way that I don’t yet fully understand, and I desire to find a way to share that joy, that power, those blessings.
But God is reminding me this morning that we’ve got to commit all those things to prayer and petition, and to God, first and foremost. And then the hard part is trusting that the rest really will fall into place.
P.s. There’s some really amazing stuff out on the internet right now that I feel compelled to share. Check out Glennon at Momastery‘s post to her children on back-to-school. My first reaction: Why does this choke me up so? My second: Radical love among kids, the kingdom of God doesn’t get any better than that!
P.p.s. Rachel Held Evans reposted something entitled “How to follow Jesus…without being Shane Claiborne.” This couldn’t have come at a better time as I’ve been struggling with the abundance in my new home and really needed some direct, prescriptive words. Amen.