Saturday, August 08, 2009

In whom do I put my trust?

I wrote this in my journal several months ago during our weeklong Easter trip through Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. I wasn't immediately able to post it but I still want to share some of the things God taught me while we were on that trip.

I can't think back on our trip without confessing two things that left a lasting impression on me - two things that left me realizing God still has a lot to work on in me.

We began and ended our trip with a prayer in the hotel room in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Although it was Holy Week, a week when I'm used to celebrating very religiously, especially attempting to focus on the joy of Christ's resurrection, for the most part our activities did not follow the church calendar too closely. Part of this, I learned later, is just a cultural difference. During Holy Week, most Catholics participate in the processions remembering Christ's death. Most evangelical Christians and the non-religious head out to the beaches or the mountains - the beaches are CRAMMED during Holy Week. In Costa Rica a 2-hour car ride to the beach ended up taking more than 6 hours! Evangelicals don't usually do a sunrise service (at least not in Central America), they certainly don't paint easter eggs or eat chocolate bunnies, and few even address the resurrection at all during the Sunday service. We talked about these differences in our language class and our teacher was fascinated at how different our traditions were. San José, I understand, as like a ghost town that week. Everyone was at the beach. Except the ones doing the processions. The Catholics.

All that being said, I didn't know all that on the outset so I felt guilt pangs often during the trip, realizing I was celebrating in a way rather far removed from the shared Christian calendar celebration of Christ's death and resurrection. Stemming from that guilt came two thoughts which stuck with me during the trip.

First, when preparing to travel, in what do we put our trust? Upon what do we meditate? While packing my belongings and dressing myself every morning of our journey, I was reminded of what I placed my trust in and looked to for protection and safety. It's what I "girded my loins with", in this case :). Held closely and protected more securely than anything else was my money belt, containing my passport, my debit card, and my memory chip of photos I'd taken on the trip. That way, if I ever got robbed or in a jam, I always had my money to solve my problems or my citizenship to fall back on. I've realized of late how incredibly fortunate, and, quite frankly, how unjustly fortunate one is to carry a U.S. passport. I can hopscotch through several countries, never worrying about visas, interviews, immigration... at the very least I'm granted practically hassle-free movement across borders. Beyond that, I understand 90-day tourist visa overstays are often overlooked, even though I've been careful to renew mine 3 times since arriving in Costa Rica by exiting the country for 72 hours and returning (a "taco bell run," my boss calls it).

The flexibility my passport gives me is backed by the dollars represented by my debit card. If everything falls to pieces, if only I have enough $$ I can probably get out of any difficult situation, I mentally remind myself. This is reinforced by the panicky helplessness I felt several times in Belize, because ATMs were so few and far between. Where would I sleep? How would I buy food? What came to my rescue? The greatest combination of the two things I carried to get me out of a jam - U.S. American dollars. Tied to every country's local currency, those bills were usable pretty much anywhere we went.

Oh, and my memory card with photos. No mystery there. I didn't want to loose the images of our adventures in Tikal and all the places we'd been up to that point. On one hand, I'm really proud of the fact that my memories and photos were so important to me. At first that seems like a much "nobler" thing to prioritize. Maybe so, but it also revealed my pride. I am proud of all the places we visited and things we got to see. I kept telling myself how unique this was and how no one had ever or could ever do it as well as we had. I even told myself God was directing our steps and guiding every even that happened. On one hand, that may be true, and I still believe it was, but to think somehow we merited that good fortune, that protection and that supernatural feeling of things clicking together in a fate/destiny-driven way? Sounds less like a spirit of God-honoring gratitude and more like a spirit of pride and entitlement. Perhaps these two are so closely related its hard to separate them. I turn the question to my passport country. When some claim that we are "blessed by God," what exactly are we saying? Or, in what situations do we proclaim that? A person who is truly blessed by God does not feel pride or entitlement, but rather humility and a magnetized pull toward God - what I'd call "love." There isn't a sense of "I deserve this," but "who am I to be so blessed?"

Consequently, perhaps the litmus test for whether are "blessed" or "entitled" comes when things fall apart. Then... do we shake our fists at the man because we aren't getting what we deserved, what was promised us, our "birthright?" Or do we place what we've lost before God, and as we had always done before, thank Him for the time we enjoyed his favor, confess his control over our situation, and continue to draw nearer to Him in faith and trust.

My citizenship, the $$ behind my debit card, my memories, and my availability to travel are a blessing and a source of joy in my life. But not for a second do I want to fall into the trap of somehow believing I am entitled to those things. If I am truly moved by the sense of injustice I feel when I realize I have enough money to get out of any jam while others are starving for lack of food, if I am truly humbled by the fact that I was arbitrarily born into a country and family that gives me the ability to cross three borders in one day without a hitch, I think I must be willing to sacrifice these blessings so that others might enjoy a more complete justice, a better sense of security, and the same open borders I enjoy. I must thank God for these blessings but put them back in his hands, and truly say, without reserve or holding back... "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

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