The school year is well underway. Being year two, everything seems similar and different at the same time. Each day presents the unknown disguised in the clothing of the familiar. We’re done with the first quarter, and I feel as though I’m tremendously more prepared than I was last year, but I’m also regularly caught off guard by new challenges… or opportunities.
One day a week, we have two class periods in a row in the higher level science classes that I teach. Surprisingly, students don’t often articulate their excitement on those days. However, this year, we were having a particularly interesting class on a day when we did not have those back-to-back periods. The bell rang, and a student asked me with wide eyes and genuine hope if there was another class period coming. I did my best to disguise my giddy self-satisfaction, and calmly said that no, we wouldn’t be having another class period right then, but that we’d pick up where we left off tomorrow. I’ve rarely been so proud of myself, and that’s coming from someone who’s proud of himself pretty often.
Stephanie worked through three full weeks of medical brigades at the clinic. She even worked late on a Friday night to unload and start organizing this year’s shipment before the teams arrived. And by shipment, I don’t mean a few boxes on the porch sealed with amazon prime tape… I mean a container the size of a semi, full of more than 300 boxes of medical supplies, which needed to be ready to be used in surgeries about 60 hours from the time of arrival. All in all, the brigades went really well, and we’re looking forward to more in January.
At school, Sam and Evie continue to amaze me. They have their school uniforms now, so in addition to looking incredible, they just blend right in with everybody else… kind of. Sam is a diligent and intelligent young man, and Evie has a Spanish accent (or lack thereof) that would make you think she was born here. I’m learning a little, too, but both of them can run circles around me, and they even translate simple things for me once in a while.
One night, Stephanie was helping with medical training for a missionary who trains pastors in the area. That left me in charge of dinner, so we had the same thing we have every time I’m in charge of dinner… something you buy. We went to Casa Pizza and continued our tradition of being the only people in the country to order a plain cheese pizza. After dinner, we needed to get some air in the car tires, so we went to the gas station. As I was filling up the tires, Evie asked me, “How do you say ‘llanta’ in English?” Llanta is Spanish for tire. She was serious.
When we got home, it was pouring rain. We ran from the car to the porch. We got soaked. And then immediately, it stopped raining. Sam pointed that out, but then said, “It’s ok… I kinda liked that.” His attitude is often more mature than mine. Sam has already revealed to me his plans to bring his family to Honduras someday. Sometimes I see my life like I’m just watching someone else’s.
There was a night early on in the year that I got invited to go play soccer in the park. I was ready to defend the honor of gringos everywhere by putting in a good showing, so I was planning to be pretty competitive. There were all sorts of different ages playing, so at one point, Sam joined in. Suddenly, the game was no longer about scoring goals, but became about spending time with him… it became about being with my son. Attempting to score goals together was an excuse to just be together. He followed me around, which isn’t ideal for team performance, but it’s perfect for building our relationship. He even kicked the ball right back to me when I lost control of it. And I couldn’t have been more excited. I think God is the same way with us. He may have just a few other things to do, but when we’re in the game, we’re the most important thing there is to him. So go play. You might even truly be able to help God’s plan when he needs you, just by kicking the ball back to him like Sam did for me.
Another weekend, we got the opportunity to go run a race together as a family, and with a bunch of other teachers, too. Stephanie ran a ways with Evie, and there was a 5K that Sam ran and an 11K that I ran… one of the worst decisions of my life. My strategy was just to keep up with the person in front of me. When they would get too far ahead, I would find someone closer and try to keep up with them. That cycle repeated about 70 times as my opportunities for humility stacked up. Eventually, I made it, but I limped for about a week and a half after that. Before the race, Sam saw the trophies for the top 3 finishers in each category, and he set his mind on getting one. After the race, when he realized he didn’t earn one, he said, “So I did all that work for nothing?!” That’s one perspective.
Playing soccer in the park wasn’t about scoring goals, it was about being together. Running the race as a family wasn’t about winning a trophy, it was about sharing an experience and growing closer together. This life isn’t about accomplishment… it’s about drawing closer to our God and one another in the process.
But if that’s what it’s all about, then this can feel like a pretty frustrating time to be alive, especially if we can’t see past all the worldly garbage in our face. Migrant caravans bring up the complexity of how best to help the poor and vulnerable, drawing sharp divisions between us. Political elections either do or don’t go our way, and we find our relationships with our neighbors are strained either way. Unpredictable actions by the governments of our own or other countries around the world hang an unwelcome burden of fear on our backs each day. It’s all overwhelming… what are we to do?
The reason politics is so divisive is because the forces of evil figured out long ago that humans are easily enticed to attack a false enemy. The devil can trick us into thinking that the other side is wrong, and we are right. He can take all our righteous anger that should be directed toward him and deflect it toward our fellow human beings who happen to be on the other side of the political aisle. This is exactly what he wants. We certainly can’t fix the world by ourselves, but we have remarkable efficiency when it comes to using the world’s problems to drive permanent wedges into our personal relationships.
I’ve seen good people on both sides of the aisle in two different countries. I’ve seen amazing Christians look at other amazing Christians with contempt when they differ on purely temporal issues. I myself have felt that contempt for others who don’t agree with me… as though I am some sort of moral authority with the clarity to sort out global complexity and somehow know better. It’s simply not the case that one side has it figured out and the other doesn’t. It absolutely is the case that the devil knows this trick works on humans, regardless of the country or the time period they happen to live in.
Life is a soccer game we are supposed to play together, not one we are supposed to win. Life is a race we are to use to grow closer together, not one in which to earn a trophy.
When Sam expressed his disappointment in his trophy-less futility, it made me think of Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians in Philippians 2:16, which says, “…And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” He was encouraging them to do everything without arguing (verse 14), continuing with his theme of humility and unity (verses 2-4).
In Ephesians 4:2-6, Paul also says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
I think as human beings, we have a responsibility to be decent to one another, and as Christians, we have an additional responsibility to be in unity with one another. And don’t get me wrong… that definitely doesn’t mean agreeing all the time, but rather expressing our differences in a constructive way. If we’re serious about our faith, we are going to bring up issues to others that challenge them, and that’s healthy. We should also hope that people bring up things to us that challenge our own assumptions. It’s not the challenge itself, but rather the way we react to those challenges that will determine whether a spirit of unity reigns in our relationships. We need to work these things out, often in a thoughtful debate. But if we let division supplant unity, then the devil has won, hiding his own evil behind the false front of the other side. The fact is that we need the other side to help us. This world’s problems are so big, that the only thing that can solve them is God himself. And the way God works is through people. People on the left and people on the right. People born north of the border and people born south of it. Broken people like you and I, who can often think too highly of themselves when they take their focus off the God who is so much higher than us all.
I’m so very grateful to be surrounded by people who don’t always think the same way I do. I’m grateful to be forced to think about the other person’s perspective before I react (most of the time). I don’t think everyone has it as easily as I do right now, living in a foreign country. But I think it’s incredibly important that we all recognize our own foreignness on this planet. It’s also incredibly important that we recognize the true nature of others… glorious eternal beings temporarily trapped in these weird bodies in time and space. If we don’t, we run a high risk of dismissing the eternal value of a relationship on the basis of something superficial and eternally trivial. The more we do that, the more awkward it’s going to be when our mansions are right next to each other in heaven… forever. Ok, so we really don’t know exactly what that will be like, but I don’t think that’s too far from the truth. Jesus himself confirmed to us that the most important things in life are to love God and love your neighbor, so I think we are free to use whatever imagery helps us remember to do that on a daily basis. Because just knowing that we are supposed to live in unity isn’t the hard part… it’s the doing. Good luck out there.