I had the chance a couple weeks ago to go back to Honduras, this time for a massive and amazing conference with AJS. I hadn’t really spent a lot of time in Tegucigalpa before, and I got to see a lot of program work in person for the first time. Man, was it cool. I got to visit community centers that are keeping kids out of gangs, go inside the actual national police headquarters, and go hiking in a national park just for fun. I was reminded of both the struggles and the beauty of this country for which I have an overdeveloped affection, and I was reminded of the hope that only comes from God, and thankful for those working for the good of this country as they inspire others around the world.
I also had the chance to go visit friends, students, and neighbors in Gracias. There were small changes… certain buildings were a little more complete, some new faces were teaching at the school, and I stayed in a hotel while someone else lived in “my” house. But a lot was still the same… the smell of the air, the taste of the food, the personalities of the students, the jokes with old friends, and the general over-appreciation of my family with respect to myself… most people got about halfway through saying hello to me before asking where Steph and the kids were. So yeah, it was nice to see them, too.
But really, it was odd to be there without them. In a way, it still felt much like home, but riding a bus without having to tell anyone to quit wiggling around is a lot less interesting. Getting only myself ready in the morning is still a challenge, just not quite as challenging as the routine I’m used to. Seeing people again was absolutely spectacular, but visiting a place just isn’t the same as living there, and it left me feeling divided, conflicted.
Even so, God has given me many assurances that I’m right where he wants me, but I continue to think that I can make better plans than he can. God just continues to act as if he were all-knowing, which would be off-putting, except that he is.
One of the things I got to do while there was give the chapel message at school, which was about examining faith and mercy in our relationships with God and each other. It focused on the belief and action components of both faith and mercy, and it was likely to change the lives of all who listened in a matter of minutes. Except that I think the message was for me. Later that night, I got to go to our weekly Bible study (which I hadn’t been to in months, but felt like I had never left), and we looked at Galatians 3 and Paul’s discussion of justification through faith versus justification through obeying the law… essentially the same belief versus actions discussion I had given in chapel that morning. When God does that type of thing to me, I both feel sheepish for not realizing it earlier, and encouraged that he has something specific to show me. My conclusion was that I needed to rest more in my identity as his son, and worry less about measuring the tasks I was accomplishing for his kingdom. No matter what I’ve learned before, I still live trying to justify myself through the works I accomplish, even relying on the approval of others and the notion that St. Peter will someday examine my Christian report card.
After getting back to the states (which is a phrase I can throw around now that I’m a big time international traveler)… so after getting back to the states, my boss told us all to take some extra time to rest after our big conference (which was intensely busy and incredibly awesome). This mandate to rest doesn’t jive with my obsession with tasks, but it does however align yet again with what God seems to be saying to me. So I try to listen more closely. In choosing to rest, I actually read my Bible (with the proper note added to my St. Peter report card), and the first thing I read was Romans 3. You know what Romans 3 talks about? You might know Romans 3:23: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” which is at best taken mildly out of context on its own. In the NIV, it’s actually the middle of a sentence. Just to give you a sense, at least Romans 3:24 should be included with verse 23, adding, “…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” It’s all part of a much longer passage discussing righteousness (or justification) through faith and faith alone. Interestingly, in Spanish, righteousness and justice are the same word… justicia. (Remember, I’m a world traveler that knows these kinds of things.) We are justified, made righteous, made just, justificado by faith alone… not by faith in something powerless, but by faith in the only all-powerful thing… by faith in the one who has already extended grace and mercy and is just waiting for us to accept it. Our good Christian accomplishments that may end up on our report card are not worth keeping track of because in reality they simply flow out of the joy that comes from choosing to accept this grace that is sufficient.
When I act on my own, I may not completely fail, but I lack peace and joy. When I allow God’s love and grace to fill me up and flow out with his guidance as mercy toward others… then, only then, do I sense God’s peace and joy in the work he has for me. So accomplishing God’s work requires rest. Accomplishing God’s work requires not keeping track and comparing. Accomplishing God’s work requires time and patience. And accomplishing God’s work requires not thinking of it as accomplishing work at all, but rather as enjoying the unions with which he blesses us in this life… a union both to himself and to others in his creation… bonds that we couldn’t possibly know enough about to perfect on our own… bonds that only he can weave together in his eternal and all-knowing way… something that we can only participate in when we allow the waves to wash over us and the current to guide us, rather than swimming our hardest in the direction we think we should go.
It’s so hard to let go of control, but it’s so freeing. We are not justified or made righteous through our actions, but rather just and right action will flow out of a relationship of surrender characterized by faith. I’m so glad I don’t have to earn his grace. And I’m so glad I get to be a part of his work. I pray that he would help me not to question him so much along the way, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to gently and repeatedly remind me that I don’t need to.