Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Question I Struggle with Answering

         The market is busy. I come here almost daily to buy vegetables and hopefully score a few free ones from my favorite stand. I politely smile and shake my head no at the old man leaning against the wall begging for alcohol money. I’ve learned discernment through the years of navigating the colorful landscape of city shopping. Food shopping is an epic journey in Tonga. It takes multiple stops with no guarantee of finding what you’re looking for. But I’ve learned this and have learned to be flexible. It’s shoulder to shoulder today as i maneuver through the bustle. “Hey, what’s your name?” a younger guy calls out from a stand. This is less frequent the older I get so i’m surprised and respond, “I’m Peanut Butter!” And then point to the girl with me, “this is Jelly!” I’m not sure where i pulled that from, so random, but i think my joke is funny and i’m glad i responded easily. Too often i freeze up when questioned on the spot. I’m not a fan of small talk, but I understand the necessity of it and try to manage my awkward social abilities the best I can. I get a few questions from these trips but I am asked frequently one question in particular from Tongans and foreigners alike, “So you like living in Tonga?”

I’ve answered this dreaded question in a variety of ways depending on my day, how many years I’ve currently been in Tonga, or how long they had for a conversation. I’ve never been satisfied with my answer and always want to have a follow up appointment to discuss my response. In the early days i might have scowled and said no bitterly. Or in later years i would respond ,”well, it’s complicated…” But, today it came to me simple, “I love Jesus.”

Well, at least I’m learning what it means to love Jesus.

It means I love my family and friends in the US, but i love Jesus more
It means I love good healthy food options and better healthcare, but i love Jesus more
It means I love American washing machines and indoor plumbing, but i love Jesus more
It means i love privacy and a quiet house, but i love Jesus more.
It means missing mountains and cool air, clean water, a roof that doesn’t leak on my bed, bug free everything, good cheap wine, and the sweet comfort of familiarity and easy entertainment.

But I love Jesus more.

And Jesus said in the book of Luke, “"If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison--your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”
And in the book of Matthew, “ Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Yes! It hurts losing these things, denying myself and children so many comforts and rights. Hearing my children are homesick. We are all called to a life of sacrifice in one way or another if we want to follow Jesus. It’s not an option and we will suffer the loss of many things that are even good things. But, on the flip side it’s not all a loss, it’s actually a win! Paul in the Bible agrees, “ I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.”

Part of the gain of knowing Jesus is a changed way of viewing things. Ironically, when i love Jesus more than anyone i love people better. I let go of grudges. I always find something to be thankful for even when the odds are not in my favor. I sing more. I smile and it’s not fake. We deal with deep heart issues of the kids we look after with love even when we’re tired and it's the hundredth time we’ve gone over this. I say no sometimes instead of trying to please everyone and say yes with a happier spirit. I’ve learned to be careful of what I let others speak into my life and be careful what i say out. And I’ve seen prayers answered even as i struggle with disbelief and doubt.

I haven’t given up everything and sacrificed everything. We all have days, weeks, even months of being so done with everything. I have to humble myself and admit when i’m wrong. I get weary from sleepless nights from storms or drunk visitors. I still doubt when resources are low or things i’m counting on change. I haven’t reached a perfect state of spirituality. But i’m getting there. Like Paul says, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[d] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

So do I like living in Tonga?

I'm learning to love Jesus here and i'm happy with that.