I almost didn’t post an update, because I don’t have a camera roll of pictures to share from this week. But I’m realizing it’s all part of the lesson.
I feel like a reptile shedding the skin it has outgrown. I’m itchy, wriggly, uncomfortable, stretched and changing – and not for any of the reasons I’d expected!
Culturally, we feel very much at home. The language barrier is more like a language bubble we sort of ping around inside. We are understanding a lot of words and can at least communicate that we do not understand Serbian and then apologetically say, “English?” instead of looking dumbfounded all of the time. (Serbian is hard to learn!) We are learning the layout of Novi Sad and can get around to major spots without directions. We’ve figured out the basic bus routes that have stops near our house, and we don’t have to think so hard when it comes to making monetary conversions in our heads. (Though sometimes the 1045,95 price tag still throws me.)
At dinner last night, someone asked me what we thought of Serbs in general. I said I didn’t feel we’d gotten a real sampling, since most of the people we’ve met are from Lifegate! I joke, of course, but it’s true that Lifegate campuses do feel like home, even halfway around the world.
I’m not missing any thing from home at all, really – just friends and family. ❤
So why the itching and wriggling?
I believe the Lord is showing both Kurt and me how much more comfortable we are with “doing” rather than “being.”
It’s part of American culture.
“What do you do for a living?” “What did you do today?” “What are you going to do there?” “I don’t have anything to do!” (Can I get a summertime amen on that last one?)
Did you know there are entire civilizations around the world that do not prioritize doing? It’s not that tasks are unimportant, it’s just that they aren’t AS important as other things like relationships, respect, and loyalty. There are cultures around the world that do not derive value and identity from accomplishments and productivity. Their senses of worth are derived from other things.
In America, a lack of achievement can seem “lazy” or “flakey.” We struggle to conceive of another way of measuring our worth. We (Americans) are a society that emphasizes the individual over the collective, so our achievements are one of the primary ways we plant our flag and prove our value as individuals.
But the Kingdom of Heaven is a culture of “being” over “doing.”
Not that what we do is unimportant,
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
– James 2:17, NLT
But, what we do pales when compared to who we are in Christ.
7 I (Paul) once thought these things (heritage, obedience to the law) were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 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 9 and become one with him.
– Philippians 3:7-9a NLT, parentheses mine
Which is all well and good until the rubber meets the road and we no longer have the warm fuzzies of accomplishment to cuddle up with at night.
When the Lord’s assignment is literally “go and listen,” and there’s not much to write home about, does it feel like a waste of time and resources?
Do we need to justify every minute of recreation with a long list of achievements?
Better yet, where is the line between “recreation” and “productivity” when the task cannot be scheduled on a spreadsheet or checked off step-by-step?
What if your job description simply read, “Be who you are?”
Hear me: Kurt is still working his full-time tech job here in Serbia. He’s set up in an office in the seminary, telecommuting in the evenings to line up with America’s work day. I’m still in the business of raising 5 kids (in a foreign country), and keeping house and making meals and all of that. We’re still leading worship on the weekends with the teams here and making ourselves available to the church.
But our minds are so conditioned to ACHIEVE that we STILL feel unproductive some days and itch to justify ourselves here.
Just being really, really honest.
I feel like God issued me a time out this week. Emily. Sit down. Listen. Why are you still trying to prove your worth to me? My love and approval STILL have nothing to do with your behavior. I have loved you forever and I will love you forever NO MATTER WHAT.
The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
-Jeremiah 31:3, NIV
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-Romans 8:38-39, NLT
What if our greatest “achievements” in this lifetime just involve showing up and remaining?
Showing up for time with the Lord… Showing up to worship Him… Showing up to love others… Showing up to the place He has called us…
And then remaining… Living life attached to the vine, drawing sustenance and grace from Him and simply allowing Him to produce fruit in us and through us.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
– John 15:5, NLT
This is the dance. This relationship of “being” with the Lord, being continually transformed by Him, being available for His use. THIS is the purpose of my life.
I don’t know why this is so hard for me to wrap my head around.
But as Kurt and I were talking, we realized this may be the secret of long-lasting, sustainable ministry. Burnout comes from effort. But, when we simply remain attached to the Lord and are responsive to God’s will by showing up wherever He leads, then effort never enters the equation. We operate by His grace, His power through us, His LOVE.
And all of the other stuff will take care of itself. Yes, buildings need to be built and paychecks need to be written. Programs are helpful for giving structure and excellence is attractive. But we all know the hearts of men and women are not changed by buildings, paychecks, programs, or even attractiveness. These are all a means to an end – an offering we give to the Lord and ask Him to consume with HIS power and fire.
The hearts of men and women are only changed by the Spirit of the living God, Himself. We show up, we remain in Him, and He draws people to Himself.
Clearly, I am just learning. There are people with much more education who have much more insight on these topics. But maybe someone needed to read these musings from a person just figuring things out with the Lord the same as everyone else. Or maybe I just needed to write this down for myself. 😉 lol
We love you. We miss our friends and family at home, but we rest in the knowledge that God is working here in the Balkans, and we are honored to be part of what He is doing.