This is an article I wrote for our church newsletter, The Chronicles, before I left. A little more color to the backstory of how I got here.
I Have No Idea
I give up. I’ve tried for the past couple of months to neatly string together a series of events that led me to Haiti. And as I sit here writing at 3 a.m. three days before I’m supposed to get on a plane, I’m ready to admit – I have no idea how I got here.
As far as I can tell, there isn’t really a clear narrative. I mean, I’m sure God has a plan that’s perfect, but I have very little to do with writing that story. So as He’s revealed pieces over time, God’s call has been simple – consider, surrender, and trust. Sometimes I see life as a riddle, where the winner is whoever solves the mystery first. But now I’m seeing it more as growing into a new body, where each experience leads to discovering more about who I was meant to be and what I am meant to do. And that’s exciting. So instead of stringing together a pretty story, I’ll share two of the heaviest pieces God’s dropped on me.
“We’re asked to have tidy biographies that are coherent. Everyone does that. But the fact is, a particularly discrepant version has the same ending.” ~ Dr. Paul Farmer, Founder of Partners in Health
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ~ Jesus, God/Man
The Idol of Control
The last eight years have been utterly paralyzed with possibility, suffocating from the endless opportunity everyone says you’re supposed to pursue. The weird thing about opportunity, though, is that every time you add one, you also add a new opportunity cost. So not only are there more choices to sort through, now you have more riding on the choice you eventually make.
If I only studied math, I would be an accountant. Since I studied math, history, science, economics, English, and Spanish, though, I could still be an accountant. But who’s to say that I shouldn’t be a historian, or a scientist, or an economist, or a writer, or a translator? See? Paralyzing. I was drowning in a sea of “perhaps” and “what ifs” and I still felt like I needed to heap more on top. At the center of all my bending and bowing stood an idol – the belief that I was in control over my own destiny. That the success or failure of my life depended on making good decisions. When I stop to think about it, it sounds pretty similar to works righteousness. Probably because it is works righteousness.
I love flying. It’s so crazy that I can walk on a plane in LA and walk off in Haiti. When I leave in a few days, I’ll probably be peacefully sleeping in my seat through the entire ride even though I’ll be in the cabin with no control over steering that huge beast. Why? Because I trust there’s a pilot up front who knows what he’s doing.
“After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” ~ Paul, formerly Saul
The (Misdirecting) Idol of Money
Money is an idol, a very powerful one at that. Some people sacrifice friends and family to get it, others flee terrified. In either case it wields a power over us that is other worldly. Which is probably part of why I feel so satisfied when I give money to charity. I believe that I’m released from its power as I donate 10%, 20%, 50% or more to those in need. But that’s the misdirection. I’m satisfied bandaging the cut on my finger while a cancer makes its home in my heart.
“Charity also functions to keep the wealthy sane. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, also function as outlets that allow wealthy Christians to pay off their consciences while avoiding a revolution of lifestyle. People do their time in a social program or distribute food and clothes through organizations which take away their excess. . . But when we get to heaven and are separated into sheep and goats (Matt 25) I don’t believe Jesus is going to say ‘When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me’ or ‘When I was naked, you donated to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.’ Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions: ‘You fed me . . . you visited me . . . you welcomed me in . . .’” ~ Shane Claiborne, Christian Hippie
See I think the greater idol is time. Its power far exceeds that of money. We are society obsessed with time. “I’ll go after my children are grown. I can’t afford to take the time off of work. Maybe when I’m done with school.” Here’s where we see time flexing its muscles – we rarely question if any of these is really a legitimate excuse. We just assume it is.
Money is in infinite supply. Not that we all have endless pockets of cash, but if I give money away, I can earn it back. Most of us have that option. So I choose to support someone on missions instead of buying that new digital camera I wanted. Does that mean that I never get that camera? Probably not. It probably just means that I’ll need to wait another couple of weeks or months until I can afford it again.
Time doesn’t work that way. Everybody has a finite supply, which is why it’s so hard to give it away. It’s so much more precious to me than money, so I don’t want to wander off from the timeline I’ve set in my heart. I’ll finish my education by 24 (because I’m Chinese and my education isn’t finished until a get a post graduate degree). Then I’ll settle my career by 28. And after that, I’ll start my family by 30. Each one of those markers is an altar that I’ve built for the god of time.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” ~ Jesus
As I’ve considered ways to live out these lessons (and others) of faith, they’ve led me to Haiti. By the time this is published, I should already be in Haiti. To be here for the next 6 months, I left behind a lot of things. I quit my job at the end of last year, and I stepped down from church ministries. So it’s natural to see this as a sort of destination, taking me away from the normal course of life. It’s easy to see this as the culmination of a long trail of thinking, praying, and studying. But it really isn’t. It’s me, trying to live in a way that expects these truths to be true. What does it look like to surrender control of my life and believe that God has a plan? What does it look like to be free from the tyranny of time and timelines? For me, for now, it looks like Haiti.