So I got this sign the other day at the artisan market as a souvenir and memory of our time in Costa Rica. Literal translation: pure life. Here in Costa Rica, it’s a phrase used by the people to basically say, “It’s all good.” I’ve been reflecting on this phrase, and our experiences here, for the last 7 months. In fact, I used this as the theme for my Spanish devotion presented on Friday in my lenguaje class.
As a Christian, there is just so much meaning packed into this little phrase, and what a great tool for evangelism in the streets of San Jose. In reality, if you’re a believer, you are truly experiencing “pura vida” every day, all day, no matter what circumstances surround you because you’ve been justified! You’ve been set right with God, and this status never changes. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8: 1,2)
In reality, though, we are living anything but the pure life. My life could more accurately be described as “la vida loca”! And on this side of heaven, we will never be free from failure and disappointment and struggle and pain. Our journey is marked with a continual movement towards His perfect plan for us. And that journey is one of purification.
What does the Bible have to say about the process of purification? In Isaiah 48, entitled “Israel refined for God’s Glory”, God says this to His people in verses 10 and 11: “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (The beginning verses have some very applicable and interesting things to say about the kind of people we are…obstinate, rebellious, worshippers of idols…I know I could see myself reflected in those verses. And the remainder of the chapter talks a lot about who God is and His character. Read and reflect on the whole chapter if you have chance to.)
If God were actually writing a chapter in the book of Cosner, this period of time in language school could appropriately be titled: The Furnace of Affliction. Since day one, we’ve been experiencing hardships and trials. And we’re not the only ones, so this isn’t meant as a way to express self-pity. It is just the ugly reality of missionary life. Over the last 7 months, we haven’t expressed much about these struggles, because processing them has been a struggle in and of itself. There is also the inner fear that if we truly shared how hard all of this was, that people would think we weren’t fit for service in His kingdom, or worse, that we had lost our faith. Neither of those is true.
What is true is that we are imperfect, impure people that God has called to serve in Belize. And He is using some very painful means at times to prepare us even further for our time there. Strip away all the distractions in your life, and you might be surprised at what rises to the top. And I’ve certainly been blindsided by the sin that was living deep within my own heart, and the sin revealed in the hearts of my family.
I could choose to focus on the sin, mine and theirs, and slip into a pit of despair and depression. And to be transparent, that is where I have lived many times since August. I feel worthless, or useless, or like a complete hypocrite. I see extreme selfishness in the mirror, and in the faces of my husband and children, and feel deep disappointment. I’ve never felt lonelier, and rather than banding together, it’s as if we’ve all built our own walls of reinforcement and we’re not letting anyone in. And sometimes, we’re even lobbing grenades over the wall at each other. This experience has left me feeling quite hopeless, to be honest, and questioning everything I thought I knew before.
I need to be reminded of the first verse I mentioned above. THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION IN CHRIST JESUS! I am in Christ, that I know. And He is in me! That means, even if I fall completely apart here, there’s no condemnation. Even if I’m a complete failure as a wife and mother, there is no condemnation. Even if I’m the worst Spanish student ever and fail all my exams and sound like a total gringo when I talk, there is no condemnation. Even if my kids are not exactly what I pictured, there is no condemnation. Even if we can never raise enough support and we never make it to the mission field, there is no condemnation.
Our afflictions have been many.
- Sibling conflicts, to the point of fist fights (on our FIRST day of orientation, we ended up in the principal’s office.)
- Accidents (my unfortunate hammock incident resulting in a 6 week concussion, Mike’s severely twisted ankle)
- Sickness (weird allergic reactions, chronic stomach issues, Mike’s kidney stones and surgery)
- Marital conflict and long counseling sessions
- Isolation and loneliness, feelings of being forgotten
- Loss of friendships, or unexpected changes in friendships
- Continual conflicts with teachers and administration at our kid’s school
- Not being able to worship in a language we understand
- Losing financial support and not gaining new support
- Extreme fatigue, like mind-numbing, eyes painfully trying to stay open, need a nap every afternoon kind of fatigue
- Depression and anxiety
- Arguments with our kids
- Weight gain
- Struggles with the kids’ grades
- The reality of our pride and selfishness
- Personality differences among the many missionaries
- Doubts and questions about our call
The list is actually a mile long, and I’m sure it’s not yet complete…we do still have 5 weeks left, plenty of time for more afflictions. But I also know this. The Bible says in 1 Peter 1: 3-7, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So what would my list of blessings look like right now?
- I am saved by grace through faith, and I’m justified completely in Him, and there is now no condemnation.
I’m trying to be honest, and the reality is that my list isn’t very long right now. And not because good things don’t exist in my life, but more because I just can’t see them. I’ve been so focused on my suffering, and on confronting and facing my sin and inner battles, and on the things I don’t have. However, that ONE thing on my list is enough. It’s a hope and a truth I can cling to. And even though it seems like a short list, that ONE thing could take me pages and pages to explain all of its implications in my life.
And the encouragement from 1 Peter is that my long list of afflictions is temporary. It isn’t forever. It’s for a little while. But my eternity is just that…eternity. My inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, and it’s being kept for me until I reach the arms of Jesus. In fact, I believe it IS the arms of Jesus.
And yes, there are wonderful things about being a missionary. We’ve met some fantastic people along the way who are now a part of our journey forever. We’ve had experiences, and our kids have had experiences, that most people don’t get in a lifetime. And we are living, every day, doing exactly what it is that God made us to be doing. The contentment that comes from knowing you are fulfilling your calling is beyond anything I could ever describe to you. (See my previous blog post about Purpose.)
I’m not the person I was in August. I’m being refined in the furnace of affliction. And I know that the Lord is going to use this impure, unrefined person for His glory because He tells me so. In the end, that’s what this is all about…His glory.