Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hindsight Epiphanies

“Is there something you want to ask her?” the interpreter said to me. I paused for a moment and then shook my head. “No,” I said. “I don’t have anything to ask her.”

We were standing in the hot afternoon sun in Ensenada, Mexico, on the doorstep of a housing tract for migrant farm workers. The woman in question, probably around thirty years of age, was sweeping her front porch with a red broom. The floor was hard clay, but she swept it none the less. Her two boys, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with faded American slogans, circled around us. They looked to be elementary-age, but walked with the swagger and bravado of world-wise teens. The oldest one asked something in Spanish and our interpreter turned to the photographer next to me and said, “He wants to know if you would like to give him your sunglasses.” The young man next to me cocked his head and said, “I don’t think so” as we slowly began to turn away from the woman sweeping her porch.

The poverty was severe. Whole families were living in a single space not much bigger than my office cubicle back in the States. I stepped inside one of the corner units and saw that, unlike the room where the sweeping woman and her family lived, most were empty; the floor covered in empty beer bottles, old newspapers, candy and condom wrappers. Some had puddles of water in the center of the mud floor. There were flies. I could imagine the workers returning from the fields in a few hours, searching for an empty patch of ground to sit down or to rest their bones after a day’s work. I stepped back out of the cool darkness and into the warm sunlight to join my friends who were snapping pictures, murmuring quietly to one another in reverent tones.

Why was I here? It was a question whispered half to myself and half as a silent prayer.

I was here because my friend at the YWAM base here in Ensenada had asked me to come and speak to a group of students who were down to build houses for the poor in Mexico. I was here, in this migrant farmer housing area, because my friend had wanted to show me how people here lived. But, why was God putting me here? Why did He put me on this woman’s clay porch? Why did the interpreter ask me if I wanted to ask her any questions?

Eventually our little group mounted back into our air-conditioned SUV and rolled back out on to the dirt road to get something to eat. I watched the dogs chase us briefly in the rearview mirror until they became swallowed up in the silver gray dust of our tires.

Later that night, lying on my bed at the YWAM base, I replayed that scene over in my mind. “Do you want to ask her anything?” What would I ask her? What could I possibly need to know from her? It came to me quietly between slow breaths. “You could’ve asked her how you could pray for her.”

In my mind I saw us forming a circle around this woman, joining hands, praying through the interpreter for this woman’s family, for her sons, for her husband, for their daily bread, for God’s favor on their lives. Yes, I thought, the image in my mind of the prayer we did not offer fading softly. That’s what I could’ve asked her.

Lately I’ve grown weary of such hindsight epiphanies. This being only one of several I’ve had in the last few weeks. Why is it I do not think of these things at the moment, when they would actually do some good? Why is it I only think of what I should’ve said, or what I should’ve done, hours or days later? The dishes I should’ve washed without being asked. The floor I should’ve cleaned as an act of loving service for my friend. The prayer of blessing I should’ve offered the woman in Mexico. Why didn’t I consider these actions in the moment?

This answer came to me as I was on my knees in prayer recently. The reason I did not think of these things at the moment was because in that moment I was more concerned with my own agenda. I was in a hurry to go somewhere else. I was on my way to do something that I wanted to do. My agenda wasn’t submitted to Christ. This is why I couldn’t hear that still small voice; because my voice was too loud in my own ears.

Strangely enough, I am starting to think that this idea of dying to myself, taking up my cross daily to follow Jesus, is not as difficult as we make it out to be. Perhaps this is the most terrifying truth of all. It’s not impossible for me to wake up every day and say, “God, what’s your agenda? Make your agenda my agenda.” I can do that. It’s not that hard, really. But doing it means that I will have to give up something that I would prefer, or to share something that I really want to keep for myself, or to lay aside my preferences in favor of whatever God might call me to in that moment.

I’ve never been able to shake the story of two Christian martyrs from the second century who stood before the magistrate and professed Christ. The first man was asked, “Are you a Christian?” and when the man proclaimed his faith in Jesus he was taken a few feet away to have his skin ripped from his body. Then he was tied to a stake and as they made ready to burn him alive the magistrate turned to the second man and asked him, “And are you also a Christian?”

I put myself in the sandals of that second man and I wonder if I could answer, “Yes, I am a Christian” as he did. Perhaps if the penalty was having my head cut off or being quickly put to death, I could more easily affirm my faith in Christ. But to face such brutal torture, I’m not sure if I could do it. I’m not sure I have that kind of faith.

The other day as I was contemplating this very question I heard this sentence in my head saying, "the only way I will ever enter the Kingdom of God is if my flesh is stripped from me”. I know that this is true. One layer at a time, one day at a time, my flesh needs to die. Without this daily death I cannot follow Jesus. Without my cross there can be no crown.

Conversatio Morem!



Jon Philpott said...

I can relate to this. I was reading Rev 4 recently and was really taken back by the elders throwing off their crowns when they worshipped, they knew they were blessed and they knew they special since they wear crowns in the presence of God yet they throw them to floor, humbling themselves before the throne. In the same way I know im blessed by God, I know I'm i crowned and in his presence, but the only response for worshipping him is to throw it to ground and focus on him.

I think it's also interesting that they start this act of worship after the four creatures declare who the one on the Throne is! How often do we do this? Every time we hear a declaration of who He is, and what he's done, shouldn't our response be to humble ourselves and worship him?

Anyway.. I enjoy hearing these stories from you, Brother!


Alan said...

I can totally identify with this. I am repenting. My heart is softened. I'm not kidding - honestly.


Keith McLachlan said...

Wow Keith. Just last week I was down town having dropped my vehicle at the garage for a service when I decided to take a walk to our local Christian bookshop. On our streets in South Africa we have what we call street vendors. They are basically unemployed people & sell items such us sweets, chips, cigarettes, fruit, etc. They set up 'shop' with cardboard boxes or wood, or any type of material that will hold their wares. Walking up to the Bible Centre I passed a woman with 2 small children selling her wares. I could see she was an unhappy person. I heard something in my spirit but did not respond. I passed them again on my way back; heard something again & did not respond. Your experience is my experience. We're miles apart, but how amazing are our experiences. Thank you for these words. My experience of that woman sits in my mind even today. Thank you for these words of encouragement. Let us endeavour to lay aside our agenda & ever be conscious of the Spirit's presence & voice. Blessings to you

John Blake said...

Unfortunately I have had numerous instances where I realized I missed God--20/20 hindsight is agonizing when you KNOW you failed to listen to his voice. Jesus pressed onward to the cross without being driven. The gospels are filled with the Lord stopping to respond to people. Our Type-A personalities and self-inflated agendas have robbed us of the still, small, sweet moments where the Spirit nudges us to respond in love to the human condition. Thanks for this reminder to practice awareness to what Father is doing--yielding ourselves to participate in moments of God-breathed beauty.