To see the first installment, check here.
First of all, I know I have been struggling with this issue of discernment, which I would have defined as “what am I supposed to do with my life.” I read the book Discernment, by Henri Nouwen, while in Juba, and was challenged with an alternative understanding of discernment. Particularly, I reflected on this quote from the book’s introduction:
Henri emphasized that Christian discernment is not the same as decision making. Reaching a decision can be straightforward: we consider our goals and options; maybe we list the pros and cons of each possible choice; and then we choose the action that meets our goals most effectively. Discernment, on the other hand, is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire.
I spent a lot of time in Juba trying to get in touch with my ‘deepest desires,’ and trying to get in touch with ‘God’s desire,’ and trying to sense that place where those were or were not aligning.
Another struggle I’ve had this year has been about my call to my current context. I have been frustrated and confused about whether I am “where God wants me to be.” In my personal Bible reading while in Juba, I was working through Ezekiel. Most of it was prophetic imagery that I didn’t really understand. But on the day I was flying from Nairobi to Juba I read these verses:
He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them. For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel–not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ez. 3:4-7)
In my journal I couldn’t help but note that later that day I was traveling to Juba to explore the possibility of working in a school there…among people of obscure speech and difficult language. I couldn’t help but note that it was possible God was calling me, like Ezekiel, to stay among those who perceive themselves as “God’s chosen people,” despite their “hard foreheads” and “stubborn hearts.” I wrestled a lot with that idea while I was in Juba…was I okay with NOT being called to foreign lands, to people of obscure speech, etc? Was I okay with being called back to ‘my own people’?
Another dynamic in my life this year has been stepping in to some unresolved grief from my childhood. I’ve spent a lot of time this year crying, talking, and processing through the impact of being a missionary kid. I’ve wrestled with the pain of being sent to boarding school at age 8, and all that being missionaries cost me and my family. And during my trip to Juba I spent a lot of time listening to parents who are in the position my parents were in when I was a kid. I listened to the struggles of parenting overseas, the challenges of being missionaries, the frustration and isolation of being foreigners, and the inner conviction in God’s call that sustains them through all of it. And I found myself unable to hold on to the criticism I have justified as ‘my right’ as it relates to my own family.
In a women’s Bible study I attended while in Juba, I was challenged with an invitation to let God heal my wounds and turn the scars into testimonies of the power of resurrection. These words in my journal came from that reflection:
How much time have I spent this year talking about my scars as explanations for my brokenness? So much time. What would it be like to let Christ bind up those wounds and stop using them to justify fear and a lack of love for others? What if they became scars that testified to Resurrection? ‘Cuz that’s what I’ve been saying, right? We don’t need to be afraid of death because we believe in the Resurrection. And yet in order to experience Resurrection life, we have to give up our right to be dead….There’s a time for tears and a time for tears to end. And perhaps this is the time for tears over my past to end. Perhaps it’s time to let Christ heal those wounds. Which means, I think, forgiving. “I don’t want to be someone who hates people. I forgive you. That’s not easy for me. That’s hard” (quote from the movie “Philhomena”).
This release of my own pain over my childhood, particularly as it relates to my relationship with my parents, was one of the most strategic ‘accomplishments’ of this trip.
Next week–the final installment of Sr. Michelle’s amazing journey.