Reasons Why

For not the first time in eight months, I wondered at how I had ended up here in Guatemala.

I wondered at God’s faithfulness.

I told the story to my family—the why’s that didn’t make sense and the tug on my heart. I wrote it down and emailed it across countries last October. And this is what they heard:

I used to run in the mornings when it was still cool in Texas. The afternoons would warm up to heat that no person would run in unless they had a death wish, but the mornings, when it was still a bit foggy out and the sun was just barely there, was perfect weather to run in. I would get my headphones and head out to the back pasture where the cows and horses would watch as I made laps up and down the part of the worn cattle-trail I had figured was half-a-mile and which was actually runnable (minus a few low places that would fill with water and cow prints), making the trail a mine of ankle-breaking places to jump over and avoid. I would occasionally play 50’s and 60’s rock music, but my normal routine was sermons from Village Church and Breakaway.

I blame these morning runs for being now in Guatemala.

One morning last May, I listened to a Village Church sermon titled “Source and Surface Idols”. I was prepared for a sermon that would challenge me, but not change my life completely. Matt Chandler started out the sermon defining idolatry as something we value more than God. Chandler says, “When you value something more than you value God, regardless of what it is, you will simultaneously suppress God’s truth and question God’s character.

“Let’s take whatever it is. In fact, one of the crazy things about idols is, more often than not (and this is what makes them so insidious), they’re good things made ultimate. They’re not bad things; they’re good gifts. Instead of taking them for what they are, we’ve elevated them to be more than they should be. When we begin to worship a good thing as an ultimate thing, what ends up happening is we suppress the truth of God and we question his character.”

Chandler addressed source idols: idols that are deeply rooted in our beings and create surface idols. The first one he addressed was the idol of comfort. He said this:

“The person with a comfort idol seeks comfort. They want privacy. They want lack of stress. They want freedom. What they’re willing to pay for that is productivity. They do not care about productivity. “Just give me comfort.”

They’re more than willing to not be productive at all as long as they can be comfortable. Their greatest nightmare is stress and demands. Now don’t think I don’t know some of you are like, “I thrive on that.” We’ll get to you, bro, in a second. We got you. We’ll get to you. But for the comfort worshiper, stress and demands is their greatest nightmare.

Others often feel hurt by those who worship comfort. Why? Because laziness always has collateral damage. The problem emotion of those who worship comfort is boredom. They’re people who are constantly bored. Boredom haunts them, because they have not been designed by God to sit around and do nothing. To worship comfort is to enslave yourself to boredom.

Worshipers of comfort see other people, even those closest to them, as potential obstacles to their comfort. Not surprisingly, then, authentic relationships do not come easily and, as a result, the person is only invested if the relationship provides an adequate layer of insulation. Think about it. If you worship comfort, all of your relationships can’t get deeper than an inch, because relationships require work.

Deep relationships, not the “Hey, how are you doing; I’m fine” kind but the deep kind, require effort. They require us to get into uncomfortable spaces, to be exposed at times, for our weaknesses to be made visible. The one who worships comfort can’t have that. It’s too much work. So they just bounce around and never go deep with anyone.

See, the funny thing about the promise of the comfort god is it never delivers what it promises. For all the comfort you pursue and seek, you simply make yourself more uncomfortable, because the heart was created to abide in community and fellowship and work. Though comfort is not a bad thing, comfort makes a terrible god.

This was where I saw myself—the only difference was that boredom was never in my repertoire. I was never bored, but I was restless. I wasn’t doing what I should be doing with my life: I wasn’t serving and I wasn’t making a difference. I desired to make a difference for the Kingdom of God and the words that haunted me were that I was in the supply line when I wanted to be on the front lines. But I wasn’t sure how to be on the front lines where I was because I loved my comfort. Relationships required work and being vulnerable was uncomfortable. Getting outside my comfort zone was one of my greatest fears. These things I had recognized in myself before, but I had never put it down to an idol I was serving.

I was in the midst finishing up my undergrad online at home and I loved it. I was comfortably able to wear sweatpants all day, drink tea to my heart’s content, I could write, I could go on walks through the woods, I could ride my horses, work my cows. But I looked back on the last year and couldn’t name anyone I had helped—really truly served. I had lived the year for me, comfortably doing school and nothing else. I felt my life was a self-reliant one and I was restless to make a change that would grow me spiritually—I wanted to serve and be in a situation where I would have to rely on God’s provision and rely on a community. The harder thing for me to do would be to stay where I was. I meditated on this option. There were plenty of people to serve if I opened my eyes, but I knew my heart would revert to tendencies of self-reliance and comfortableness if I did. It was the harder choice because it would require more diligence. I wanted to go to a community where serving was its mission, an already established mission that I wouldn’t have to build and where I could live and breathe service. I thought if I could train my body in serving, my heart and mind would follow.

Self-reflection on my life of non-achievement during my morning run brought with it a desire for spiritual growth. My heart became a pendulum between the need for routine and the urge to run, as a Pinterest quote put it. I was struggling with the ability to know if these desires to go were simply restlessness on my part that was rooted in my inability to find contentment where I was or was it a God-ordained willingness to leave? Was I being selfish to want to go somewhere else and experience new cultures and serve away from home? Was I running away from the opportunities where I was? I could volunteer more, I could serve in the church more, I could do so much more right where I was, I kept telling myself. But there was an undertow pulling me somewhere else. I read about Syrian refugees and wanted to go. I read about African poverty and wanted to go. I read about nations that were so deep into Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam and mysticism that if someone doesn’t tell them there is a hope and a future named Jesus Christ, they would not know. I compared it to my own culture, which has made intellectualism and materialism a god and thought of how many opportunities I have to witness and minister to them, too. Yet, I felt that the difference was that in the United States, there are people to fill the gap being raised faithfully every day. In a place like Haiti, if volunteers don’t step outside their comfort zones and leave, the work wouldn’t get done. I prayed about it and wanted a clear sign that told me to leave. But all I had was a willingness and the ability to go. Nothing more.

I looked at a few places to teach abroad, still unsure if I should go. While I was in the midst of this struggle and search, my sister told me that her best friend was going to teach in Guatemala. I asked for some information and thought I was going to add it to my list. I had contacted a few mission organizations about teaching, but I really liked the sound of the Inter-American School in Quetzaltenango. I decided to apply. But I was still struggling to decide if I should go or stay. The sermon that week at church was on making disciples and going unto all nations. But there was fear holding me back. I didn’t apply then because I was afraid of leaving. I was afraid of going, even though I felt the pull to go—I liked the comfort of home and this was not inside my comfort zone. I dragged my feet about applying.

For a month.

I made excuses and didn’t get my paperwork together because what if I get accepted? And, What if I don’t get accepted? I felt I should apply, but I resisted.

A few weeks later, was Lady’s Day at church. Laurie Vanderpool, a missionary in Haiti, spoke of being the Bride of Christ. She said that being the Bride of Christ was to be his hands to the least of these. Jesus bound the brokenhearted and we too are to serve those who are orphans and widows. I listened and felt a heart-pull. I sat in the pew listening to Laurie talk about serving and I felt very small—the sort of small that you feel when you stand on top of a mountain peak or beside the ocean. It was a moment of near panic when I felt like there was clear assurance I was going to be in Guatemala this fall.

That’s ridiculous, I thought, trying to shake off the feeling, I haven’t’ even applied.

It took another week before I applied. Once I did, I still wondered if I had misinterpreted my desire to go and the struggle I was having—if this was what God wanted me to do, I wouldn’t be having these doubts, I was sure.

I got word back that all the positions were filled and they didn’t have a place for me at IAS.

I felt like I had missed an opportunity because of my feet dragging and, yes, it felt like disobedience. I was afraid and didn’t apply in time. I kept wondering what would have happened if I would have been obedient when I first thought I should apply—how would my life have been different and how many people would I now never come to know or treasure?

In the midst of this, God dropped in Matt Chandler and his sermon on idols. Even more convicted—had I not applied originally because I was afraid?—I searched out a place to serve outside my comfort zone with mission organizations overseas. I thought of Guatemala often and it seemed like a reminder of my resistance to where God wanted me—I loved comfort more than serving God, my thoughts always seemed to say.

I decided that perhaps God was going to use my resistance to serve at home and I had just had it settled in my heart that home was where I would be and serve when I received an email from IAS director Michael McNabb informing me that a position had opened, was I still interested and did I want to interview?

I can still say no, I thought.

I would only have three weeks before I would have to board a plane for Central America. It was crazy to even try to get ready for a years-worth of life in three weeks, right? There was so much I needed to do at home—and what about serving at home?—I was surely being hasty even considering this. Yet, I kept hearing in the back of my mind: sounds like excuses. I had wanted a place to serve where I would be forced out of my comfort zone, I wanted to lay my idol of comfort down on the altar of service—at least in theory. I yearned to go, but I also kept thinking that it was rash. And because I wanted to go, maybe it wasn’t what I was supposed to do—it seemed the easier thing to do than trying to live a life of everyday courage at home and perhaps that was running away. I wanted to serve God, but I kept being reminded that I could serve God right where I was and I didn’t need to go to other countries. There were orphans in the U.S. and what was I doing about them?

At my dear friends Kate and Nate’s house a few days later, their small group leader came over for late night tea and blueberry scones Kate and I made. I told him about the opportunity to go and how I was struggling with knowing if it was my own desires or really something God wanted me to do. Andrew retold the story of Abraham.

“What was the very first thing that God told Abraham to do?” He asked me.

I thought of the story, “Move. Leave his home and go.”

“Exactly. And what was the last thing? It was sacrificing his son, wasn’t it? God created rapport with Abraham by simply asking him to move. Then as Abraham learned to trust and learned that God is good, God asked him to sacrifice his son. Sometimes we have to take the first step to cultivate our trust in God and all God asks us to do is move.”

Andrew went on to say that it isn’t always a choice between a good thing and a bad thing. “Serving at home is a good thing,” he pointed out. “Sometimes it is a choice between a good thing and a better thing.”

I interviewed and was offered a contract a little before 4th of July. I accepted and was set to leave July 31st.

I had moments of panic and moments of giddy excitement. Had there been no contract, I would have turned around at the airport and gone home. I was in sheer terror as I forced myself to walk through the airport security line and watch my mother and Nassandra get smaller and smaller until I moved behind a wall and couldn’t see them at all.

“What are you doing?” My mind and heart were screaming at me. This is a year of your life you are going to miss! You aren’t even a teacher! You are leaving everything you have ever known to follow some silly desire to make disciples and serve and be uncomfortable—aren’t you just being selfish in wanting to go?

Some of the teachers had stories of God’s clear direction and they kept saying, “I am right where I am supposed to be.” And “I was called here…” and such things. I kept thinking, “I wanted to, so I did.” No clear voice. All I had was the willingness to lay down my comfort and try to help bind up the brokenhearted.

During orientation the first week in Xela, the director, Michael, said, “I take the Great Commission seriously in making disciples of all nations. You guys are on the front lines here. Some people want a clear calling to serve, but all I think you need to fill the gap is being willing and able to go. Just being willing and able.”

And I knew this was where I was supposed to be.

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2 thoughts on “Reasons Why

  1. Stacy Prestridge says:

    What an extraordinary testament of faith, Tanessa! I was so very glad to read the final sentence and know you’d found your answer. The travel and the preparations and the sacrifice of your “normal” life and missing your family…. so much in the face of such uncertainty. I’m proud to know you, and to read how you have changed lives and how yours has been changed. You are such a faithful servant. I am humbled by how “willing and able” you have been during this opportunity. You’re an inspiration! Continued prayers from here!

    Liked by 1 person

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