Saturday, June 21, 2014

Letters to Emma (and Her Friends): On Crucifying Missionaries

Oh Sweet Emma,

Just a few short days and you will be back in my mountains with me! You have worked so hard and waited long to get back and I am so, so proud of your whole team. You have claimed the identity of missionary and made it part of your daily lives, not just a once a year adventure. You have formed yourselves and studied and learned and taken charge of the work you will do here in an exemplary way. You are bringing us back our beloved Friars to bolster us and inspire us and bring us joy. Gift, I tell you, Emma, you are gift.

And because you are so and I hold your heart so dear, and you are almost here, I am going to share with you today the very best piece of advice anyone has ever given me about being a good missionary. It was this: " Crucify the imaginary missionary in your head." Stay with me here, I am going to make this make sense.

Emma, in our planning and preparing, and especially in these days as you pack and its becomes real that you are on your way back, I bet you are building big dreams and high hopes. I want you to dream and hope big, sweet girl, because I am utterly certain that our great big God has a great big plan for your time here.

But, you and me, Emma, we have a little issue with dreaming big. When we hope high, we build the foundation on expectations. And our expectations are high. We expect big things of God. We expect big things of others. We expect even bigger things of ourselves.

We are good at vision. I am sure by now you have imagined in great detail the smiling faces of children, the sound of your voice ringing out in a little mountain chapel, the sun shining as you walk dirt roads, misty mountain mornings with your Bible and your journal and a new song rising in your heart.

Of course you have. Which of us girls with the spark inside wouldn't have?

There's only one itty bitty problem with those dreams, Emma. We spark girls, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves with our expectations. We tend to shoulder the responsibility for making them a reality.

And, Emma, don't be discouraged when I say this hard, true thing. It won't be like you imagined, this trip. It will be real, and so, so good. But it won't measure up to your expectations. You won't measure up to your expectations.

It's going to rain when you most wanted the sun to shine. You are going to get here and feel sad, alone, sick, or, worst of all, nothing. Your voice is going to crack and the prayers aren't going to come. People are going to care more about soccer than what you put your heart into planning. Maybe. Or maybe it will be something else all together that sullies your perfect dreams and pretty imaginings for this trip. But something will, dear one. It is the one thing you can count on.

And you are reading right now and I know what you are thinking. "I know that already. I am good. God is in control. It will be what He wants it to be." And you are right.

Because those expectations are just the tip of the iceberg, Em. The thing that happens next is the destructive force that takes down so many good ones. One that has almost steam rolled me right off my little missionary mountain more than once. It is this.

All of sudden, as expectations crash and you adapt and you make way for God to move, there will be a moment when the mission may not be what you dreamed it to be and you will be okay with that. But a worse thing will happen. You will find yourself not being the missionary you dreamed of being. 

You will be irritable and angry when you know you should be peaceful and kind. You will want to be peaceful and kind, and you will not be able to will yourself to do it. You will want out. Away from the very people you most dreamed of enjoying this experience with. The spotlight will shine on you and you will hate how you look in its glare. The pressure you have built up in your hoping and dreaming will boil hot inside you.

And you will be angry. Not at God. Not at everyone else. Not at the world. (Although they all might get caught in the crossfires.) But at yourself. At the missionary you thought you would be who, for some reason, decided not to show up when you most needed her. You will find it hard to accept that the adaptable, sweet, healthy, fun dream Emma stayed at home and this stranger you never met in you dreams came along instead. And she's not a very fun traveling companion.

If you fuel that beast, Emma, pretty soon you will be quite certain you should not be here at all. Quite certain you were completely silly and ignorant to think you ever could have had a missionary calling in the first place. Quite sure that there is no way God could want to use you in your ugliness and your brokenness. And even a little unsure whether He could possibly love a person who does this over and over again no matter how hard she works to shore herself up against it.

And then you will want out. You will be tempted to want to give up, give in and go home. And that would be an awful place to find yourself. Ask me how I know, Emma, ask me how I know.

This is when that odd little piece of advice starts to make sense. Don't try to leave behind the imperfect, broken Emma when you are packing, dear girl. God loves that girl. The real Emma. With all her gifts and glitches and messes and misses and missionary dreams. That's the girl He wants to use.

The other one? The imaginary perfect missionary Emma? Go ahead and leave her behind. As a matter of fact, in order to make sure she doesn't sneak her way in (she's a creeper, that one), go ahead and take that advice I offered at the beginning. Crucify her.

Pin all your hopes and dreams and perfectionist tendencies and expectations and pressures to the cross, Emma. And leave them there. In the suffering, triumphant arms of Jesus. Hand your Savior complex over to the real Savior and come with empty hands, ready to receive.

That, dear one, is the way to be the very best missionary you can be. That is the girl I want to hug hard and tight upon her arrival and spend the week with. So pack her up and get her ready. We are waiting, me and Him.

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