The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of craziness, adventure, challenge, and growth. I’ve done so many things in such a small window of time it’s hard to keep it all straight. Just two years ago I was finishing up school and looking forward to finding a teaching gig. I landed a few interviews but with the economy struggling there weren’t many teaching jobs to go around. That led me to consider other options, one of which was teaching abroad. Looking back it’s quite obvious to me that God put this all in motion a long time ago. And here we are, nearing the end of 2014, and I’ve since spent almost two full years in Chile. Like I said, those years have provided me with a smattering of life experiences and moments that have been both challenging and unforgettable. Without a doubt these years have left their mark on me, in the best way possible, and I’m coming out a better man for it. This year God has taught me so many things, and most of them fall into these four categories: perseverance, prayer, humility, and trust.
Most of my time here in Chile has flown by. And I’m not exaggerating. It feels like I’ve blinked maybe three times since February and it’s almost October. Both this year and last have been filled with amazing experiences, but they’ve had their share of struggles as well. There were days I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, days I didn’t want to go to work, days I felt overwhelmed, and days I felt misunderstood or alone. But boy was I wrong. God has been with me the entire time. Those moments where I felt a certain weight on my shoulders were due to any number of factors. Homesickness, eternal winter, isolation, exhaustion, and even illness at one point. In each of these situations, among others, there were instances where I took my eyes off the Lord, the result of which left me feeling alone in whatever I was facing. The weight grew infinitely heavier when I tried to go it alone. But when I focused myself on the help and the hope that were always within reach, the problems I was facing slowly grew smaller and I gradually gained more faith that I would overcome them. Moments like these are bound to come, regardless of whether or not we lose sight of the Lord. Frustration, loneliness, and exhaustion are things that happen in life. What matters is how we react under such circumstances. God has taught me again and again the value of persevering. This was the first year in my life that I worked full time and lived on my own. Complicating things even more were visa issues, language barriers, and the fact that I worked independently the whole year. For the first time I had to pay all the bills on my own: rent, food, internet, cell phone, transportation, and the like. There were numerous moments where I barely managed to scrape enough together to pay all the bills. Private English classes were my main source of income but they were hardly reliable as my students could cancel at their own will. It was no loss to them, yet to me it made all the difference. Moments like these were tough for me. But pressing on in these moments develops character, and it prepares us for future challenges. It also helps us to get through the hard times quicker. I now know never to give up because I have it within me to press on. I have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside me and I have God on my side. In no moment was I going it alone, and never will I have to. With the Lord’s help I know I will overcome.
I’ve also been taught a lesson or two about prayer. And let me be up front here; I’m not simply talking about asking God to do things in your life. That’s a vital piece of prayer, but a piece nonetheless. God genuinely cares about what’s going on in our lives. He wants us to succeed and he wants to help us. He also wants us to come running to him, whatever the situation calls for. Be it for help, a shoulder to cry on, to celebrate, or to ask for forgiveness. God is our Heavenly Father and he wants us to seek him out. I admit that there were stretches during these past two years where I fell away from devoting time to prayer. And those stretches were most likely when the lowest moments occurred. It wasn’t that God had stopped being faithful, or that I had hit a stroke of bad luck. It was my own lack of faithfulness to God. My own laziness, or whatever excuse you’d like to plug, prevented me from feeling close to God when I needed him. And that’s on me. Prayer is sometimes made out to be a chore. It’s like a checklist item that we feel obligated to complete at some point during the day. And while it should be done daily, it shouldn’t be a burden. From all of the examples of prayer in my life, too many of them have been in moments of hurt or need or desperation. It’s like we only resort to prayer if nothing else is working out. I am really bothered by this. God has been helping me and showing me how to restore joy to my prayer life. I look forward to speaking to him. Even if it’s at night before I fall asleep, I love telling him about my day. I love praising him and telling him how much I appreciate him. Sure, I ask him for help as well. I’m always going to need it and frankly he’s the one I most want to receive it from. But God is so gracious, and so good, that prayer should be joyous. It’s a privilege that we can speak to him freely and a massive blessing that he listens. And he truly cares! So pray faithfully and do so joyfully. You won’t regret it.
Humility. Man, are these fun lessons to learn. I’ll be flat out honest and say that I’ve always thought myself a pretty humble guy. I can’t stand showing off or bragging. I don’t revel in the spotlight. I try to never come across as arrogant or ungrateful. But sometimes I am way off base, and I know it. These lessons are the kind that sting at first, but for me it feels so good afterward. I’m thankful for the episodes over these past few years where I’ve been put in my place, so to speak. There were various moments in which I was shown what true humility looks like. I’m talking about the kind of humility where you submit yourself before others, even when they don’t deserve your time or respect or help. It reminds me of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. He’s the King of Kings and he had no reason to be washing the dirty feet of men that would later betray him. But he did wash their feet. This is the kind of humility that very few people are good at. I am trying to get better at it. I think our modern-day society possesses a very subconscious but firmly set idea of elitism. We are always comparing ourselves to the rest, aiming to stay above some meaningless standard we set for ourselves and others. As long as we stay above that line, we’re better than the rest. I have very gratefully come to realize that I am only the best at one thing, and there is no reason to compare myself with anyone else. Care to guess what it is? I’m not the best at soccer or hockey. I’m not the best at Spanish. I’m not the best writer. I’m not the best teacher. But I am the best at being me, and that’s precisely what God created me for. He didn’t make me to be any other way but the way I am, and that is perfectly good with me. I am made in God’s perfect image. I am made to glorify the Lord, to serve men, and to love them both with a humble heart. So in humility, I will ever attempt to do these things to the best of my humble ability.
Lastly comes trust. In today’s world trust is quite a rare commodity. There are very few people that we entirely trust. Be it with our belongings, our secrets, our past, or our lives. In order to give out trust we require others to earn it. Sadly, we hold God to this same standard. We don’t fully trust in him until he proves himself. We’re all about the proof. And even when he does, we sometimes rescind that trust because he didn’t come through in the way we wanted him to. Well, shame on us. God doesn’t need to earn our trust. He should always have it. God has provided for us in so many ways it’s absurd. He put us on this earth. He put breath in our lungs. He gives us free will. And he gave up his one and only Son to save us because we screw up all the time. So yeah, God deserves our trust. But what God has done this year is show me again and again, time after time, that he wants me to trust in him one hundred percent, all of the time. God has opened so many doors, just at the right time, that I can’t even count. He has also closed doors that needed to be closed, exactly at the right moment. And even when there were no doors to be opened, but he wanted me to get somewhere, he opened a timely window. I can’t even fathom or come close to explaining how incredible everything has been. God has guided me right to this very moment. What I’ve learned is to lean on God through everything, and to never doubt. If he wants something to happen, it’s going to happen. He always finds a way. And if not, no worries. It wasn’t meant to be and he’s got something even better in store. And that’s the fun part. If we trust in him, let him take charge, and team up with him, we’re in for one wild and fun ride. It may bring tough times and obstacles. In fact, it most certainly will. But when we trust in him there’s nothing to worry about. Trust in him, even when you have no idea what’s going on. Because he does.
As you can see, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on all the growing I’ve been doing. Maybe you got bored and skipped ahead or maybe you spent the whole time nodding in agreement. Maybe you’ve already learned all these lessons or maybe they’re on their way to you right now. Whatever boat you’re in, I challenge you to take a step back from life for a moment. Life is so crazy and we get so busy that we forget to consider this stuff. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten to consider God. But even if you have, it’s okay. He’s right there, waiting for you with open arms. And if you have been relying on him, take a moment to think about all he’s done for you lately. Reflect upon what you’ve learned. Sometimes we forget that the lessons that God sends our way are meant to help us grow into better people. And if we forget to work on these things, his lessons just go to waste. So again, I challenge you! What has God done for you lately? What have you learned from him, or from others? And finally, I encourage you, to never stop trusting in him. Never stop asking him for help or celebrating with him. And never ever stop learning from him. He’s a pretty awesome teacher to have.