Either Way You Strain It

Posted on: January 17, 2017 Written by
Either Way You Strain It
Photography by: arinahabich from iStock          

I ran my fingers over the tiny holes. Pressing the rubber handles between my hands, I spun it like a new penny, admiring the durability. If I would have had a colander like this in Kenya, I could have saved myself many a steam-burns and bundles of lost noodles down the drain.

Jami, how could you?

I put it back on the shelf—again. I did not buy that colander for another 18 months.

In Philippians 4:12 the apostle Paul makes the impossible claim that, whether in a season of plenty or one of want, he learned to be content. The interpretation of this passage is often used to chide those feeling frustrated during a season of “want.” I find this passage peculiar because of the ridiculous implication that one might ever find oneself needing to learn contentment during a season of “plenty.” However, there is an entire subset of the Church who not only struggle with being content in plenty, but who have completely lost their way in the battle to prevent their discontent.

British Airways had not even landed our plane in Charlotte, North Carolina, before I set my jaw, furrowed my brow, and clenched my fists. God may have called me back to the United States, but I simply refused to ever be “American” again. I determined never to allow myself contentment in a country I judged completely devoid of global concern. I vowed to never forget the faces of displaced children. I would never become complacent about the work still to be done. I promised never to store up treasures on earth—which of course meant I could never spend $7.99 on something as silly as a colander.

It took less than a year, however, before I became acutely aware that resisting the resurrection of my inner “American” was equally as miserable as the once painful journey of killing it. Hijacking trite conversations on the soccer field to discuss the bloodbath in Syria had dissolved every potential friendship. Searching for the perfect missions department had me testing churches like a wine connoisseur, spitting each one into the Rejection bucket with a snobbish clicking of my tongue. Feeding my prejudice by judging every behavior cut deep into the hearts of confused family members. Each time I put my foot to the doorframe and pulled relentlessly on the knob, I could see my natural “American” tendencies peeking at me through culture’s keyhole with a look of confused determination. My grip began to slip.

One Sunday morning I sat numbly listening to the hyperactive worship from our church du’ jour. I breathed an audible sigh of relief when the pastor emerged and spoke quietly, announcing he would be preaching from the book of Nehemiah. As I read the first chapter, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit, like a parent poking the ribs of a disrespectful child. “Listen,” He said, “you might learn something.”

By night I went out through the Valley Gate … examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. … Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing … Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace (Nehemiah 2:13, 15–17).

The pastor paused for an awkward length of time and then stepped out from behind his pulpit. “I do not know who this is for,” he began, and to my surprise, my heart quickened as my arm almost raised itself. “I do not know who this is for, but God has a question for you: when you look at the rubble before you, do you see the death of a dream, or do you see a chance to build?” My lower lip began to quiver as the words slid over me like a satin sheet being pulled from my face. The pastor remained silent as my tears began to fall.

Then he said, “God has given you tools for this job. It is time to get to work.”

Before I left the church parking lot that day I sent a text to the President of Crescent Project, Fouad Masri, confessing that I had never once prayed about his request for me to lead the Women’s Training department here in the U.S. office. I asked for his forgiveness and vowed to fast and pray for the next three days. To my own amazement, I accepted the position a week later.

It has been two years since I heard that sermon from Nehemiah. I can see now, with great enthusiasm, that God is building something in the American Church, and He was asking me to pick up a hammer. In order to do so I had to lay my desire to return overseas on the altar and raise my knife to it. I remain in that posture to this day.

Being content in every situation often requires doing our work “without”—like straining our noodles with a wooden spoon—but there are also seasons when God joyfully provides a colander in the hopes we will be even more efficient in the task. It can be very difficult to decipher the fine line between utilizing these tools and indulging in them; between enjoying them, and abusing them. It is scary. I understand. Being content with “plenty” can be tricky; I struggle every day. That is why I am glad Paul closes his exhortation to the Philippians with this:

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

(Philippians 4:13 NLT)

 

Question to consider: “When you look at the rubble before you, do you see the death of a dream, or do you see a chance to build?”

 

©2017 Thrive.



About the author

Jami Staples is the Director of Women’s Training for Crescent Project. Together with countless volunteers Ms. Staples designs national training conferences for Christian women to learn how to move past their anxieties and share the Word of God with Muslim women world wide.

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Author's Website: http://www.crescentproject.org/withoutborders
  • sarah

    Jami, oh, my goodness, your words. So well-written. Thanks so much for writing honestly. I am on the verge of returning to live in the USA, after many years overseas, not my choice. Your experience will help me to repent of my judgements and reluctance.

    • She is pretty amazing!

    • Jami Staples

      Dear Sarah I remember well looking at the U.S. border control and feeling something terribly magical would happen as I walked through and got my stamp. And you know what….? It did! I can’t encourage you enough to return to the U.S. AS A MISSIONARY…to your own culture. All the training you did to prepare going overseas…use it to come home. Learn the American language, dress to build respect in this culture, and never stop preaching the Gospel!! When I opened my eyes I realized the nations live in our country – I can go to Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia or Bhutan just by driving to the other side of town! Look for your mission field here in the States and then put your gloves on and dig in! God’s got something for The Church to learn about His global worldview and you’re one who can bring it to them. Till the soil…plant the seeds…water with love and watch for the harvest! I’m praying and grieving with you, Sister! – Jami

  • Anna McShane

    Excellent writing and thoughts. My first few years back I sat in plush pews and seethed inside at the “waste” – I could have build whole worship centers for the cost of ONE pew in my adopted country. But then I gradually realized that I had put so much energy into learning to live among another culture to reach those people that I had totally forgotten that God called me back to my own culture and I needed to bend and adapt to adequately minister here. Yes, some things still grate, even after years, but I’ve learned a lot of grace over time.

    • Jami Staples

      I get it, Anna. Totally get it. I remind myself often of who I was before I went overseas. “Would I judge her?” I ask myself. No – because I just didn’t know any different at that time. Putting myself back into my own shoes has been helpful when I need to remember how to relate to my culture. Press on!