I stand next to my sister at the sink. She may not look like my sister, with her long black hair and brown skin, but in all essentials—in Christ—she is my sister. It is a companionable task; she washes the dishes, I rinse them off, and we talk as we work together. She tells me of what it was like to spend the night of the flood last July perched on the roof of their home while the waters reached to the door frames and her brother swam to rescue his elderly mother-in-law; I tell her about the cold Canadian snowdrifts that rose to the door frames in my childhood. We talk of her desire to learn dress making, and we laugh over my failure to sew zippers.

Then we talk of housework: she tells me that she loves to wash dishes, and I silently remember how nice it was to wash dishes in the hot soapy suds of my American sink. I tell her that I like to see dishes come clean, too. She then admits with an embarrassed shake of her black hair, “I don’t really like to wash clothes, though.” I quickly try to encourage her, saying that I like washing clothes, and that to make the drying and folding more enjoyable, I try to pray for the family members whose clothes I am handling as I work.

It is then that I am bowled over by my lack of cultural sensitivity. You would think I would be just a little more aware after two-and-a-half years in this country. She sweetly turns to me in reply and says, “It is just such tiring work, scrubbing the clothes, and trying to get the stains out.” I have a sudden mental picture of her, my sister, squatting at a tub of sudsy cold water, scrubbing the family’s clothing between raw knuckles. In stark contrast, I envision myself effortlessly tossing dirty laundry into our automatic washing machine, spoiled beyond belief.

How is it that my sister in Christ toils hard over the washing while I push a few buttons?

How is it that she should perch on a roof in a flood, wondering if they would survive the night, while I am cozy in my house, safe from all the elements?

How can it be that learning dressmaking might mean the difference between not enough or subsistence for her, while failure to master sewing in a zipper is just a laughing matter for me?

I have no answer. These are the lives that God gave to each of us. He ordained, and here we are, next door to one another in vastly different spheres.

Yet somehow this sister of mine, who labors long and arduously, who faces peril with no financial buffers, is infused with a joy that I do not see often enough in my own life. Somehow her radiant smile of contentment and trust in God outshines the smiles of many of her affluent western counterparts.

How in the world could that be?

Is it just possible that in a life jam-packed with challenges, her daily desperate dependence on the faithfulness of God has cultivated beauty of character that is worth far more than the luxuries of a washing machine and flood insurance and running hot water?

God has lavished me with incredible luxuries.

Has He lavished you with luxury too?

I wonder…have those luxuries done anything to cultivate fruit for His glory in my character?

Have they increased my thankfulness, my contentment, my faith?

Or…am I the one struggling with the greater poverty?

©2012 Thrive.

Question to Get the Conversation Going: For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). What are your thoughts?