To be and not to do

I’ve been having quite a few conversations lately about why Life Teen Missions is focused on learning how to “be” instead of “doing”—admittedly, this is something that’s a little hard to grasp onto (after almost two years, I’m still trying to figure it out!). That doesn’t necessarily mean that, as missionaries, we don’t “do” anything…it’s more like focusing on the WHY behind the “what” we’re doing.

The longer I’ve been a missionary with Life Teen, the more God has invited me to know that in order to be a missionary (to do) I have to learn how to BE missionary. There really is no separating the two. Being missionary is something that involves every part of me; it is the wrapping up of the whole of my life into God’s life. The question is no longer “God, are you calling me to be a missionary or not?” but rather, “God, WHERE and HOW are you calling me to be missionary?” I suppose that may look like the same question, but there is a huge difference in both how I ask the question, and how it’s answered. The reality is, I can “go and do” as much as I want, but if my motivation isn’t Jesus, then I’m missing the point…I’m not necessarily being missionary, I’m doing good things (which is not bad, just not the fullness).

As I started to realize that mission is above all a way of life, a posture of heart, a demeanor of readiness, the activities I defined as “missionary” became different as well. EVERYTHING became about serving God: changing the toilet paper for the 1,000th time during summer camp, making beds for other people to sleep in, washing one million spoons, leading a small group of 8th graders through Stations of the Cross, repairing drywall, coming up with ridiculous skits, learning German, pulling weeds, making dinner for someone, praying  the Our Father in Dutch, talking with a teenager about music, cooking with a woman who’s feeling lonely because all her children have moved out of the house. If I can do all THAT with love…well, then, that’s something. Learning how to do those small, everyday things with love is infinitely harder—for me at least—than hopping on a plane and flying over to Botswana to teach English. But as I am being refined in the fire of God’s love, I’m learning that it is in just those small, everyday things where I grow much more in holiness, and grow much closer to understanding what being a missionary means.

I will paraphrase two great Theresa’s here: “We cannot do great things; only small things with great love” (Bl. Mother Teresa)… “If you feel too lazy to pick up a bit of thread, and yet do so for love of Jesus, you acquire more merit than for a much nobler action done in a moment of fervor.” (St. Therese of Lisieux)

Missionary life is crazy. I’ve done things like operate a chainsaw and drive vehicles way too big for me. I speak German (like a 5-year-old. We’re called to be like little children, right?). I am in multiple countries in any given week. I’ve written blogs and emails and shared my life with people who are practically strangers. I’ve been part of a support system to people who are losing hope. I laugh and cry with people. I work so that people can have a place and a space to come together and pray again. I’ve told people hard things. I freak people out because I don’t have a regular job or because I’m in the church every day, or because I know German when they don’t expect me to, or because I do “risky” things like moving 6,000 miles away from family or buying a plane ticket to Poland without a place to stay.

Do I know what’s going to happen next year or 5 years from now? Absolutely not. I really don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow. That is both unsettling and comforting—I am completely dependent on God. And so, right now, I TRUST that if I walk forward in faith, desiring nothing but to follow God, He will bring about His will in me and through me. Do I know what He’s doing? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But I trust that He does.

I am still not completely “sure” what God wants me to “do” with my life. I do know this: God is completely and utterly moving in my life, he is actively bringing me into a deeper relationship with him, he is molding my heart and shaping my desires to mirror his plan for me. There are things I’m learning here that I would never be able to learn anywhere else–about myself, about God, about these people I suddenly find myself surrounded by. I am different in every single way from everyone else here, except for our relationship with this person called Jesus. And THAT is mind-blowing. The unity of the Church is miraculous, and something I’ve only come close to understanding because of my experience here—fumbling through Mass in German, Dutch, French, and Czech and KNOWING that Jesus still comes. Seeing how He is uniting people in community, how He is about the work of restoring and renewing the Church here. It brings tears to my eyes to see the faithfulness of people who hang on to Christ when there are comparatively few who know that relationship with Him matters.

I can see some fruits (however small they might be) in our presence here; in the times we gather and pray, in the relationships we’re building with people, in the unexpected desire for other people to know Christ more fully. And THAT is what I believe in, what I hope for, what I rely on–that wherever God “calls” me, whatever I “do,” He will bring about His fullness.

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