At about five o’clock yesterday evening, the four Atlanta missionaries were driving back from a youth minister’s conference in New Orleans. There had been snow flurries floating around our car since somewhere in Alabama. We were about thirty minutes away from home, driving north on I-85 in a twelve-passenger van, pulling a 12-foot trailer behind us that was semi-filled with resources and shelving from our booth at the conference. Then the left tire on our trailer popped. Problem.
When I was in high school, my friend’s mom gave me a book. I can’t remember what the name of it was, and I don’t think I ever finished reading it. But I remember the first sentence. The first sentence was, “Life is difficult.”
True. Life is difficult. There’s no way to escape it. The other day, I said to a friend (this was even before our tire popped), “This missions thing is hard.” His reply was, “Well a job is hard too.” Which basically leaves me with no option for what to do with my life – at least no option that’s easy. So I started thinking, and I realized that if I look at the past ten years, I can name one thing in every single year that was really, really difficult. And yet, I’m still here. I’ve made it this far. Twenty-two and a half years after birth (birth . . . I’m sure that was difficult for my mom).
What’s my point? Well . . . in all of the struggles of missionary life: our trailer tire blowing out, sitting on the side of the interstate for two hours while we figured out what to do, sitting on the side of the interstate for another hour after we realized that the battery on the van had died, getting home much later than expected, having to go back to get the tire put on and pick up the trailer on our day off, or things like living in community, getting sick, meeting new people constantly, four of us crammed in one two-door car six days a week, having only one car between four of us on our days off, unexpected changes to our schedule, the cold weather, having a difficult holy hour, or questioning our call to do something great with our lives . . . in all of these struggles, no matter how difficult, or strenuous or overwhelming they may be at the time, life is being brought forth. Yes, life.
These are the labor pains of mission. Sometimes they really hurt. But in a way, they remind me of the pain that Jesus went through for our salvation, only my pain is always less bloody, always less overwhelming, always less humiliating than His.
And so there is comfort, and there is hope. There is comfort and hope, even when we are left sitting in a cold van with full bladders for three hours, even when AAA won’t come to change a tire for a trailer, even when we move all of the resources from the trailer to the van with snow flurrying around us and the wind biting our faces, even when the guy who is coming to jump our car thinks that we are on the other side of Atlanta. And there is hope as well when our mission in Atlanta looks different than I expected, and when my heart is tired from meeting people, and when we get to the Church for our holy hour and realize that the door is locked again, and when I don’t feel like I have the courage or the words to ask someone to pray with them.
Those are the times when I have to realize that life is hard. Mission is hard. It’s hard because we are trying to be like our Savior, who certainly didn’t live an easy life or die an easy death. And we can’t have the glory of the resurrection without the suffering of the crucifixion. So let’s go. Let’s just do it. Let’s keep walking up our hill of Calvary, because the good news is that Jesus has already carried our cross for us, has already bled for us, and is waiting to give us joy even in the difficulty of our daily lives.
The funniest thing is that all of these trailer tire difficulties happened on Gaudete Sunday, guadete meaning “rejoice!” Which I thought was ironic at first, but now I’m seeing that this is just another way that the Lord was trying to speak to me. Joy, even in suffering. But that is a whole new subject.