With the first drop of the rainy season the earth sizzled violently, like water dripping into an iron-hot skillet. Then came the steam. The whole world was enveloped in it. One great cloud of muggy humidity. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. We had power for a whole week.
With the beginning of April the hot season has slowly started to fade and pass from memory, the way you forget how awful running those 26 miles were, or the way a mother only vaguely remembers the intense pain of childbirth. What does it matter? It’s over, and that’s what counts now. The power is on most days. Ironically, we don’t really need the power all that much. It’s not like those desperate days when you just want to stand in front of the air conditioning and do nothing else. At that point, the cruelest joke is played on you. The power goes off. Not for an hour, or four, or six, but 8 or ten hours or more at a time. No AC, no fan, just stifling heat. And, just for fun, it goes off in the middle of the night, too, at random. Not just any night, but the sticky, slimy, sauna nights when you feel like you really might suffocate if you don’t get some sort of air movement. The nights where you give up sleeping immediately because you know it’s no good. The nightmare nights. The labor doesn’t last for 36 hours. It doesn’t last for a month, or two months, it lasts for about multiple months. You start out strong as resolute, as a champion going to war, hoping and praying for the best, a month in you’re less noble, you cling to little creature comforts here and there, something that makes the day pass quicker, past that you go to anger…at the weather, the world, the ineffectual Tanzanian government, at God. Ultimately you give up all emotion and you just live. Except you don’t really live…you’re sort of a shadow of who you once were…you survive. To care is the enemy. By not thinking, not caring, you expending the least amount of energy possible. You are reduced to your lowest common denominator. Mine was uglier than I thought.
Not every day was like this for me, but many, many, many days were. I am ashamed of myself. Ever since things started to get a tiny bit cooler here and the electricity started to work more and more consistently and I finally got back the use of my mind, I’ve been feeling guilty. Wondering about how much and how often I failed to do what I should’ve done, when I did, said, or thought want I shouldn’t have, or fought the good fight like I was called to. I’ve looked over my shoulder and thought I heard others whispering behind my back about the massive pile of failures I carried on it. It must be as obvious to everyone else as it is to me. Let me be vague so it’s not as painful: I was brought to the test and I failed. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt guilt this palpable in my heart. It’s paralyzing.
Oddly enough, God has been speaking to my heart more clearly than he has since I first came here. There was this little phrase that I had tucked somewhere in the back of my mind, from some bygone day when I needed it. I couldn’t remember exactly what it meant, but I knew that I needed to. It kept echoing over and over again, when I would feel the weight the guilt of my failures press into my back. The phrase was “gutsy guilt.”
Then I remembered the story behind the phrase. The man’s name was Micah. He was a man of God. He spoke for God. He was a prophet. He told everyone the bad news, so nobody liked him. I guess he probably didn’t like that much. I can’t hardly blame him. But Israel was a mess. Somebody had to tell them. They had done the exact opposite of their role. Following the perverse idolatry of other nations instead of standing as the beacon of truth about the one true God. Getting all mixed up about who their real leader was. Trusting in the visible instead of the invisible. Maybe worst of all, being self-reliant. Ultimately, they were the antithesis of everything that they were supposed to be.
I can relate.
But Micah’s words at the pinnacle of all these failures were these:
“Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall, I will rise again.”
The next lines are even more powerful than the first: “Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.” (Micah 7:8)
What a beautiful truth that a not only a nation, but a person can rise from a face plant not because of their own redeeming qualities, or even their own wherewithal, but because of that Beautiful Light which reaches down and lifts up. And the enemy camp which so gleefully watched the fall, falls silent.
My heartfelt prayer for the next two months is that I will finish strong. Yes, things are easier now. Life is more comfortable and the end is in sight. But I pray that the Lord will use my feeble, gutsy guilt. That these last two months would honor Him, not to make up for all my failures, but to reflect that Light that pulled me up. That always pulls me up. And to bring honor to His dear name.
“Oh, let us learn the secret of gutsy guilt from the steadfastness of sinful saints who were not paralyzed by their imperfections. God has a great work for everyone to do. Do it with all your might – yes, even with all your flaws and sins.” –John Piper