What a Mess I Had Made
Beth Guckenberger |
January 14, 2024
“As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” Colossians 1:9-12
Squinting, I see shacks in every direction—homemade out of plastic, wood, scrap metal, broken block. I’m visiting the families inside to see if they have a special “Easter burden” we can pray for this morning.
“Who am I kidding? Easter burden? Try daily burden,” I think as I see women washing clothes in a river and babies walking around without diapers. Our family was living in Mexico as missionaries, and although the scene was familiar, it was never easy.
“Mom, we haven’t been down that road yet,” my daughter Emma points to a pathway leading toward the riverbank. Having already heard about more needs than I can help, I am wearing down. “Okay, one more,” I say. I playfully tousle her hair. “Lord, give me strength.”
It has been a season of feeling like we have more work to do than we can possibly accomplish, more children to reach out to than we have helpers, more funding needs than anyone can meet. I walk down to the shacks lining the river.
“Buenos días,” I greet the little girl standing in the dirt. “Are your parents home?”
“Not now,” she answers shyly, her eyes full of fear.
Not wanting to scare her, I try a different approach. “We’re here to pray with anyone who wants to talk to God about the worries they may have. Do you have something you want to pray about?”
“Sí, I have something I am worried about,” she says. “Will God do anything about it?”
“He is not a magician, so we can’t ask Him for a trick, but we can share with Him how we are feeling and what we’re afraid of, and He’ll comfort us as we begin a relationship with Him. Would you like that?”
She leads us into her one-room home. Inside are five small children, the youngest is in diapers. There is no food, and the lack of cleanliness makes me wonder how long she has been left in charge. “We’re hungry,” she simply states. She doesn’t ask for her parents to return, or a bike, or a better house. She just wants food for herself and her siblings.
I begin, “Lord, would you bring nourishment for these children? Amen.” Then I decide I can “fix” the problem.
After promising we’ll return, Emma and I walk to a nearby food stand, where I buy several days’ worth of groceries. I hope this will be the answer to their prayers. We return and arrange the food on their makeshift table. “I’m going to let the pastor know about your needs. I’ll keep praying for you and for your mother’s safe return.” I hug her. I feel good inside, we are leaving them in a better situation than we found them.
As we walk away, I put Emma on my shoulders. When we’re about a block away, Emma yells, “Mom, turn around, go back! There are people all around those kids’ house!” Sure enough, I hadn’t even noticed we were being watched as we walked back to their home earlier, our arms full of groceries and my heart full of good intentions. All the neighbors knew those kids were alone, and now they’ve come to steal their food.
By the time we reach the door of the shack, a number of very unfriendly people are milling around. Crying, the oldest girl looks accusingly and says, “Is this how God answers prayers?” Flustered by her question, and by the people standing around, I panic. “Oh God, what’s going on? Please intervene!” What a mess I had made.
To be honest, I wanted to be able to imagine those children filling their bellies so I would not feel so guilty about filling mine. “Lord, forgive me!” As I cry out in His name, my heart is flooded with peace. I know He’s staking His claim over this shack. It feels like a wind blowing, but there’s no movement in the trees. Where the Accuser had been just moments ago, stirring up fear and trouble, the army of angels is beginning to swoop in. One of the Enemy’s favorite tricks is to fill the air with fear, but now, slowly, people begin to walk away. The Prince of Peace was here.
The children and I walk over to a woman in the community who is respected and knows everyone. “These kids’ mamá disappears for days at a time to work,” she says as she scolds them, “Why didn’t you come out sooner and ask for help?” She sets out some warm tortillas on the table. “I will keep an eye on them until their mamá comes home” she says. I nod in appreciation. The oldest girl, falling into a heap, begins to cry softly. Emma and I hug them goodbye, and I let this woman minister to them with an understanding of that life I do not share.
House by house, I had gathered the community’s Easter burdens in my own basket, trying to figure out how to fix everything until I lost sight of why I was there—to listen and love. Burden-carrying can do that to you—it clouds your vision. I can feel sick for little ones who bear burdens they weren’t meant to. I want to blame someone. The government, society, their families, the economy, war… But it’s all of those reasons and none of those. God asks us to go (both locally and globally) and be present in hard stories, to make room for Him to heal. He asks us to listen and work with strength that’s not our own. When I am tempted to carry what’s not mine, I remember how easily I can make it worse without intending.
I love studying the Bible and all its nuance and complexity, but, in the end, it’s pretty much summed up in two words: come and go.
God has invited us into a relationship with Him, “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28), “Come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). The Spirit says “come” over and over again, and we are to come.
The second word is “go.” “Go into all the world” (Matthew 16:15), “Go, stand and speak” (Acts 5:20, KJV). There’s a rhythm of coming and going, and if we just come and don’t go, we miss the opportunity to fulfill God’s will through our lives, but if we just go and don’t come, we miss the opportunity to be filled by God and know Him.
So, in stories I go into and don’t know how to minister or what to share, what’s to be my response? Pray for His strength, connect with others, listen, love well– and in doing so, lighten the burden in His name, and not my own.