Thursday, September 8, 2011

This is not my Tierra

Recently, I had a conversation with someone about tattoos. The topic of discussion was 'What kind of tattoo would you get?' My friend's response was thoughtful, and one that many others would probably mirror as a motive for getting their own tattoos. With tattoos being so permanent, she'd only opt for a tattoo that would be a significant and meaningful reminder of an event in life. In essence, something that deserves to be permanent.

I've been thinking about her response for a while now. While this conversation made me think about what kind of tattoo(s) I may eventually obtain, it forced me to step back and examine the larger picture; what sort of events in my life would constitute "deserving" of such permanence? In short, what events in my life have influenced me the most? Surely, dermatological graffiti shouldn't be thought of lightly.

The other night I was meditating on the concept of pain and suffering. Specifically, I think about all the times I've encountered suffering in the lives of others… Like that time I met a whole village of Malawian children who stopped going to school because they hadn't eaten in 3 days, and their churning stomachs were too distracting for them to sit in the classroom. Or that time I curiously approached a large line of people at a little Cuban fishing village only to discover everyone was waiting to pick up their government-monitored rations. Or all the homeless folks I've met who have looked me in the eyes and told me to be thankful for the little things in life. In reflecting upon those experiences, I look back at all the times that I had suffered, and all but a few really seem so insignificant.

After reading an article one evening about suffering ('Should We Pray for Suffering?' <>), it made me think about all that encompassed the suffering experience. Truth be told, no one likes to suffer. But as painful and strenuous as it may be to endure suffering, I've realized that it is in those very experiences I've learned the most. You see, suffering is a natural part of our human lives. Suffering isn't just uncomfortable; it's discouraging, it's unwanted, and at the same time, often times I find it inevitably necessary. When we encounter suffering, we can either complain & mock it; curse it with our very hearts, or we can embrace it. Stones on the beach don't become smooth by gentle waves and warm sunshine. The impact of crashing waves and the friction against other elementals make this smoothness possible.

That's a lot like how our lives should be.. or so I hope. The more years we take on in our lives, I hope + pray that we become more refined by the difficulties we encounter. Obviously, it always comes down to perspective. Do we endure the trials, knowing it will make us stronger? Or do we whine and cry and wallow in our situations?

In hindsight, I sincerely believe that the times in my life where I grew (and grow) the most took place after I had suffered + endured-- times of loneliness, deep frustration, spiritual wrestling matches, and suffering. Moreso, meeting and hearing the stories of those who suffered so much greater than I has always humbled my heart by helping me realize how small many of my problems really were.

I didn't get the grade I wanted on that final paper? Ended up with a C+? My college career is doomed (They're embarrassed to admit, but they bring their kids into the local food kitchen thrice a week just so their family doesn't go to bed hungry).

I lost my cell phone? How inconvenient. (They lost their home to foreclosure + unemployment.)

She broke up with me? Biggest tragedy to befall me in years (Oh yeah? Well, he lost his wife to cancer.)

Many of our problems are smaller than they first appeared, after all. But I am reminded by Abraham particularly. He stayed obedient down to the hardest moments. When God called him to sacrifice his first born son, he obeyed. He could have rebelled, ran away, complained or said, "No way." But he obeyed, down to the very moment his son was to be slain, he stayed obedient. Why? Because Abraham knew his God was so much bigger than his mortal little mind. Abraham's faithfulness was one of his most honorable traits. God rewarded him for his faithfulness by sparing Isaac's life. And Abraham's lifestyle? Exactly why I titled this blog accordingly.

In Spanish, 'la tierra' has mutliple meanings. It means 'home', but it also means 'land' and 'earth'. The Native Americans, who preceded all the Pilgrims we learned about in 4th grade history class taking over the "New World", would likely have used this word if they spoke Spanish. In the same way, Abraham's life was nomadic. He never built a home; he pitched tents. He never built a temple, but he setup altars wherever God told him to. Why? In short, Abraham knew that this place wasn't his home.


Josiah said...

Very thoughtful! Thanks Jon for the unique perspective on suffering! Definitely a lot of things worth thinking about and meditating over before complaining.

Anonymous said...

[this is sophie here. please don't look at that livejournal (it's SUPER OLD) hahah i just needed a username to post! haha]

nice post! :) i agree fully! i definitely learn the most during the hard times and the suffering probably help me to appreciate and realize how much more valuable the good times/little blessings are. this was good timing too! i've been facing my own battle and suffering in my own little-in-comparison-to-people-living-in-poverty-and-disease situation. good encouragement! :)