A year ago today I wrote in my journal: “displacement makes me moody”
This was an understatement. Sometime during that week I remember cussing out a turtle because it was big and different and not like US pets. Also, I was certain that if it spoke, it would speak Spanish like the parrot and somehow this made me angrier. Don’t judge me.
Displacement does indeed intensify your day to day experiences. That same day I wrote that it felt as if “besitos (little kisses) from four year olds could heal the world, while a quiet table at dinner could send me running home.” Everything was new and different and all the tools I once had to keep myself at equilibrium had suddenly vanished. This shone a spotlight on all my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If I was impatient or insecure or attention-seeking before, it was only amplified by the experience of displacement.
I think that displacement is God’s way of snatching us out of the usual routine and distractions and excuses that we were so comforted by in our old lives. The shelter of our daily lives now gone, God the potter finally has the chance to get His hands on us, the clay, in ways He’s always wanted to.
This stripping away, however difficult, is essential to discovering our identity in Christ. We are no longer able to hide behind our daily routine, our smooth talking, our compensatory competences. We must face our weakness. But along the way we discover our strength in God. We suddenly find that, when our competence is stripped away, what actually matters can be revealed. That is, the incredible graces God has offered us and which we have buried under the heap of other traits that were more immediately rewarded by human esteem.
On the thirteenth I also wrote, while trying to console myself over my new-found incompetency,
“Well, I guess it’s good that God is concerned foremost with my faithfulness over anything else. I can falter in my language, talents, energy, health, etc. and yet be pleasing to Him by my faithfulness. He doesn’t count how many girls are around me, or how often I’m willing to eat something questionable, or how well I can conjugate my verbs. Rather than being competent, I must be faithful and filled with love, for which I need God’s grace and guidance.”
In this way, displacement has helped me to identify the presence or absence of the values that truly matter to me. My ability to love, to be faithful, to give thanks, to be taught, to be genuine rather than impressive, etc. I can’t say that I have necessarily arrived at all, or even any, of these, but my sensitivity to them has heightened.
In the same way that a spotlight is shone on our own nature, so too is God’s nature illuminated by displacement. We are essentially powerless in our new environments when we arrive. (Maybe that’s why I raged against turtles. Easy targets.) Reduced to the state of children, we are forced to recognize what God provides for us who are too weak to provide for ourselves. I think that sheds some light on Jesus’ prayer for his missioners in Luke 10. When the seventy-two come back from mission and huddle up with Jesus, excited about the ways they have seen God working during their travels, Jesus prays, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” There were plenty of things hidden from my eyes when I was “wise” in the US, that were revealed to me over the last year spent “childlike” in Bolivia.
Furthermore, when we stop trying to supplement our life with material comforts, we find that God really is sufficient, just as he promises us in the scriptures. “I’m realizing that the things of God are the most constant and powerful in my life. In this state of transition, they are more sustaining than anything else I’ve tried to grasp on to.” I’ve fallen out of touch with a lot of people. My computer died tonight. I’ve not a clue what I’ll be doing a year from now. And despite the panic attack this would have inspired a year ago, I’m perfectly content. I have everything I need dwelling right here in my soul. I have realized the overwhelming faithfulness of God. When I abandoned what I thought was “everything” I found that everything, that is to say everything of true, enduring value, would never abandon me.
Conclusion, straight from the pages of my journals
August 15, 2009: “It’s so hard! I know that it was always going to be hard, and that it’s supposed to be hard, that’s one of the reasons we’re called away from our ordinary lives-but I’m still figuring out how to handle it.”
August 15, 2010: “I see with such gratitude now that God has drawn me here, as difficult as it has been, to encounter Him, and His presence within me. Like Hosea 2:16: ´so I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.´”