“Sometimes the holiest ground is the emptiest”.
I have not known poverty to the extent Alia Joy describes in chapters 2 and 3 of her book Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack. I grew up the daughter of a farmer, so there was always garden-fresh or canned vegetables and eggs available, milk straight from the cow. I didn’t know completely about the stressful days when money was extra tight.
But I do know a little about scarcity, at least the mindset.
Believing there’s not enough space in Kingdom work for my meager contributions. Wondering if I have enough strength to go out and talk to people again tomorrow, when second-language conversations with strangers drains my energy. Stressing over the 9-hour bus ride to the capital city and grocery stores, and will I remember everything we need to stockpile for the next 2 months.
In these chapters, we learn more about the time Alia and her family spent as cross-cultural workers in Nepal, and the season following her illness and their return to the United States. At the beginning of chapter 3, Alia describes her mother’s experience at a Bible study and the result of her honest answer. Her perspective is that people don’t want to hear about the realities of overseas life. They want the highlight reels and the amazing stories of victory and transformation. They don’t want to hear about the struggles, the every day trips to the market or visa office (for the one hundredth time).
Alia said, “My mom’s eyes dropped to her lap. There were no more words to be said. It was as though all my mother’s battered soul was just passed by, and so she learned not to speak up in groups. She learned not to share our stories because no one understood.”
I remember returning home last year and being asked about the political situation in Cambodia at a gathering. As I described it, I looked around the table and realized, “This must sound so crazy. What a weird life I lead!” It felt isolating, despite the care and attempt to enter my world, to understand.
In many ways, this can mark us as overseas workers. We are changed by our time overseas in ways we can’t even understand ourselves sometimes. We will never truly become like the people we live among in our host culture, but we cannot go back to the way we were in our passport culture either.
This can feel empty, can’t it? It can feel like weakness or lack. When we pile on daily culture stress, team conflict, illness, family crises back home, it can feel like a crushing burden.
At first when I read these chapters, I thought, “Goodness, how depressing!” Alia’s story is raw and broken, and we haven’t gotten to the hopeful part yet. The brokenness, the hurt, the suffering, the things she believed about God and herself, breaks my heart and I know that she isn’t the only one that has had to experience these things.
But then, the last paragraph of chapter three was the thrill of hope that I didn’t realize my own heart needed.
She said, “I don’t yet know our lack leads to God’s abundance. Barren places long to be filled. Sometimes howling at the moon in the wastelands with our fists raised to the heavens is our most honest prayer for Jesus to come down from the high and distant places we’ve relegated him to and walk with us on scorched and humble feet. Sometimes the holiest ground is the emptiest”.
It’s not an ending, not a all-tied-up-with-a-bow and everything-is-fine conclusion. I don’t think that’s what we want anyway, someone telling us how they “arrived” and we can too. Honestly, there will still be struggles, still be brokenness in us and in the world around us. BUT. We are loved by a God who does fill up our empty places, who gives us strength for one more day. He delights in our every day trips to pay our electricity bill, the ways we fight for hope as we mop floors and run after little ones. He meets us there in our hurt and sees all that breaks our heart. HE is the very best and perfect ending.
Is there a part of your life that has felt barren? Have you seen God bringing signs of life to those areas? Are you able to find ways to share your stories from overseas in ways that connect with people, or do you feel more like Alia’s mom and keep those stories tucked away?
We aren’t done with Alia’s story! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book:
October 22: Chapter 4
October 29: Chapter 5
November 5: Chapters 6 & 7
November 12: Chapter 8
November 19: Chapter 9
November 26: Chapters 10 & 11
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