September 4th, 2001. Just 10 days a newlywed, I sat on that plane with my hand tightly sandwiched between by his. I could barely breathe. My mind was somewhere in between the unknown adventure ahead of us and the known of all that I was leaving behind. All of a sudden, a year’s worth of planning had felt like a whirlwind and I wasn’t ready to go. But the cabin door was already closed. The safety instructions already reviewed. And our departure gate was no longer visible. This was it. It was time for takeoff – and, I assure you, it wasn’t for our honeymoon.
I stared out the window, watching the blur of the landscape become clear as we lifted off the ground. I just kept staring until every landmark I recognized was no longer in plain sight. My tear-filled eyes met his and I muscled up the courage to at least give him a quarter-smile. He was excited. He was going back to his island home with his new bride to join him in the ministry and Kingdom work that God had called him to within the region. He was going home, but I was leaving – giving up the safe and familiar, everything that I had identified with my whole life – with meager support, immense uncertainty, and untapped faith.
Ask me then and I would have told you that one of the most difficult sacrifices in obeying the call to serve in this overseas life was in the leaving. But some eighteen hard-pressed, tear-stained, joy-fortified years later and I say it’s no longer in the obedience of leaving – it’s in the resolve of staying. Yes! It’s in the gut-wrenching, self-denying, even-when-no-one-else-gets-it resolve of staying put.
Staying put on this foreign soil where God is cultivating me – still – and calling me to a deeper trust. Staying put, where my exposed vulnerabilities of anxiety and fear are being met with His all-sufficient grace. Staying put, where I have humbly learned to walk in step with the distinct rhythm of the people so that I can be more effectively used by God. Staying put even when things back home are in disarray; even when the waiting on God is hard and long and super uncomfortable; even when the barrenness from the years of sacrifice has left me numb. I put it on repeat so that my mind is in sync with my heart: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Indeed, the resolve to stay has tested me, I dare say, almost daily. It has stretched me beyond comfort and has grown my faith in deliberate measures. It continues to draw my attention to the cross, the place where Jesus painfully stayed, sacrificing even His final breath to finish the redeeming work that He had been sent to do. And it continues to draw my attention to Gethsemane where Jesus prayed those eight pivotal words in the face of the unthinkable: “Not as I will, but as You will.”
“Not as I will.” There’s the sacrifice. The denying of self.
“But as You will.” There’s the surrender. The dying to self.
In the face of this season of long-suffering, Jesus’ prayer bids me to whisper the same, “Not as I will, but as You will.” Louder, “Not as I will. But as You will.” Still louder, “Not as I will. But as You will.” The slow, intentional reiteration begins to subdue the bitterness of the sacrifice.
As You will, oh God – that I may rejoice always, combating the sacrifice of staying with the sacrifice of praise.
As You will, oh God – that I may pray continually, so that, from the moment of address, the eyes of my heart are fixed on the One to whom I cry out, “Abba Father!”
As You will, oh God – that I may give thanks in all circumstances, this being fueled by the joy that is set before me and exemplified by the One who sacrificed all – Jesus.
As You will, oh God – a place of total dependence; a place of total surrender.
Some eighteen years into this overseas life and I am gradually learning that without the sacrifice there would be no surrender. And without the surrender, the transforming power of Jesus would not be evident in my life. So I am learning to rejoice always. I am learning to pray continually and to give thanks in all circumstances. For the will of the Father is being accomplished in me. And that is always for my good.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” ~ 1 Peter 1: 6-7
One way to navigate the despair of sacrifice is to put on a garment of praise (Is 61:3). Praise is a powerful thing. So when the weight of the sacrifice is overbearing, I start to render praise through song – of recent “Goodness of God” by Bethel Music has been on my lips.
Do you have a go-to song that you offer up as a sacrifice of praise, even in the midst of your own despair?