A few years ago in my early days here in Ecuader when I was still very new to the culture, I was visiting a priest friend here in Ecuador at his new church. One of the big tasks was a new redesign of the interior and a new paintjob. So I hopped in to help out, working with him and a few other people in the parish, along with the groundskeeper there.
One day I was inside the church and the groundskeeper was on a scaffolding on the other side of the church. He called out to me as I was painting, so I stopped and put my head up and looked at him. He did a motion with both his hands that, well, I can only describe as “Shoo!” You know, both hands down, palms in and flicking your hands away repeatedly towards the other person. I thought to myself, “What did I do?”
I paused for a moment. Then I decided to approach him and see what was up. When I got to him, he simply asked me to get him another bucket of paint. I walked away confused to get the paint, and I forgot about it. It wasn’t until some time later in the day I saw him do it again, and I realized: that’s the motion for “Come here.” I had it all backwards! To this day I get a laugh telling locals how their motion for “Come” is just like our “Get lost.”
I say that because when you are learning a new language and culture, you can get it all backwards. You can think someone is shooing you when they are inviting you to come to them.
After Jesus’ death, the apostles decided that it was time to go back to what they were doing before. What about God and all that had just happened with Jesus? Well, there was the death of the one they had put all their hope in. There was the complete humiliation of having abandoned a friend who had literally done miracles for them and changed their lives. There were the completely shattered dreams about the return of the Kingdom of Israel. And there was the thought of 3 years of their lives wasted with nothing to show for it.
You know why they went back to their old lives? Because to them, God was giving them the “Shoo” sign.
You know what I think? I think that when they listened to that know-it-all on the shore and they cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they got the huge catch, I think then they realized, “We’ve got it all wrong. It’s not a ‘Get lost’.
Exactly ten years ago today, I entered St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston because of an episode of deep depression while I was in the seminary. I left the seminary and went straight to the hospital – they didn’t want me back. I just wanted to go back to what I was doing before, and give up on it all, all this following God stuff. I talked with someone who had gone through something similar, and he said to me, “It took me ten years to recover.” It was as if God was saying to me, “Get lost.”
But I didn’t get lost. I came back to Jesus to find out just what it was all about. And I began to realize that it wasn’t a “get lost” at all. It was always, “Come.” Now I am in Ecuador, and although I have a lot more grey hairs, I am a part of amazing things that God is doing. It takes a while to start to learn the language and culture of God.
When life gives you broken dreams, big disappointments, lost loved ones, big humiliations and failures, when it feels like you’ve lost everything, like the rug has been pulled out from under you, you’re hearing the voice of God in His language and culture, and yes it takes a while to learn it. If you think God wants you to take a hike, I can certainly understand that, but you’ve got it all wrong.
It’s not “Get lost.”
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (Jn 21:12)