Over the last 6 months, I had been collaborating with a local school in Massachusetts and one in Ecuador to try to facilitate an exchange between the students. Setting up a connection like that has been a dream of mine, and I took it slowly, working out the relationship and trust with the faculty members who would be involved. If that seemed stable, we could start to announce it. It seemed to be going well until in June it fell apart. The school faculty in Ecuador didn’t have the ability to see it through, and we up here in the States got stood up in the early faculty planning stages.
I wrote a letter to the PTA there in Ecuador explaining what had transpired so that they knew. The leader basically said to me, “Why didn’t you tell us about this before? We would have made sure it worked out.” They didn’t say thank you for trying to do this. They didn’t try to take any actual steps to reconcile things and work out some solution for going forward. No, they basically said that I did something wrong. You know what that means? It means they value the benefits of the project over me. They want the gift, not the giver. And that’s exactly why I didn’t tell them before it was time to.
When I make relationships, I don’t talk about all the benefits that come along with me. I don’t break out all my gifts and talents and connections or whatever. Because I don’t want a using relationship. I want a real relationship – I want friendship and love. When there’s that, then I can break out my real big gifts. My gifts are for people who know me for who I am, who trust me. They are for people who are not going to use me for them – real friends.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a nice, air-conditioned food court in a shopping center on my computer, writing one of my reflections. A man I know, who is going through a tough pruning time in his life, was passing by and stopped to talk.
This was a guy who had lost his job and maybe his career, who had lost his marriage, and his family had fallen apart. I was sitting there as someone who had no job or career, no money, no family. It was a perfect encounter.
We talked about how things were going, and I shared a lot of what I had been doing in Ecuador. It is usually a novelty that is difficult to explain, so it takes some time, and it took up much of our time.
Realizing that my path hasn’t led me to career success or retirement security or fame, I said something like, “You know, the Israelites ran out of their supplies within the first month and a half in the desert (animals and livestock don’t last long in a desert), and then they passed through the desert for 40 years without knowing what food they were eating or how they would survive. And by the time they reached the end of the 40 years, they still had nothing. But you know what? They had everything: they had God. Nothing lives in the desert, you’re not supposed to be able to survive there, but they had lived there for 40 years. They knew God, they had learned how to rely on Him, they had countless stories of His presence with them and His looking out for them. They were finally ready to receive His gift.” And I sat back, and smiled and I said, “I may not have much of anything. But I couldn’t be happier with where I am in live, with what I do have – with who I am.”
I think he walked away happy, too.
To be a disciple of Jesus, to learn to be a person of God, is going to cost you everything before you get the big gifts. But it’s not to make you poor and suffering for some martyrdom. It’s because God doesn’t want a using relationship. He want a real relationship – friendship and love. It’s so you can come to know who God is, so you can know His presence and love, so you can experience it first-hand and have the deepest happiness in life.
And then be ready to receive His gift.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39)