I reluctantly approached my keyboard this morning out of an overwhelming desire to write again.
See, I’ve been writing deep and interesting things since I was, oh about 12. I kept a (nearly) daily journal of everything you’d expect a middle school (and later high school) boy to write about, which eventually filled up five or six notebooks. And while the content was rarely all that special or moving, I felt like I could freely express every thought in its most vivid sense. Writing was a release, because I said things in a way that I could never speak them. This continued into college until my senior year, where the only thing I could even think about writing was my 22-page thesis.
But then it stopped. Or at least slowed to a crawl.
I’ve approached this keyboard many times since then with not nearly as many results. I’ve sent missions newsletters and support requests, but when it comes time to bare my soul on the page, I end up looking at what I’ve done and pressing delete.
Sometimes I’m afraid of what others might think. Sometimes I tell myself I can’t write well anymore. I am my harshest critic.
But today I have peace. Today, I won’t press delete.
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Two nights ago, my wife asked me “What do you love best about living in Hungary?”
An answer flew into my mind, and it concerned me. I wrestled with it as long as I could, trying to think of a way to say it in a way that did not sound so harsh… but I couldn’t, so I just went with my gut:
“It’s not America.”
I quickly explained to her, as I will now. I love America. I’m so glad I’m an American. I’m not naive enough to believe that living in Hungary is just as easy and freeing as living in America. America is indeed the land of the free and the home of the brave, and I love that.
But it’s also the land of the stuff and the home of the self.
Again, don’t accuse me of being short-sighted. I know the love of self and the love of things are universal to the entire fallen human race. I’m speaking from my situation and my eyes, and I ask you to see what I see for just a moment. Nothing (besides truth) is absolute when talking about how Christians live in their culture. I know Christians in America who live absolutely sold-out lives for Christ in the midst of a self-centered society, and that may be the most impressive feat I have ever witnessed.
What I’m talking about is the state of the body of Christ in the culture. After living 23 years in the southern United States and then moving to central Europe, I think I can speak in an informed manner about cultural differences. When I think of Hungary and America together, what I can’t help but notice is how empty we are here… and how wonderful that is.
I’m going to try and paint a picture of our daily life, so you can start to see what I see. We don’t have a car, we have bikes. Going places takes effort, and time. Lots of time. Going downtown for dinner, instead of a 20 minute car ride, is a little over an hour of biking, bus-riding, subway-hopping, tram-surfing, and walking again. Groceries are carried on our back as we bike back home. Our apartment is tiny, and the floor plan is odd. We don’t really have room for a real table, just an end table. We can’t rely on the stove, because the gas lines are having problems. We had to leave a lot of our relatively few possessions in the US, so we have pretty much just what we need.
It sounds like I’m complaining… but I’m actually ecstatic. Why? Because in the void created by lack of things, lack of comfort, and lack of convenience, God has regained his place. I didn’t realize how distracted I was until the distractions were removed, and I have God alone to thank for that.
It’s probably because we can’t read much Hungarian, but here we’re not surrounded by advertisements and promises of happiness. We’re not being force-fed the propaganda of the American dream, the necessity of home ownership, the glorious finish line of retirement. We’re not distracted by the need to have a strong opinion of every politician and give our manifesto on the latest pop-culture event or scandal.
Every time I log on my social media, I feel like I’ve dived right back in to that culture. My news page is ABSOLUTELY CRAMMED with things that don’t matter. Here, we have emptiness. God is gradually emptying our hearts and our minds of selfishness and want, and filling it with humility, gratitude, and a love for Him and His people.
I feel like God has been throwing us soft pitches this month. If we went back home, I don’t know if I could live like this. It would definitely be harder. So for those of you living in the land of the distracted, I pray that you would be given the strength and the grace to rise above. You can’t know how distracted you’ve become until you’ve emptied yourself. Try cutting back on events you don’t need to attend, and get rid of the things you don’t need. Spend less time online and more time in the neighborhood. Change questions like “How much can I get done in one day?” into “What can I let go of for today?”
I challenge you to replace distraction with what matters. Swap things for people. God’s people, with the power of His Spirit, can walk into a distracted and self-obsessed world and say “not I but Christ.” And they can live it. And it is worth it.