We recently had someone ask us about the many things from which we are depriving our children. He suggested that when they are grown, they will be filled with resentment and anger towards us. Though it was written in a hurtful way, I think it is a true issue, but one we're not good at addressing within the church. Really, it is two issues. One is the issue of deprivation, the other is hurt and resentment. And right now, I am focusing on the first.
As I think about deprivation, I remember a time in college when I was invited somewhere. I didn't respond to the invitation because I was hoping to be invited somewhere else. I don't remember the outcome, I just remember seeing clearly that accepting the first invitation would mean having to turn down any other invitation. And in that way, deprivation is going to happen in my children's life. No matter what choices my husband and I make, those choices are going to eliminate other possibilities. One of the things I have had to learn over the years is what I call hanging up my hat. I have to make a decision fully. I can't keep my hat on my head in case a better option comes along. A few years ago, as I was reading the Bible, I began to notice that the Bible speaks of unbelief and of doubt as two separate things. I had always considered them as synonyms, but I felt God asking me what doubt was. I had never thought about it, but I looked up the greek word and its definition. In the New Testament, to doubt means to sit in the judge's seat listening to both sides of a case. To doubt is not bad in and of itself, but it has a purpose. That purpose is the ruling, the decision. There was a reason God asked me about those words at that time. I was at a point of indecision, of refusing to make a ruling, in a couple of areas of life. I kept asking for more evidence. One of those areas was whether God was really speaking to me. Was I just imagining it all? Was I really talking to myself? Was I insane? I had a picture at that time of me standing in the doorway listening to God urging me to come out and follow Him, but I was afraid to shut the door behind me and follow.
Interestingly, what God was calling me to was a life of less deprivation, of less self-sacrifice. That was scary to me because the Bible talks so much about taking up your cross. How could it be right to let God delight my heart? Should I allow God to make me comfortable? Surely that would negate the taking up of my cross. Yet, I realized that though Christ took up His cross, he also rose. He did not remain on the cross. The Apostle Paul said he had learned to be content in all circumstances, in both need and abundance. I was afraid of abundance, or even comfort. Yet God did not want me to stay forever in a place of deprivation and sacrifice of everything that would give me comfort. I could hear God calling me out of that place of deprivation, and I was scared to follow. I am thankful I did, though. Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything. I learned that there is a time for the cross, for dying to self, but there is also a time for resurrection, for life, and that in abundance. Kenya has become home to me. To be honest with you, I don't miss America. I enjoy many things while I am there, but when I am here, there is so much blessing and so many friendships that I can't miss America. There are hardships here, but there are hardships there as well. And what I've gained from my interactions with my Kenyan friends is invaluable. Those in the marketing or advertising business talk about branding. Branding has to do with the image a company or organization presents to the world. When people from the West see Africa, we tend to think of deprivation. That is a branding issue, and it is a false image, because it isn't a full image. It is as false as picturing America as inner-city life or as an ivy league college or as an ocean playground. Kenya is made up of people, and they are as varied and intelligent and beautiful as people everywhere in the world. Kenya is a place for living, for abundance — especially in relationships.
When I was struggling with whether to believe God, He said something to me. He told me that Christ had completed the work of incarnation. He told me that I don't have to become Maasai to be able to work with the Maasai. I don't have to change my culture to work in Kenya. He told me He had created me, and I was to give myself to others, as I am. I recently taught a Sunday School class for 8-9 year-olds. The lesson was about "You are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden." The curriculum focused the message on all the things we need to do in order to be the light of the world, but it occurred to me that the passage isn't saying we need to do anything. It just says that is who we are. I started thinking and realized that a light doesn't light itself, and a city doesn't build itself. The message of that passage isn't that we need to do anything; rather, it is that the one who lit us, the one who built us, thinks we are so incredible He doesn't want to hide us but put us on display! Wow! A few years ago, I asked my friend Wamzy, who is an amazing artist, to show me some of the jewelry she makes. She was happy to show me. As she did, she put one on me and asked me what I thought. I was struggling to figure out a way to say it was beautiful but that I couldn't wear it, when another good friend, Nyamatha, said, “No, that's not our Ruth.” She took it off me, putting it on herself instead, and it fit herself beautifully. The Bible talks about Mary treasuring things in her heart; well, that has become one of the most precious treasures in my heart. My friend saw me for who I am, and even though I am different, she valued me without any desire to change me. In fact, she claimed me, with all my differences, as “ours.” That is rare. Even when I am in America, the expectation is that I should change myself and become like those around me. It is a unique and special thing to valued for who you are.
As I nurture my children, I want them to see the incredible beauty of the earth and the people God has created. I want them to focus on the things God wants to display. I point out to them their own and others’ uniquenesses, even though seeing others’ uniquenesses means seeing something you lack. I want them to be able to enjoy the gifts and opportunities others have been given, without regretting that they themselves have been given different gifts and opportunities. Once, when I was asking God’s direction about a decision where I felt tradition would dictate certain things, God replied, “I don’t want all the flowers in my garden to look alike.” Then He told me that He had created me with different desires than others and asked me what I wanted. I was shocked. Frankly, I hadn’t a clue what I wanted. I had spent all my life trying to live up to others’ expectations, and here was God setting me free. To be honest, the freedom was scary. Couldn’t I just stay in the cage, painful and constricting as it was? I told God I would rather Him just tell me what to do. Though I still struggle, I am starting to enjoy the freedom, and that is what I want for my children. I don’t want them live in a cage or even long for a cage, and I’m not saying American life would be a cage. I am saying a deprivation view is a cage, a thought that we have to be like everyone else is a cage. I want them to live the light of the world, the city on a hill that cannot be hidden, the incredible and unique person set on display by our awesome Creator.