So I'm ready to talk about my recent bad mood. Basically I've been stressed that my life isn't quite working out according to plan these days. After two years abroad, I'm actually pretty close to being broke; I'm 29 and living with my parents; I'm stuck in Los Angeles; I am in a transitional phase which, as far as I can see, has no immediate end in sight. All these things have combined in such a way as to make me feel, some days, that I am just going to explode, or run away, or die--maybe all three! Ok, I'm exaggerating a bit--but really, only a little bit. Then today I thought of something.
A couple months ago, I was in Egypt. On my last day in Cairo, I visited a city that is also a rubbish dump. The people who live there actually live with garbage. They collect it, sort it, and do whatever else needs to be done with it. Garbage is literally everywhere. The stench of the place hits your nostrils before you even properly get into the city. My friends and I went there early in the morning, around sunrise, to visit a church that is built into the mountain there. Looking over a wall down onto the roofs of some buildings, I saw the black shapes of giant rats scurrying around over the huge bags of trash. There were lots of rats.
In the streets, I could barely breathe, the smell was so bad. I felt sick. I saw a donkey with no hair on its front legs, just raw flesh, oozing blood. Children skipped barefoot along the roads, which were nothing but dirt and more trash. I saw a woman sitting among garbage, sorting through it all with one hand while she held her breastfeeding baby with the other.
But these people had a dignity about them. There was no sense that they felt sorry for themselves or felt inferior in any way to people who might have more material possessions than they did. They smiled at us, welcomed us. They dressed their children well for school; groups of them passed by, shy smiles on shiny clean faces, the girls' hair expertly braided, white lacy socks turned down at the ankles. Watching them prance by on the way to school, chattering and laughing with each other and us while surrounded by dirt and garbage and all the trappings of severe poverty, I can hardly describe how I felt. It wasn't pity, exactly. They were above pity. I respected them, respected their ability to smile and laugh and carry on as normal people, though living in extremely difficult circumstances. And I absolutely know that, every appearance to the contrary, not one of these people is forgotten by God.
So why hasn't He done something about their poverty? I don't know. I have no answers to the questions of why some people have and some people don't, but for that very reason I should be thankful for the gifts I've been given, rather than focus on anything I perceive to be lacking. I owe it to God, and in some obscure way, I feel like I owe it to those people in the rubbish dump. How many of them would do just about anything to trade places with me? And yet I have been bemoaning the circumstances of my life, my lack of independence, my lack of finances, and who knows what else. I'm starting to see that I dishonor God through my complaining, and quite simply, I believe it hurts His feelings. God has given me so much--talents, opportunities, friends and family who support me, and much more. I can't count my blessings, because they are too many. I've made the terrible mistake of counting my "grievances" instead.
After all that, I'd like to say I've turned over a new leaf and will never complain ever again but unfortunately I know myself too well, and it saddens me to see that I am so prone to it. So maybe that's partly why I'm writing all this here, where anyone can read it. It's my way of apologising to God and giving Him the credit He deserves for taking care of me, which I deny every time I whimper and moan about what I don't have.
Like Job, I have said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." But when the going got a little rocky, I slandered God in front of others because things weren't panning out the way I wanted or planned. And I'm sorry, because I know He loves me, and I know I hurt Him with my negative attitude. And I hurt myself.
So am I saying I should just bottle up my feelings and not be honest about them? No. What I'm saying is, I need to start cultivating gratitude in my soul. Yes, I'm going through a tough time right now. But I'm not going through it alone. God is right here with me, and He has also generously provided help in the form of my family and my friends, and THAT'S what I need to remind myself of, more often than dwelling on the extent of my problems.
In the end, if there is one thing that I am learning through this whole crazy time, it's this: God really is faithful, even when I am not. And I'm more grateful for that than for anything else.
"My eyes are ever toward the Lord..." Psalm 25:15a
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing." Psalm 23:1