It’s 4am on a Saturday night. I went to the Tenderloin this morning to do meal deliveries at two dilapidated apartment buildings, and came home both heartbroken and on cloud 9. Serving in the TL does that to me.
Nathan, Tater, and I went to Crissy Field afterwards to hang out and get whipped around by the wind. Tonight, we watched an episode of God in America, a pretty interesting PBS series on the history of Christianity in America. We are currently hanging out having family time in bed…this is my kind of Saturday night!
While cruising around Facebook earlier today, I saw that a bunch of people’s birthday celebrations happened this weekend, which got me to thinking: What do I want for my next birthday?
Yes, my birthday isn’t for another 8 months but it’s fun to start brainstorming ahead!
A few months ago, I read a quote from Robert Pierce, founder of World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief organizations in the world. While traveling in China, he witnessed widespread hunger and later wrote these words in the flyleaf of his Bible:
“Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
I have been praying this earnestly and God has done a number on my heart these past few months.
I was thinking today about the things that I desire and no longer desire in my life, as a result of God’s work.
The thought occurred to me. I don’t think that I will ever be able to have a “normal” birthday or Christmas ever again.
Change of heart
One of the happiest days I had this year was Family Fun Day, a mini “fair” for Tenderloin families that I got to help organize.
For my birthday, what I would want most is to rally as many of my friends, family, and coworkers as possible to come together and serve the needy. I can’t even fathom how amazing it would be to serve with all the people who are closest to me. Maybe we can all trek out to the Tenderloin to hand out food. Maybe we can take underprivileged kids to a museum or an amusement park. Maybe we can all buy school supplies and get together to fill backpacks to send to kids in Vietnam. The possibilities are endless…I’m getting giddy just thinking about it!
The thought of another birthday or Christmas involving gift cards, pricey dinners, spa treatments, and extravagant wine country tours sounds…profoundly unfulfilling. Actually, to clarify, not just unfulfilling but downright heartbreaking.
How can I spend hundreds of dollars on one dinner when half of the children in the world live on less than $2 a day? When, every 3-4 seconds, someone in the world dies of starvation?? How can I pour so much time and energy on any day of the year, regardless of whether it is my birthday, into self-indulgence and mindless consumption when 8-year-old girls are being sold into the sex trade everyday, when little kids are being raped as we speak? When all kinds of atrocities are going on the world while I sit there eating my $300 dinner and whining about my champagne not being poured correctly by the sommelier?
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”
Wait…I did what?
I can’t even fathom that a handful of months ago, I really really wanted to go to an pricey dinner at La Folie for my birthday. I can’t fathom that I took Lori to Gary Danko for her birthday or that I spent several thousand dollars on Nathan’s birthday, taking him to Opaque for a dinner eaten in a pitch-black room, taking him on an expensive wine country tour, taking him to Teatro Zinzanni, and buying him camera equipment. The irony is that he didn’t even want any of these things. Oh and, I can’t even fathom that I spent last Christmas getting drunk in Vietnam.
Oh right, that one.
And what about all the regular, non-celebratory days of the year that I spent swimming in self-indulgence? Eating out several times a week, taking cabs because I’m too lazy to hop on muni, swinging by Sephora and dropping $100 on makeup without thinking, buying dresses that I wear one or twice and then lose in the abyss of my closet, booking non-economy flights just because I like the free snacks in Main Cabin Select, buying hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars worth of wine and champagne…
My life revolved, and still continues to largely revolve, around me me me. Me me. Me me me me.
I want my life to evolve so that I am spending as much time, money, and energy as I can for God’s glory, on doing God’s work.
For every birthday and Christmas for the rest of my life, I want to spend serving others and I can’t even imagine how fun it’ll be when Nathan and I have kids…I can’t wait to bake cookies or prepare meals with my kids and go out as a family to the streets to serve the hungry. I can’t wait to let my kids go on Christmas shopping sprees for toys and books and games to wrap and give away to homeless families.
My heart is crying out to uproot my life so that I am truly living for God, whether that means simply spending more of my time in the Tenderloin serving and loving my neighbors, or moving to Vietnam to volunteer in an orphanage full-time. I am preparing myself to go wherever God wants to lead me next.
But why swing from extreme to extreme?
Why can’t I just scale back my consumption a little instead of going all crazy and trying to turn my life upside down?
Let’s be clear, it’s not that I think I would make God upset if I spent my birthday at a reasonably-priced restaurant with friends. I don’t think God would be upset if I enjoyed a nice bottle of wine or went shopping for nice clothes or shoes or makeup once in a while. I don’t think God would be upset if I went to a white elephant Christmas party and exchanged joke $20 gifts with a dozen of my friends like I did last year, or if I spent Christmas Day in tropical Vietnam sipping cocktails poolside like I did two years ago.
The thing is, I just don’t want these things very much anymore. My desire for self-indulgence and consumption is evaporating more and more, replaced by the joy that comes from loving and serving those who are broken, the joy that comes from spending time with God.
The same goes for why I don’t drink anymore, as well as why I don’t listen to non-Christian music.
I just don’t want to drink, even if it’s just one or two glasses of wine, because I don’t care about getting slightly buzzed one afternoon. And I don’t want to listen to Non-Christian music, even if it is wholesome, G-rated stuff about unrequited love or whatever!
I mean, I’d be so much happier and more fulfilled using that same time and energy on studying God’s word or doing God’s work.
Lately, I’ve been thinking and praying about not only my next birthday but the next chapter of my life, and I don’t know yet what God wants me to do. I just know that it will have little to do with me.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
…everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
1 Corinthians 16:14
Do everything in love.