The hardest part of missions for me has always been digging roots. Heck, it’s been the hardest part of life for me. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was young friendships weren’t a problem. It was easy, even. But I got hurt many times over the years. I’ve never really had a close friendship last more than 3 or 4 years. So I quit trying. I quit trying to get close to people because it really only meant more pain for me. It just meant more people that had walked out of my life.
I remember when I first got to Ecuador being terrified of getting too close to people. Here’s the thing, I knew from the first time I walked into Sucua that I would leave one day. Brazil was always the end goal. So my first instinct? Keep everyone at arm’s length until I left. Get just close enough to not get hurt, yet still be effective.
But I ran into a problem. I wasn’t helping anyone. Because you can’t be an effective missionary without digging roots. Missions work is made up of relationships. It’s in the job description. And I was keeping myself so closed off that I wasn’t building any relationships.
I remember around this time God reminding me of a quote from C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
My natural tendency is to lock my heart in a box. To keep it safe from anyone who could maybe possibly one day hurt me. I say “is” because I still struggle with this. But I can see how much God has changed me since then. During my three years in Ecuador, I got close. For the first time in a long time, I made myself vulnerable. And I don’t regret a moment of it.
I know that leaving Ecuador hurt because I dug deep roots there; I had intertwined my life with the lives of the people I worked with. And when your life gets mixed up in other people’s lives things get messy and weird and sometimes confusing. But isn’t anything good worth fighting for?
During my time here in the States, I’ve fought to keep being vulnerable. I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been easy. Relationships are tough and messy because imperfect humans are involved. And even though these last couple of years have been some of the most painful years of my life, they’ve also been the most fulfilling. Truly loving others the way God has called us to hurts sometimes, but I’m learning that it is so rewarding.
A few weeks ago as I was planting the winter plants at my church, I noticed roots from the plants that had been there before still mixed in with the soil. There are always roots left behind if the plant was there long enough.
Anytime we decide to be where we are, to dig roots into the place we’re in, a part of us will be left behind when we leave. My hope is that everywhere I go from now on, people will still find the roots I left behind in their lives. That even after I’ve left the States and moved to Brazil, that I will have left behind something good. I have a long way to go, but I’m making progress.