Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Suffering and discernment, or “Lord, what have you gotten us into now?”

After 16 days in the high altitude of La Paz, this morning I woke up feeling fine. Good, actually. Healthy and whole. But 16 days is a long time, especially when we are here for only three weeks with a lot to accomplish.
A time of adjustment to life at 12,500 feet is a normal part of serving here. We’ve done it for years. Now that we’re older (in the privileged grandparent bracket), it takes a little longer. So when we have a trip scheduled, we plan two to three days in La Paz of pure rest. And then it’s best to gradually ease into our work assignments and people commitments.
This time the schedule only allowed two days before we facilitated a two-day seminar for the leadership team of the Bolivian Friends history project. It was a key seminar as we are just in the beginning phase, still making plans and finding our way forward.
The seminar went well, with a high level of participation and commitment. The Bolivian leaders seem to be taking ownership, and that is a major accomplishment. We began each morning with a Bible study of Nehemiah, asking what this book has to tell us about involvement in a large project. The insights that came from the different small groups were profound and encouraged us all. Then we went on to reviewing and designing the purposes, perimeters and processes of this huge undertaking that we estimate will take five years, ending just before the centennial celebration of the INELA (Iglesia Nacional Evangelica “Los Amigos”). The two days ended with a time of prayer and brokenness that knit the team together.
Yes, the seminar went well, but it was intense, and we have paid the price. Hal’s cough lowered and eventually became altitude pneumonia. We both carried the pressure headaches, bouts of diarrhea, and body aches that typify this stage of adaptation to the altitude. But, while in the past this has lasted for several days and gradually tapered off, this time the ordeal stretched over two weeks. Two weeks we can’t afford.
I don’t mean to whine or complain, but this experience has us wondering. For one thing, people were praying for us specifically for a quick, smooth adaptation to the altitude. And a few of these people checked up on us by email for a progress report. I do not believe that their prayers went unanswered. But this only adds to my wonderment.
One of my friends and prayer partners, Mary, asked me these questions as she pondered our situation:  “I am concerned about the way La Paz is affecting both of you and will pray about God's will.  When do we choose what is hard on our bodies?  When is that part of the cost of discipleship?  When does God ask us to pray about others to carry the torch from here on out?”
Several times during the last weeks, I have thought that maybe our physical reactions were God’s way of telling us it’s time to stop running around, go home, retire, and enjoy life. But we sought the voice of Jesus before proposing this crazy project, and that included seeking discernment from those we trust. I’m reminded that just because something is hard, that doesn’t mean it’s not God’s will. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Hardship just may be part of the evidence we’re heading down the right path.
On the other hand, the voice of common sense is part of the way God speaks. We are getting older. Is it right to subject our bodies to this torture? Are we fools? Is it time to pray for our replacements? Perhaps. But here comes that ubiquitous “other hand”  again. Because of our experience and particular knowledge of this work, and because of the relationships we’ve built over the years here among Bolivian Friends, it seems like everything is coming together to open this door. It seems that now is the time, and we are the people. Everything seems to be saying that. Everything, that is, except our bodies.
And our bodies demand to be taken seriously.
How do we discern what this particular suffering is saying to us about God’s will? One thing I know is that we need to keep listening. And we need to continue to invite the discerning voices of people who know Jesus well and who know us well.
To be continued………

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