Are Christians resigned to wander?

“‘They straightway left their nets and followed Him’ (Mathew 4:20). The Apostles did not grudge leaving their nets for the Lord’s sake, although they were perhaps their only property…we, likewise, for the Lord’s sake, ought to leave everything that hinders our following Him…all the many and various nets in which the enemy entangles us in life.'”
St. John of Kronstadt

Are Christians bound to wander?

I heard this a lot growing up. “Christians are just…different. Being a Christian means you are different from the world.” I never really liked that feeling. I didn’t want to be different from anyone else at school, awkwardly saying prayers before lunch, skipping half days to go to Church on Great Feasts, not eating pepperoni pizza at a friend’s birthday party because it was a fast day. Perhaps that was too much for me, too many rules for a little wandering soul to understand and pray about.

Even though I fought the Church inside, and I warred with it for many years, I never stopped being different. Orthodox Christianity stopped being how I differentiated myself from others, but other things replaced that “label” or frame of mind: my love of theatre, my being “Mediterranean,” my being from Boston, et cetera, ad infinitum. It never stopped, because I never stopped intentionally separating myself from a group.

Thinking about it now, it actually seems like I looked for any excuse to drive a wedge between myself and others. Maybe it was a defense mechanism. Maybe it was just me having unrealistically high expectations for my life.

But this isn’t what the Church actually teaches us. It teaches us to bind ourselves to Christ, and by so doing, loose ourselves of whatever else is standing in the way–tools of the enemy. But it doesn’t say to demonize those things or those people, because we can only “worry about the log in your own eye.”

Worrying about twigs up North.

Yet when I turn my gaze inward at the giant log in my eye, I feel the urge to run again. Not from God, but from everything around me that is casting me in a fishing net into the sea. I thought somehow that, by coming back to Memphis, by linking myself to one physical space, I would seamlessly melt into the fabric of this city, of Church life, of family and relationships. But that isn’t really happening. And I wonder if this has a little to do with the distinctions between Orthodoxy and other denominations of Christianity. Now please understand I am not a theologist or an apologist or any kind of “ist.” But it just seems to me that in the Orthodox Church there is a constant emphasis on the ephemerality of our current life, almost on a daily basis. The whole Church calendar goes from birth (Nativity) to death (Crucifixion) to eternal life (Resurrection and Ascension) and beyond in the course of one calendar year. And we celebrate those transitions every single year. So every single year, we are born, we die, and we come back into life with the Church feasts, the fasts and songs and celebrations. It’s so beautiful, but at the same time…it’s shaking. Because when you connect the fasts and feasts to the meaning behind them and the constant reminder that “there is a war for our souls” going on, it’s very, very easy to feel afraid and shaken.

I know in my head and a corner of my heart that those things are overcome, but still, life is a war for our soul,  a journey towards Heaven. And yet at the same time the world starts whispering little things about family and assets and job security. Now, those are wonderful blessings, which I pray that I might actually have one day if I live that long. But right now I feel slammed by voices that are telling me that I don’t belong, and I’m listening too much. Because, what am I trying to belong to? Christ, or the world? And does the former require me to stay in one physical space?

I wonder if any of my Orthodox Christian friends, whatever age or phase of life, feel that same shakiness and urge to run, because, in the end, that’s not what life is really about.

Or maybe I really am just that different.

Or, perhaps, we are made exactly as God intended us to be, unique and “quirky” and constantly asking too many questions.

"They Have Pizza in Thailand?"

In trying to convince my parents that I am living comfortably as a teacher in Thailand, I’ve been telling them all the familiar things. “Yesterday, I went shopping. I bought linens, and I had pizza for dinner with friends.”

“Really? They have pizza in Thailand?”

They do indeed.

But make no mistake about it; I am in a foreign country, and with that come many highs and lows. I feel so comfortable at church, speaking English with my friends, and yet as soon as I enter a van I am dropped down to the level of humility it takes to remind me that my language is like that of a baby. The little girl who collects the money tells me to sit in the back, where there is room. I know this by the nod of her little head, not by the words she speaks; those I cannot yet understand. “Abac Bangna?” I ask her. “Yee-sip hah,” she responds. Twenty five baht. I pay my fee and scoot to the back of the crowded van with my many bags of groceries, linens, and leftover street food; my spoils from the weekend. And yet I was too focused on making it to the right bus stop to remember that I had extra food in hand, and perhaps the homeless man curled up on the street corner might like it. I gave him my peanuts, but I forgot that I had more to give.

I always have more to give, and yet I always feel like I am not enough. I grew up thinking this way about God, too. No matter what I do, I can never be a good enough Christian. I can never make God love me enough, because I constantly fall short of His will. But in thinking this way, this dangerous mind game that the devil likes to play, I forgot that I have already been redeemed. He already loves me, no matter what.

That love comes and goes in Thailand, like it does in any place. We tie our love in with our expectations of good grades, praise and recognition for our worldly achievements. I tie my self-worth to my ability to be a good teacher, a good person, a good daughter and sister and friend. I am never enough.

But I am enough. I am enough, sitting here on my patio. My little bedroom is enough, situated here in Abac’s campus. And living in Thailand is enough.

They have pizza in Thailand. They have soda and hamburgers and Iphone 6’s (on pre-order). They have Bible studies–Thailand is remarkably accepting of other religions, unlike some other places I have lived. Thailand is enough.

Yet Thailand is still growing in many ways, and I am growing along side it. Maybe our relationship will only be temporary, but I will love it and love my time here in whatever capacity God gives me. I will not be perfect. But if I could be, I wouldn’t need God.

And then I never would have come here in the first place.

I am not enough without God. But with him, I am everything because He is everything. When He is in me, I am enough, through the mispronunciations and the mistakes and the stress. I am enough because God made me. And He will always be enough.

Tonight I’m feeling grateful for religious freedom; it’s a rarity in many, many places. I am vexed by more things than I understand, but perhaps I should also be grateful for the simple pleasures, like sun shining on freshly fallen snow. They certainly don’t have that in Thailand 🙂 But if God made the whole world the same, no one would feel compelled to travel, would they?