Lesson 1: People are essentially the same, everywhere.
Sure, we’re different. But we all have the same basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It’s a simple truth but one that’s worth reflecting on often I think.
Lesson 2: It’s not about you so don’t be so self-conscious.
I don’t like the spotlight – acting, performing, anything where I’m the center of attention tends to make me feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. Then I came to Benin. I am a young, white, single female. To say I attract attention here would be a gross understatement. And for so long, it drove me crazy.
But sometime over the course of the last year, I realized how often my self-consciousness has nothing to do with anything admirable like humility or even just respectable like distress or shame – it’s just self-absorption. I dwell too often on what other people are thinking of me or how they might be judging me. I make myself the center of attention, when it’s not about me at all! So I find I have to remind myself to let it go – to let the focus shift away from the me, myself, and I. And what a relief it is when I can do that!
Lesson 3: Worship first, then serve.
Remember the story of the sisters Mary and Martha in the Bible? (Luke 10:38-42) Two godly women and dear friends of Jesus welcome him into their home, but while Martha busies herself with serving him, Mary just sits at his feet to listen to him talk. Martha feels Mary should instead be helping her, but Jesus corrects Martha. It is in fact Mary who properly chose her priorities. We are first and foremost called to love and worship our God because at the end of the day it’s not about what we do, it’s about what’s already been done for us.
Service should be the natural outpouring of our faith. Doing “good works” for their own sake might still yield positive results, but if it’s the desire to achieve certain results that dictates what you do, you’re hollowing out your actions. Your heart needs to be in the right place first. If you do something for someone because you love them, that’s service (and honorable). But if you do something for someone because you just want to be doing something good, that’s as much self-serving as it is service.
Lesson 4: You don’t have to settle.
I mean this in more than one sense of the word. You don’t have to “settle” for the way things are, if the way things are is not okay. This is not to say you can give up on something rather than live with it as is; au contraire, you must be willing to bind yourself to something – to throw all your chips in the pile and fully invest. Then you can push wholeheartedly for change and betterment.
In another sense of the word, you don’t have to “settle” physically in one place, time, career, etc. The American dream tells us that life is a ladder and happiness is something you settle on when you climb to the top. It tells us happiness is something we accrue in conjunction with increasing wealth and stability. If you get stuck somewhere along the way, you’re out – game over. But that’s a lie. Life is not a series of steps; it’s a mind map in which we shift around, building paths from one thing to another. There is no backwards or forwards – only a meandering trail of onwards.
In Philippians 4:12-13, Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” True happiness comes from outside our circumstances. So don’t ever let yourself believe you have to get somewhere or accomplish something to find happiness. You can’t always be happy in the emotional sense of the word, but you can always invite God’s grace to satisfy your heart and give you peace, regardless of the circumstances.