“Don’t lean up against the bed frames,” the nurse training me commented as she saw me try to relax briefly during the middle of a procedure. “The roaches will crawl on you.” I jumped back from the patient’s bed then tried to wipe the sweat from my face with my shoulder so I wouldn’t contaminate my sterile gloves. ‘Is that me?’, I thought to myself. ‘I stink!’
It wasn’t just my armpits that stunk, however. I knew my attitude about nursing in Africa, and in fact, ALL of my life in Africa, stunk.
I’d gone into my cross-cultural venture with such enthusiasm, but that turned sour as I realized what it was really like to work in a different culture and not know the language. While I had worked in an Intensive Care Unit in the States, in this bush-hospital, my biggest professional challenge was to keep the kerosene lantern lit while I walked down the halls at night.
My dismay wasn’t so much about that lantern's flame but the buffeting of God’s light in my heart. Silent accusations of what I SHOULD feel — joy, selflessness, and a steadfast closeness to Christ, collided with how I did feel — worthless and alone.
If only I’d understood something that God has been showing me in the years since:
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that does bear fruit, He [repeatedly] prunes, so that it will bear more fruit [even richer and finer fruit].” John 15:2
This condemnation I’d repeated endlessly and that continued in my head was not from God. He didn’t call me to Africa in anger so He could beat the sin out of me. Jesus had already paid that price. God in His love knew the fruit He’d given me through His Spirit. He wanted this fruit to ripen. Like an all-wise vinedresser pruning His crop, or a parent gently washing His child, God snipped and cleansed me to lovingly nourish the fruit that would best reflect Him.
I admit that even now, God’s pruning and discipline hurts! In the midst of the pain, however, I try to fight condemnation with the Truth that God controls my circumstances. In fact, He uses them to make His light and fruit in my life shine brighter.
In the midst of circumstances that are painful, what helps you trust God?
These times of pain seem to shift my focus off of God and onto myself. I think about all the ways that I can get away from the pain, and forget that God actually is very much aware of my circumstances. The story of Joseph can be a huge encouragement for me. I try to focus on the confusion he must have felt as he found himself in the depths of a well, or the confines of a jail cell. I try to focus on God’s bigger picture by actively thanking Him for allowing this situation, even though it’s difficult, because it makes me cling to Him.