My last day in Andhra Pradesh, India was marked by my favorite weather. I heard the rain before I saw it. Like a wave that swept over the hot cement from one end of the compound to the other, there it was. Sudden, warm, and very, very wet. The green has become greener with the last few days of rain, blossoming into unbelievable hues of that calming mellow color. Everything in India revolves around the seasons, I have learned. During monsoon season life gets slower, roads become less passible, rice fields become flat, square lakes and numerous plans are thwarted. I sheltered from the torrent on an outdoor patio, perched on a seventies-style floral velvet couch that I adore, just waiting for it to end. Actually, I used what little wifi was available to download a show to watch on the train I’d take the next morning.
I’ve had a lot of time to think in this place, even in the chaos that is India. Many days have been slow and hot and my thoughts have felt the same—neither making progress nor really wanting to. I had hoped in India I would come across some new revelation for my life. Something that would break the weight that’s been resting on my chest for the last half year or so. As seductive as “finding yourself” in the big, open, and often scary world has become to the American idealist, the truth is you don’t ever really find yourself. I am always struck by the reality that no matter how far away from home you go, you bring yourself with you. And depending on how you are doing, that can be a severe disappointment. Finding yourself “out there” is futile if the self you carry with you is already one you want to do without.
And that was me when I went to India. It still was me, I guess, as I sat on a soft velveteen couch watching the dribbling rains and feeling particularly miserable for myself. Dreams unrealized, expectations brought low, and hopes washed away. Like the monsoons in India, God brought a season of halting and thwarting to my world. I questioned it all and created many a tear-puddle on my poor pillow. Sometimes those tears still come at night. Indeed, I brought myself to India.
In those nighttime moments the question that won’t leave me alone across continents has been this: Does God really satisfy?
I can easily say yes until I am ready to really think about the implications of this answer. And if it’s such an easy yes, what causes so many to seek their meaning in the glory of travel, or really any other success, after all? The search we privileged people go on overseas is truly a search for fulfillment, a search for a filling of soul.
Maybe that’s what I’ve been trying to do all along too, a bit to my own shame.
In early winter I had failed on two fronts that I believed were crucial for being considered a valuable woman—or really a woman at all. I lost my professional job and an important romantic relationship within a month of each other. Then moved, became a grocery cashier, tried the same relationship again and lost it . . . again. Not the winningest of stories at thirty and definitely not my favorite one to tell at parties, I can assure you. I don’t like it because in it I am forced to confess a poverty of value. The message I hear clearly goes something like, “If you are not married, or at least on the relationship and engagement train to getting there, then in place of that you should be a really successful professional.” I hear the same message from the church, but sometimes it swaps ministry for profession.
There seemed to be no cognitive space in the brain of society for a woman who had neither romance nor profession. According to the message, I was not adding to the richness of society’s wealth with my winning career (or productive, pragmatic, and efficient ministry) and I wasn’t exactly on the path to contributing on the reproductive front either. Explaining my situation (red-eyed and misty) to others then was met with an uncomfortable head nod. They didn’t know how to respond to my abnormality and honestly neither did I. Thankfully in India we can’t hold this conversation long enough for it to feel as awkward.
What I needed in my loss—and need still in my quiet questioning place—was someone to tell me that these things really don’t really satisfy.
This year I have been reading through the Old Testament and it is brutal in its description of God’s wayward people. Harsh, but honest. In the midst of that hot mess are the recorded lives of the prophets, those nutty voice-boxes of God. Who could call any of the prophets a success? They show me that God’s very own chosen voices to the world did not have what the world wanted or deemed as valuable. Even the message that would render their entire lives somewhat noble is completely rejected.
So what would entice any of these men and women, from the Old Testament onwards, to get up from their lowly beds every morning and lay hold of the desperate tasks at hand? I am assuming it was nothing less than the satisfying presence God himself and a fortitude of faith that had been resolved in the dark, rejected places. Many gardens of Gethsemane, if you will.
This is life unmeasured by progress on the societal sliding scale of success. And it’s what life as redeemed humanity should be like, if I read scripture correctly. A life satisfied by knowing our creator first, whether the ideal life comes with it or not.
Many women in India have shown me a glimmer of a new value system. Granted, not perfectly. I mean, they talk about marriage and babies. All. The. Time. And I thoroughly disappoint them when I say with an excessive amount of hand movements, “no, no marriage.” But a difference is there, just tucked in the corner of their glimmering eyes. It comes to most of them from living lives marked by a loss that comes with the decision to follow Jesus. No gold jewelry adorns their delicate ears lest they be mistaken for Hindus. It’s an absence their neighbors won’t miss or mistake as an accident. So either God is enough for them when their Hindu neighbors talk vehemently behind their back, persecute, and try to keep them from worshipping, or he is not.
It’s not just persecution they must confront, but also suffering that comes from living in a harsh environment. Does God satisfy the village pastor’s widow who lost her husband in a hit-and-run accident so horrendous that the truck blew the hands right off of the guy? I can tell you that tears welled up in her eyes when she spoke of how different her life with Christ is after the death of her husband. In her own words, she’s more devoted to knowing and serving her Lord than ever before. Only a God who satisfies can be so lovingly worshipped.
I want to know more women who stand in the gap on behalf of others, sacrificing their own beautiful image to do so. I want to know the ones who don’t point a finger at another’s emptiness but rather point others toward the living God, clearly, bravely, first, and foremost. I want to know the ones who actually haven’t gotten the job, the husband, the house, the friendships, the babies, the reputation, the couch, the readership, the look, or the name-brand they wanted and yet still relentlessly trust God. Moreover, I want to be this kind of woman. To be the kind of woman who doesn’t want to run across oceans from the life that’s been handed to her. I want to be the kind of woman who finds myself filled when others see my poverty in my life. And if it’s possible, brimming over with his satisfying presence.
I want to believe that he really does satisfy.
Cover image by Annie Spratt
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