Our prayers need our flesh to back them up

22 10 2009

The wind rushes in the open window and I let the force of it knock my head back. The landscape is a blur, and I halfheartedly take note of everything that flashes by me from the backseat of the tiny Toyota. I feel depressed. My heart is heavy, and the weight of my sadness threatens to crush me.

The utter poverty that surrounds me, the sickness, the brokenness, the despair: these things, unfortunately, are not the source driving my gloom.

I’m in Africa. People are dying of AIDS. Kids are begging for food. Women are being abused. Girls are being raped. Men are abandoning their cars along the side of the road because the country has no fuel.

And I feel sorry for myself. It’s an unfortunate phenomenon, one that I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand. But, even in the midst of everything I am experiencing, I can find reasons to be self-absorbed – to focus on how I’ve been wronged and the things I feel life owes me.

That was last week.

That car ride was, obviously, not the highlight of my trip so far. But, as I sat there traversing a range of selfish emotions, I experienced a real wakeup call. I don’t want to be self-centered, but sometimes the feelings well up from dark places I rarely even admit exist. And as I tried to refocus my heart and remind myself that my purpose here is to serve, a whole new mob of questions struck me.

In his book, The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser says that, “Our prayers need our flesh to back them up.” So I started to wonder what, really, is my prayer for the people here? I can hope and wish and pray a million things, but if I don’t take any corresponding action my words and desires quickly prove worthless and empty.

That realization has caused a bit of a challenge for me.

Since we got here, Stephanie and I have felt, to varying degrees, that people view us as an endless pool of money. At first they were subtle about it, but now they just blatantly ask us for cash. And these are people we have been building relationships with – people we consider our friends.

For the most part, we say no. It’s not that I blame them for asking; a lot of it stems from cultural differences. They very much live in a “what’s mine is yours” world. So if someone has something you need, there is no shame in asking for it.

But is it good if we simply give them money whenever they ask? A micro-financing program for women, a school for orphans – these are tools that will empower people. What message are we sending by endlessly offering handouts, though? My logic said: not a good one.

But as I sat in awe of my own ability to be selfish, I started to question my motives. Is this just another instance of me looking out for my own best interest? What do I hope for my new friends? I know I want them to be provided for, for all their basic needs to be met. Is my refusal, then, a hindrance to those desires? Are my hopes for them echoing off hollow walls before falling back on my own deaf ears?

It’s not an easy line to walk. I’m still left wondering if I’m justifying inaction instead of putting my full weight behind my prayers. And I’m not sure there is a “right” answer. But it has opened up a whole new plane of thinking for me in terms of taking action and having the bravery and courage to dream big.




3 responses

22 10 2009

Dearest Amy, you continue to process and ask difficult questions and in the process I’m pretty sure your heart has now officially outgrown your body. Love you, Lenae

23 10 2009
Uncle Jim

Your learning allot about yourself and the world . Keep up the great work. We here miss you!

2 11 2009
I have a lot to learn « Mind the Light

[…] As it turns out, when people here ask for money and I say no, there default conclusion is that I’m simply not generous. (Great. So half the people I’ve met here think I’m a selfish tightwad.) It stems from the idea of communal living. If I have something you need, I’m expected to give it to you even if it means I won’t have any left for tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, someone else will in turn provide for me. […]

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