Battles. Life battles. Have you faced any recently? Did you come through them with flying colors, or did you find a way to skirt around them? Our human tendency is to avoid difficulties if we can possibly find a way. Occasionally, that bent is part of the survival instinct built into us by our Creator, but often we use it to wriggle our way out of something the Creator wants us to deal with.
These questions remind me of one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in my life as a missionary. For full membership in our organization, we had to attend a four-month training session in southern Mexico, fondly—or notoriously—known as “jungle camp.” In the first stage, our family of five lived in a five-room mud house with a mud floor and a grass roof. Kids continued studies with books they’d brought while mom and dad attended classes, learned to give shots, went on a day-long hike and an overnight canoe trip. We had swimming lessons in a river where I almost learned to hate swimming because the water was so cold.
In the second stage, we lived in a stick and plastic “house,” cooked on a cast-iron plate built into a hand-fashioned mud stove, washed clothes by hand in the lake, and carried up from the lake in pails all the water our family needed. My husband sailed through it, our children enjoyed most of it, and in the years to follow I lived to wish I had put my heart into enjoying something more than just the peaceful lying in the hammock, staring at the treetops rustling in the jungle canopy sixty feet above. (I didn’t say that was the only thing I did; it’s just the only thing I remember enjoying.)
One of the infamous features of the second phase was known as “survival hike.” Men and women did it separately and in at least some isolation. Needless to say, most women dreaded it, I not the least of them. I told myself I had better reason than most to worry about it because I had spent my childhood in central Africa where the jungle harbored leopards that regularly ate our cats and at one time even lions that ate our family dog. How could I ever endure being left out there alone—even if hundreds of missionary women (including my own sister) had survived it before me?
The men went first, but while they were out, something happened. Soldiers were found searching for guerrillas reported in the area. The camp leaders went into high gear to round up the men and get them back to camp. They didn’t want either the soldiers or the guerrillas to find the men alone in the woods—-and they certainly didn’t want either the soldiers or the guerrillas to find the camp of women and children without any men.
Needless to say, we women did not go on survival hike that session.
I was not prepared for my personal response to that development. At first there was predictable relief, but it came tainted with perplexity. God doesn’t allow His children to wriggle out of trials! All the promises say He will be with us in them. What had happened here?
In the weeks that followed, I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. A bigger surprise awaited as another emotion crept in. It felt like disappointment, but how could that be? Was it possible God thought He couldn’t trust me with the experience? That wasn’t a good feeling. I have no way of knowing, but as I continued to look into my heart, the conclusion sifted out to one clear point.
Here was a victory I didn’t get to win because I never got to fight the battle.
I know God had purposes for those events far greater than my little story and my little fears. I know He would have seen me through it. Only He knows why He chose not to push me on it. I believe I learned from it even so.
But like I said earlier, today I almost wish I could do it over so I could handle it better than I did. Almost.