Why I Was My Best Self When I Felt My Worst
Several weekends ago, our campus pastor posed a question.
He asked us to reflect on the year and identify a time or the times in which we felt like our best selves, the people who God calls us to be — probably when we liked ourselves most.
Though it had been about ten months and some incredibly amazing moments have occurred in my life since then, I knew my answer immediately and without a doubt.
I felt like my best self and the person who God calls me to be when I went on a mission trip to Kolkata, India.
The kicker is that I returned home depleted on every level — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
It was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life.
Before I even stepped onto an airplane, I stepped out of my comfort zone as I solicited financial assistance from my community.
God showed me two things through that process.
One, unexpected generosity delights.
People who I hadn’t spoken to in years donated to my trip, and people who I had spoken to in years donated more than I knew they could afford.
Two, God will provide just what you need, just when you need it.
The last donation came through the day before the fee was due and in just the exact amount.
God was building my faith around this trip before I even went, and my faith I would need.
With our longest flight clocking in at fifteen hours and our longest travel day, thirty-four, traveling across numerous time zones was physically draining.
When we were there, it was hot.
And, when we were there, ten of the twelve of us caught bouts of E. coli throughout the trip.
I have played soccer, ran track, danced collegiately, finished three half marathons and work out daily, but my trip to India takes the cake when it comes to the most physically challenging experience that my body has ever endured.
I forgot to mention that we had lost our luggage — our only sense of home (hello, American snacks!) — before we even left the United States.
We faced the rest of our journey to and through Kolkata knowing that absolutely nothing would be familiar except for the eleven other faces that started the journey with us, some of which we had just seen for the very first time at the airport.
After all, our families would be waking to start their days as we laid our heads on our pillows to recover from the ones we just lived.
It is a unique place to be, mentally, when you are physically halfway around the globe with no sense of home aside from the five minutes you can squeeze in of your loved ones on a phone screen before they rush off to work.
You begin to cling to those eleven new faces, and even more so because they are the only ones who have experienced what you have experienced.
Like the poverty.
The sights and the smells of the poverty that keep you awake at night in your clean and safe hotel room.
And, I haven’t even yet mentioned the reason we went.
There are an estimated ten thousand women in the sex trade in the small lane that is the Red Light District in Kolkata. While many ‘women’ are in fact children who have been trafficked, there are also several adult women who choose prostitution as a form of employment to feed their hungry families.
We spent three days with children affected by human trafficking.
These children were either young boys or girls who are considered at-risk to be trafficked or older girls (and, by older, I mean 12 to 18) who have been trafficked, exploited and rescued and are now in recovery homes.
I played games with, taught ballet to and got a henna tattoo from ‘kids’ who have experienced, in their short life spans, more than we will probably ever experience in ours.
You begin to wonder how the ‘City of Joy’ can be wrought with such poverty and pain and how teenage girls who have lived nightmares have laughs as loud and smiles as bright as they do.
Toward the end of our trip, I remember feeling so run down — almost beat up — as I sat in a small hotel room in Kolkata with the eleven other faces that had turned into family.
We sat in the midst of great poverty and corruption — evil swirling around us — and we worshipped our good, good Father with tears streaming down our faces, despite our questions as to how He could allow this reality that we had experienced halfway around the world.
I have never felt God the way that I did in that moment.
India broke my heart — shattered it.
The physical limitations of the human body and the mental loneliness and emotional confusion of the human brain create a big gap for a big God to fill.
So I go back to my answer to Chuck’s question.
I felt like my best self, like the person who God calls me to be, when I felt my absolute worst in a sense of physical, mental, emotional and, let’s be honest, spiritual strength.
I didn’t realize it in that moment, but I understand now.
I had never been closer to God.
I had never needed God so direly.
And so, when I cried out for His comfort and for His strength, He came to me and He lifted me up.
I felt like my best self, like the person who God calls me to be because, at the time, the majority of ‘me’ was made up of God as He filled those many gaps where, in my humanity, I had come up short.
I’ve realized that’s what happens when we do challenging things.
They stretch us and they break us and they sometimes beat us down, so that we cry out to God to mend us back together and to lift us up again.
It is only then that we become closer to the image of God because we have allowed Him to fill us and to carry us over the finish line.
Anything worth doing will not be easy enough to be done alone.
If we aren’t crying out to God, then we need to stretch ourselves a little further into places where we may experience brokenness and ultimately depend on God to carry us through that brokenness.
Anything worth doing will require or take something from you.
It’s kind of like the book by Todd Henry called Die Empty.
I was empty when I left India.
But I think I would argue with Todd.
While we may deplete physically, mentally and emotionally, we don’t die empty.
Because it is then that the Holy Spirit comes and fills us up to do it again.
So, I pray:
Thank You for calling us into challenges in which You know that we will need You and thank You for showing up when we cry Your name. Lord, I pray that we always remember that the fight is worth it and that You will be there to carry us over the finish line when our hearts grow tired and weak. So, let us have spirits of courage and not of fear.