Fast-forward 5 or so years and my once-missionary family migrated to Pennsylvania in a sort of “what do we do now?” kind of state. My brilliant father was mowing lawns and renovating our house with his bare hands – not exactly living the dream. We. Had. No. Money. And yet, when Christmastime rolled around, we three sisters were told by our DearOldDad that there was a family whose daddy was in prison and couldn’t afford any presents so wouldn’t it be a good thing to help them have Christmas too? That of course meant we would have even less. Now it might have made sense to drop the gifts at a donation center, but that’s just not the way Mike Sullivan rolls. No, he wanted us to get all up in their space, so we drove to the family’s apartment, hung out with them and awkwardly handed over the presents that signified one half of my Christmas gifts. Joy to the world!
I’ve spent nearly 20 years suppressing those memories, avoiding my past. It’s not cool to be a missionary kid, especially that of the homeschooled, pastor’s daughter variety. I wanted to be cool, and what’s cool is to be comfortable: to build our lives around making ourselves as content as possible. Is my car comfortable and the safest on the market? Is my house comfortable and does it measure up to my friends' houses, preferably in a Pleasantville neighborhood? Are my clothes stylish and culturally comfortable? Is my bank account full so that I can live comfortably? Vacation, what about my vacation? Am I taking care of ME? These are the American Dreams.
I realize now that I’ve been working for the majority of my life toward the end goal of comfort, but what my parents were demonstrating through their lifestyle is that The American Dream is over-rated. They understood poverty. They’d loved-on kids who were not cared for by their parents. They ministered to those trapped in the culture and hopelessness of the welfare system. For eight years, they had lived next door to, worked and partied with the poor, and brought me along with them on the journey. Yet I was quick to forget, so quick to disassociate with their example of simplicity and servitude. This left me discontented; pursing what I thought was the best life – the (relatively) rich, American, mostly-white, church ministry life. The kind of life where I patted myself on the back for serving the already very blessed people of my church and never looking outside of our walls to reach the overlooked in my own neighborhood. That was not my church’s fault. The opportunities to serve the poor were there, but I was very comfortable where I was, having bought into my version of The American Dream and honestly my perspective is only now beginning to change.
Affliction, both mine and that of people who I love, is what God is using to shape my heart into something different. In the last 382 days I have experienced a devastating loss, a debilitating injury (that has since almost healed) and I have held friends’ and family members’ hands as they have walked through their own dark, dark valleys. For the first time in my whole life, my eyes are finally opened to the fact that life is not easy, not for me or anyone else. The memories of my childhood are coming back…the deep recesses of my heart are awakening to the folly of my pursuit of comfort. I’m realizing that’s just not the way this world is designed to work.
A taste of suffering has taught me that life is unpredictable and so short; too short to pursue the elusive American Dream of Comfort and Happiness exclusively. Work hard, yes. Earn money, of course. Serve the Church, always. But let us examine ourselves together to see if comfort is our number one pursuit. Let’s not forget the people whose mamas don’t care about them or whose daddies are in prison. And let’s not just minister to the people we like and who look, act and speak like us. Let’s look outside of our world, maybe just next door, to see who we can offer hope to. Hope of a future with no suffering, and hope of peace here on earth even in the midst of the hardships of life.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble
with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ,
so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5