I felt like we had to do it his way or no way. I felt like my way of looking at the world was only valuable if it helped him.
We were in an argument in our little tukul, Cole and I.
“I feel like every time I turn around, you’ve already updated the world on what happened today in Africa,” he confessed to me.
“It’s just how I process the things around me. I need to write it out and share it.” I was trying to make him understand.
“But it seems like I’m not even here with you. Everyone sees everything through your eyes. By the time I share my experience, no one is interested. They’ve already read your posts. They’ve already seen your Instagrams. It’s like no one knows I’m even in this country. I don’t get a voice. I don’t have the time to get to my blog.”
“I don’t understand why that matters, Cole. Who cares how people get updated? We are working with the same pictures and the same experiences. If the goal is to share what’s going on over here, why does it matter whose blog it’s on?” I was trying to make logical sense of his case.
“So you’re telling me if I posted every Instagram and wrote every post on my Blest blog, you wouldn’t feel left out, like you didn’t get a chance to share your experience of this place? Wouldn’t you feel invisible? Like your viewpoint didn’t matter?”
Checkmate. He had a great point.
See, we are both artists and documenters. We both have a way we best communicate a story or an experience. He tells a narrative through pictures and I tell it with words. A writer and a photographer. You’d think we’d be an effective team. And sometimes we are.
But when two artists have the chance to express the exact same experience, the claws come out. Maybe we don’t scream and shout, but we are internally battling for the best picture, for the best way to document Africa, for the most share-worthy post. Inside, we compare to each other all day long. We both want to prove our way of documenting a story is best. And we want to make sure our version is seen first. We may never say that out loud, but it’s the truth inside our hearts.
After half an hour, it became crystal clear that our goal of going to Africa had drifted without us knowing.
Our original goal was to document the first educational and medical baby steps of the newest nation on the world’s stage. And that’s an amazing goal and a remarkable thing to be a part of.
To see teachers and administrators coming together to build a better school system for South Sudanese children is breathtaking.
To see a child pumping from a fresh-water well in his local village is beyond rewarding, especially when his family had to walk miles and miles for water before this well came to be.
To see a mobile health clinic drive from village to village every week and educate leaders on hygiene and disease prevention sounds basic. But then you see the face of a pregnant mother light up when she finds out there are ways to better ensure her baby will be born healthy. There are basic things she just didn’t know, and these medical educators saved her baby’s life. And we get to watch the faces of people who learn that a bar of soap can inhibit major illnesses that have plagued their family.
We forget there was a time in our own country’s history where mothers died because doctors didn’t know to wash their hands. These people aren’t idiots. They are just part of a very young country, and our country was once there too. And we get to see eyes squint up happy and mouths beam wide with smiles as faces transform from confusion to beaming hope once they are educated. It’s a divine experience.
Documenting these things is an honor. This is the beginning of a nation that has great potential and great resources. And we get to be a part of this.
Recording these moments in history was our original goal.
But something happened along the way. Like I said, our mission drifted.
Instead of focusing on the story God was weaving in this beautiful nation, we started focusing on how we could make our story look better.
Bottom line, we wanted the glory. If we both were to be truly honest, we didn’t just want South Sudanese efforts documented well, we wanted to be seen as great documenters. We wanted the credit. We wanted the praise. We wanted eyes looking at us and our work, not the incredible work of the Lord and the humble people giving their lives to build a better South Sudan.
How arrogant of us. How off-track we had become.
Look at me.
See my pictures.
Read my words.
Think I’m great.
Want to be like me.
See me first before you see my spouse’s work.
Look at how I document.
Look how interestingly I can unfold a story.
Give me credit.
Look at my hard work and my sacrifice and natural talent.
Give me the glory.
These were the silent cries of our hearts as we clicked our cameras and typed out our posts. We drank these ideas down as ice-cold, sparkling nectar in a sun-scorched, iceless country. And they were poison to our marriage and to our mission here.
Competition for credit only births bitterness and jealousy. There is no life in the pursuit of glory. It is a vain endeavor. Because there’s never enough credit to satisfy the human heart. We always want more. More followers. More likes. More comments. More eyes seeing our work and our efforts. More mouths to praise us.
It is hard for our hearts to simply be satisfied with being appreciated. Appreciation means we are equals, we value each other’s talents, we’re on the same team, and we are on the same level. But our hearts always move past that and head straight for “I need to be glorified. I need to be given credit first.” Once our hearts hit this stage, we move beyond being on the same level. The new desire is not to be appreciated by you, but to be higher than you. We don’t just want to be seen. We want to be seen as better.
I thought of Jesus and how he never sought glory or praise from people, but only looked to give God the glory for His great works on the earth. How unlike Him we had become. We say we follow Him but our motives are all about self-glorification. Oh, How we needed His Word to redirect our hearts.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life (satisfaction of soul). I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory [approval] from one another and do not seek the glory [approval] that comes from the only God?
-Jesus in The Gospel of John 5:39-44
Somewhere along the line we had become the audience to which Jesus speaks. The love of God was not beaming in us. The love of self had choked out all our good intentions. How could we be motived by God’s love for the world when we are too busy seeking glory and approval from people? When we focus on what we’re doing, we can’t focus on what God’s doing.
Jesus was right, and once again His Word revealed what was really going on. We refused to come to The Lord for life, for satisfaction. We tried to get it from people. We chose to get it from humans instead of God.
The bottom line is that we forgot again. We forgot that God approved of us, that He was happy in us, that He offered us all the appreciation and He sees all our work:
For God is not unjust so as to overlook all your work and the love that you have shown for His name in serving the saints, as you still do.
We forgot that His approval is better for the soul than human approval because His is divine. It fills us up. It makes us stop thirsting for more approval, for more praise, for more glory. It stops our hunt for more applause. We sit content in His happiness of our efforts. Because earthly approval is silly compared to Divine approval.
When Cole and I both sit satisfied and approved of by God, we don’t need to compete anymore. We have nothing left to prove. And we don’t have to use people as a means to feel gratified. We don’t need them to make us feel a certain way. We can just serve them.
So in the end, God asked us some hard questions: “Do you value the story I’m writing for this country more than the stories you can write? Are you here to show off what I can do for this nation or to show off what you can do? Do you think your ability to help these people is more praise-worthy than mine? Do you see me in this at all?”
We each had to answer these personally before the Lord. And when we came up with our answer, it was a united one.
When something in our lives takes our focus off of God and onto self, Christians do something called fasting. It’s not because we want to go on a diet or because it’s super spiritual. It’s just a discipline to help refocus our hearts back on God.
So we are fasting from all the updates. We are fasting from all the posts and the Instagrams and the tweets. We are fasting from getting praise from you and we are here to say we’re sorry for using you as a means to gain glory that belongs to God and not us.
We will continue to take pictures and write as we are here, but we will not post them until we get home and come up with a way to present it in a way that brags on God and all His great work instead of being obsessed with ourselves. We want to update you, but in the right way. And we want to uplift each other in the way we document instead of competing for your praise.
We want to value marital reconciliation and unity of purpose instead of self-exaltation. So we ask you humbly to give us the grace and the time to refocus, to really be present here, and to exalt God as the Great Lover of All Nations and Peoples. We ask you to give us the grace to return to Him.
“If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored.” (Job 22:23)
“I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)