Last Saturday, the girls’ school had its annual Christmas program, which included class performances with the grand finale of a musical rendition of the birth of Jesus. I felt so proud as my girls played their roles. Our girls sang songs in Japanese, and Aliya even nailed her Japanese speaking line.
As I sat in the audience, I remembered that I sat in a similar audience just about a year ago. It was Mikayla’s preschool’s Christmas program. We were in the trenches of moving out of our Irvine, CA condo: packing things to be shipped to Japan; selling most of our possessions; making major decisions like pulling Aliya out of kindergarten at the end of the semester; and the other frenzied tasks that had to be done but have become a blur. And in the midst of that was Mikayla’s performance.
I had pulled out a dress for her to wear and had taken her to school, though she was quite clingy (the process of the move was difficult for her; see this post). And as it was time for her three-year-old class to sing a song on stage, I could hear someone wailing. As the crying became louder and I wondered whose baby was making such a ruckus, I realized…it was Mikayla. She was sobbing, so I ran to the back and took her in my arms. Long story short, we ended up going home and skipping out on the program all together.
I remember that moment so clearly, but it’s hard to believe it was just a year ago…because in some ways, it seems like it was several years ago. It feels like we’ve been living in Japan for much longer than 10 months…and I mean this in a good way. It’s amazing, but we have had such a smooth transition and truly enjoy our life here. So when I remember the things we were doing a year ago (moving out of our home; getting ready to visit my sister’s home for Christmas; taking Aliya to see the Nutcracker; depending on the kindness of many friends to help us move; making last minute, final playdates; etc.), it’s hard to believe that we’ve been living in Japan for less than a year.
And my amazement at this fact, the smoothness of our adjustment in the last 10 months, is really a testimony of God’s goodness, faithfulness, kindness, and graciousness to us – his work in us. He has truly provided all that we’ve needed, from the moment we stepped on the plane with our eight overweight suitcases, to the help we received from team members when settling in, to the friends the Lord has provided, to the youchien where the girls go to school, to learning the language and culture, to the church planting team the Lord has established, to the seminary where Damon will start teaching in April. The list can go on. As I step back and write this all down, it’s clear that it is all God’s work.
But, to be honest, there are many days when I try to claim them as my own.
Let me give you an example: when I took my recent Japanese test and passed, my first thought was “Boo yah, I did it!” But you see, immediately before I took the test, I said to myself, “This test is in God’s hands.” And I meant it because it was a hard class; I was perpetually one of the worst ones in the class, though I studied and prepared. And in the weeks leading up to the test, we were so busy: church planting meetings, sicknesses, preparations for the school’s Christmas program, meeting up with people. I couldn’t study nearly as much as I wanted. So on the morning of the test, I realized very clearly, if I pass, it is up to the Lord. BUT as soon as I learned I passed the test, I thought, “Boy, I rocked it! All my last-minute studying paid off. Young-Mi did it again!”
Instead of thanking God first, I thanked myself. I was humbly dependent on God when I was unsure if I would be able to pass the test, but when I did pass, I became arrogantly independent. These are the thoughts that flow in my mind, my internal conversations that seek to puff myself up in my accomplishments, achievement, and efforts. It is my pride. It’s my desire for autonomy. It’s my lack of dependence on God.
It’s not to say that the Lord does not bless our hard work and efforts. But there is a fine line between claiming those blessings from God and becoming prideful in those blessing by viewing them as the result of our own efforts. Often, this pride is internal and unseen by others, but it spreads rapidly in our thoughts and actions.
So in light of my ever-present pride, I must fight to remember, moment by moment (because this is how easily and often I forget!), that all that I have is the Lord’s. Nothing is because of my work alone, but it’s the Lord’s work in our lives…and I must be watchful for the pride that lurks and seeks to puff myself up. It is very humbling to be reminded of this truth, but it is also very freeing.
In this Christmas season, as we remember the condescension of our Lord Jesus in the form of a helpless, human baby to save us from our sins, let’s remind ourselves that nothing we do is our work alone but the Lord’s work in us. And may this reminder and reality compel us to repent and depend on God, in prayer, in life, and in deed…so that we can truly be set free from ourselves to do God’s work for his glory!
Thanks for reading,
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