All Duke Divinity students are required to participate in regular discussion and reflection during their Field Education placements. Below is a theological reflection I recently shared with the school and my friends on the trip:
The night I arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala, it was dark and raining, and I was scared. As I stood in the rain, Robert, who had traveled with me from Atlanta, departed with his host family, and I was left alone with the director of the Spanish school to wait for my host family. The only Spanish words and phrases I knew were the handful that I had learned from Rosetta Stone and a book I studied on the plane. Naturally, there was a great deal of silence as we stood waiting.
During these moments of silence, I looked up into the stormy night and prayed, “God, if there were ever times when I felt like I could make it on my own, this is not one of them. I desperately need you right now to give me strength, courage, and patience. Your Word says that in our weakness your power is made perfect. Let that promise become real to me this day and throughout this trip.” Directly after saying this prayer I noticed an illuminated cross on the skyline — it was the cross from the Cathedral of the Sacred Spirit in the heart of the city. The cross reminded me that in the midst of my fear, cultural isolation, and feelings of inadequacy, God would be faithful and work all things for his glory – even when I was not able to see beyond the darkness, the rain, and the language barrier.
I spent my first few weeks in Xela with this knowledge and feeling of my utter dependence on God. In the mornings, I regularly prayed for strength and wisdom before I set off for class. In the afternoons, I prayed with a heart of thanksgiving for the beauty of the country, the people, and everything I was experiencing. In the evenings, I prayed with joy for the faithfulness of God in my new situation. Yet, as I grew more comfortable in the city and more confident in my budding Spanish abilities, my feelings of dependence on God began to fade. And so did my prayers.
The shift from dependence to independence is a recurring theme in my life. When times are difficult, it is easy for me to feel incapable and to feel the need to rest in the strength of God. And when times are easy, I am tempted to think that I can make it on my own, and that I am capable of all things.
The shift from dependence to independence is also a recurring theme throughout the Bible. A desire for independence is what causes Adam and Eve to disobey God’s commands and to sin against God. Independence is the root of Peter’s fear when he is walking on the water looking towards Jesus. Feelings of independence are what cause a group of people who need a savior to spit, mock, and crucify him.
However, a theme that is more powerful and more constant than my and humanity’s desire for independence is the holy love of God. This love is stronger than my illusions and ill-directed desires. And by God’s grace it constantly calls me, as it does the other characters in scripture, back into relationship with God in the midst of failure. After Adam and Eve hid from God because of their sin, God went searching for them. Each time the Israelites doubted, God proved his faithfulness. After Peter began to sink, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. After a few weeks of now feeling like I can hold my own in a country with a foreign language and culture, God’s grace is calling me back. It is a call that reminds me that even as God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses, God’s grace is the source of all of our abilities and gifts. Therefore, his power must also be the basis for our confidence, joy, and strength.