Today, we took our youngest son, Van, to our town's Dan Zelena Svijeta (Green Earth Day) event. Among other things, he and the many children gathered in the square learned about the importance of recycling and caring for the planet. Van was under the impression that if he completed each of the fun educational challenges at the various stations he would receive a medal or prize. He did not. He was distraught, frustrated by this seeming injustice.
Later, our oldest son, Nash, played in his first nogometna utakmica (soccer match) of the spring. It was the first time his coach had invited him to play with his club since the winter league ended and he was excited about the opportunity. When Nash's number was called near the end of the first half, he immediately found himself in a position to score. He kicked the ball hard and on target, but the ball struck the top crossbar and bounced back to the turf in front of him. He tried to kick the rebound into the net, but the keeper pounced on it. Nash had one more shot on goal that sailed just to the left and out of play. He put his head in his hands. When the coached made a substitution for him they looked at each other and did their best to laugh about the missed opportunities. Still, Nash was disappointed to have come so close and come away empty handed (or is it empty footed in this case?).
sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one's hopes or expectations
Just now, Van broke his new toy. Ugh. More disappointment. But this time, without prompting Nash gave up his identical toy so that Van would still be able to play. I want to be able to love people that way, the way Jesus loves them in the midsts of their unmet expectations.
Never has this been more true than after this week. I had the great pleasure of participating in Let's Start Talking (LST) with several of our teammates this week. LST is a program that offers free conversational english lessons to interested participants using selected Scriptures from the Bible. It is designed to give them a chance to hone their english speaking skills, make new friends, and have meaningful, spiritual conversations.
This week I made nine new friends from Croatia, Syria and Egypt. Some of them were believers. However, the majority of them shared with me that while they appreciated the beautiful, nice stories we were reading and discussing, they were having difficulty believing they could be true for them.
Time and time again they told me of disappointments... disappointment with jobs that weren't paying them the wages they had rightfully earned, disappointment with a poor educational system that is ranked low compared to other nations, disappointment with the inability to have children even after multiple IVF attempts, disappointment about the unexpected deaths of loved ones, the inability to find work, the struggle to have meaningful relationships, the shame of past failures, corruption in the government, shortcomings of religious institutions, and on and on. Honestly, I was surprised that my new friends would share so openly and honestly about their hurts and unmet hopes.
With one participant in particular, after reading Luke's account of the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she would be become pregnant with the Son of God despite being a virgin, we came to Gabriel's words of comfort and encouragement, "God can do anything." Let that sink in. God. Can. Do. Anything. I asked her if she felt like that was true. She paused. I asked her if she thought it might be true for the majority of the people of this nation, many of whom identify as Catholic. Because if this is true, it changes everything. She thought some more and then answered, "No, because we've experienced too much disappointment." There it was. In one statement she articulated what I'd been hearing and seeing all week.
On Monday of this week, before I ever met with a reader, I was speaking with our pastor, Mislav, about the greatest struggle of the people in Croatia. He had one prophetic insight: Disappointment. After this week, I can clearly see this reality. However, I can also see Jesus extending his nail pierced hands as if to say, "Take my hand. Come with me. I, too, know what it's like to experience disappointment. In this life you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world."
That's the message we are trying to share with our friends and neighbors here... We know what it's like to experience disappointment, but we also know the one who has overcome the world.