(Forgive me if I ramble a little bit; New Year’s Eve day is always something of a day of reflection for me. It’s not something I plan, it’s something I just find myself compelled to do; I do it whether I want to or not.)
I joke with my friends that the Lord kept sending me back to the Middle East until I learned that it was less my mission to share, than to learn. Once I shut up and watched and listened, I began learning, and what I learned contradicted many of my ignorant prejudices. In learning about my friends in the countries of the Middle East, I learned a lot about our Christian culture, and about myself.
When Westerners first get to the Middle East, the phrase ‘Insh’allah’ (God willing, or ‘if God wills it’) makes them want to tear their hair out. When your heat breaks down in the midst of a cold winter (and yes, there are very cold patches in many Middle Eastern countries) and the heat people tell you ‘Insh’allah’ they will be there ‘in the afternoon’ but won’t give you an exact time, it makes us want to slam the phone down. When you make plans to meet up with a friend for coffee, set a time, and then she says she will see us ‘insh’allah’, we don’t know whether she is going to show up or not.
It was only after many many years in the Middle East that we relaxed and accepted ‘insh’allah.’ Now, living back in the USA, we laugh, because life here is insh’allah, too, it’s just that people don’t know it. We’ve had several things done with our house, and whether or not the workers show up – it’s all insh’allah. When making plans with our family, a lot depends on when the baby is awake or sleeping, insh’allah. How much money our investments are worth? It’s all insh’allah. The same factor is there, it’s just cultural as to whether you acknowledge it or not.
Today’s New Testament reading from The Lectionary is all about insh’allah:
James 4:13-17, 5:7-11
13 Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ 14Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’ 16As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved,* until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.* 9Beloved,* do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved,* take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
And I think my New Year’s resolution is clear: Not to grumble against one another.