By Maggie Bartlett
For several years during and after college, I worked for a nonprofit based in Kenya. There’s a conversation from my time living there stays with me for many reasons and I come back to it often, exploring that moment with the Lord wondering if he has something new to reveal to me from it.
This is where change happens—in the discomfort and the tension. That’s when the Spirit finally gets some space to move.
These moments can’t happen if we’re afraid of discomfort and change or if we become so busy, we don’t make room for God to move in our lives.
Here's what happened. One of my friends and I spent an afternoon in Jikaze, the village our nonprofit partnered with. We were in Grace and Harun's home—a 200 square foot mud hut that slept six people—talking about the cost of food in Kenya. We mentioned how shocked we were that avocados only cost five shillings ($.05), while at home they cost closer to 300 shillings ($3). This naturally led to more questions about what things cost in America versus in Kenya (a dangerous conversation). Regrettably, I explained that my Chaco's cost about 10,000 shillings and learned the shoes they wore cost only 35 shillings. Then Grace, after adding up all the numbers we told her, said we could be walking around wearing close to 20,000 shillings worth of clothes. Remorsefully, I was thinking probably more.
In that moment, my excess was rudely exposed. I’d always known I lived lavishly in comparison to most of the world, but it felt like I was sitting under a great big blinding spotlight. I was sitting in a home that was literally made of mud, sticks and nails (and that’s it) with people who wear the same clothes every day, sleep in the same room they cook in and don’t eat fruit of any kind because it’s a luxury they can’t afford. Meanwhile, we’re discovering that my white tee from Target cost three times as much as the t-shirt Grace was wearing that she probably bought from some roadside stand.
This conversation is a slippery slope and quite frankly, it’s stressful to think about. But, what are those cheesy sayings we see on signs outside of churches? “God never promised us smooth sailing, but he promised us a safe landing.” Is that the gist? Whatever it is, Jesus didn’t promise me any of this would be easy. I was so painfully uncomfortable that day—and it didn’t go away in an hour. I still think about it. Even as I write this, I feel my jaw clenching and embarrassment brewing.
When he finally has some wriggle room in our crowded lives, he shows up. I whine about not hearing God, frustrated by my assumption that he’s not working in my life, but the issue really is that I don’t give him the space to do so. I get distracted from the point so easily in the whirlwind of schedules and meal planning and buying stuff, that I forget to even look for God, let alone make room for him.
Now let me tell you how the conversation concluded. Harun, Grace’s husband, asked about people in America who cannot afford things like clothes and food. I started to explain homelessness and what poverty was like back home when Harun suddenly stopped me. His brow was furled, and his eyes deeply distressed. You know what he said about homeless people? "That is not good. That is not right."
After all that, me kicking myself with every word that slipped out of my big mouth about how much money we spend on stuff—that is how the conversation ended. He was so deeply concerned about the homeless in America that his easygoing, goofy demeanor quickly became seriously overwrought. Homelessness and poverty in America rattled him even though my perception of his poverty rattled me.
I am still shaken by these people to the core. As I was stewing in my shame, Harun swooped in and gave me grace he didn’t know I needed. Shame was shackling me on the spot. But shame wasn’t going to transform me and carry me from that moment into change and freedom. With Harun’s breathtaking compassion, the Lord quickly unshackled me. He didn’t leave me where I was but instead drew me deeper into his faithfulness and lavish love.
I was grateful for Harun’s words that saved me from self-criticism. Through Harun, God revealed a new angle. Because putting myself down isn’t the appropriate response in tough, uncomfortable or hard moments.
Often the Lord uses those moments to teach us something new, and he shows us how to pivot and journey deeper into faith.
It’s easy to distract ourselves from the truth, but it’s a mistake because we miss out on his magnificence and majesty. In a moment of discomfort, the Lord swooped in and showed me the way in—deeper into faith, trust, and grace—and reminded me to leverage my gifts and blessings for his glory.
Maggie Bartlett is a Colorado native, living in Denver with her husband.
She works at a marketing agency and loves to write, climb mountains and travel in her free time.