At the start of this month, I began asking the LORD for direction for my life. September marks six months that I've been at my current hagwon and with that, the downward slope. That is, if February is my aim. However, instead of the answer to the question "Korea, Texas, or elsewhere abroad," the LORD seems to be showing me a direction of a different nature: my blind spot. Everyone has them, vast blemishes on our character that we can't see. We're like gargantuan eighteen-wheelers: We have to post signs on our backs warning others not to intrude into the place of which we are unaware, hoping they will pay enough attention to us to avoid them, instead of the other way around. As my dad confessed during my growing-up years, we're "blind in one eye and can't see out the other."
Like my mom used to insist about her own faults, my life posture has been, "It's not me--it's everybody else!" However, Romans says that the Father in heaven has committed all to disobedience so that He might be the Savior of all. I'm beginning to see how much that is true in my own life. I am learning how little I actually think about, meditate on, or pray to God; as well as how few commandments from the Scriptures I actually follow. I'm also discovering how little wrong I actually think I do and how little confession I actually practice. Not only that, but I am slowly starting to pinpoint the ill-advised habits I keep that need changing. In short, I'm coming to grips with my own humanity and my own foolishness--my own need for redemption.
A case in point comes from a week ago Wednesday. Last week was Chuseok in Korea, a national holiday scheduled for August 15 of the lunar calendar. On the Western calendar, the day comes at the end of September, usually falling in the middle of the week much like our Thanksgiving; this means, of course, for hagwon teachers nearly a week without classes. My thought about how to spend my time off from school was to hang out with my friends in Seoul and possibly spend some nights with them during the break. Sunday after church, I made plans with a friend, Becky, to spend that Tuesday night with her. Having adventured around Seoul for the day with another friend from church, I arrived at Becky's spacious apartment that evening around 8:30. We shared cookies together, helped Becky switch rooms, and played word games until it was time for my other friend to go.
After Elizabeth left, Becky and I got to talking and she had some poignant observations to share. She asked me if I was always late--and I sadly told her yes. I asked her how she knew and she said, "Well, you're at least a half an hour late to church usually and every time you come over it's been after eight. It was 10:30 once and I thought, 'Well, she was with someone. Maybe that's why.'" I told her about the time Daniel and I met in Seoul and how I had been thirty minutes late for the appointment. He had rebuked me then for quoting a different ETA than my actual arrival time, much like what Becky was quietly doing now. She said that Daniel was being a good friend and reminded me of Proverbs' wisdom. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," it states, "but an enemy multiplies kisses." She then went on to share her own struggle with tardiness and her partial success with it. She simply encouraged me not to settle for lateness being the rule.
It appears I had forgotten her lesson by the morning--because I stayed asleep until 10:30, desiring to finish my exciting dream about narrowly escaping an explosion rather than wake to reality. My sleeping didn't keep Becky from doing what she had planned and I feel in some ways it all worked out. But my tardiness still unveiled how much I took advantage of her hospitality. There were other moments during the morning that pointed back to that same vice. She asked me what I had going on that day and, to be truthful, I had "planned" to spend it with her. But I hadn't told her that and we hadn't actually made plans to do anything. In fact, she had told me the night before that she had things to do the next day for school, which definitely guaranteed that I wouldn't be able to do what I had thought.
In effect, she had set limits on our time together; after breakfast she subtly set more. Without being rude, she gently suggested, "Do you need to take a shower? I think it's time for you to get up and get started on your day." If she hadn't pushed me like that, I might have continued to sit there and soak up her time and energy like a parasite. Slowly, it seemed, I was outstaying my welcome.
As I gathered my things for my shower, I guiltily recalled my curious sleepover habit: not to bring soap with me, under the assumption that there would "always" be some available to use at whatever friend's house I found myself. I asked myself what kind of loving person goes over to someone else's house expecting to use another's things without asking. How Christ-like is that? How servant-oriented is that? How lowly is that? It's lowbrow, not lowly.
"You've been using my soap, haven't you?" I imagined Becky saying the moment I stepped out, my freshly-washed aroma wafting to her nostrils. It would be a stink I could not cover up with any perfume. "Why didn't you just ask?"
Standing under the hot crash of water, I self-consciously reached for shower gel that wasn't mine and poured the smallest dab on my wet fingers. I was unwilling to simply forgo a wash, turn the water off early, and admit my disgrace. At that moment, I felt myself lathering on my own shame. I began to turn over in my mind the lessons in humility and sinfulness that I had so recently been learning from the LORD. Monday night, I recalled, was one such lesson. That night I had sat contentedly in my apartment listening to the K-LOVE morning show streaming from San Francisco, thinking about America and wishing to be home. The guest artist was 10th Avenue North, a band comparable to Jars of Clay or Casting Crowns. During one of the segments, a member of the band was introducing one of their newest songs, "Healing Begins." "It was actually written about a moment with my wife where she confessed things to me that she hadn't told anyone," he said. "And I got to thinking that this is why we have to confess to each other."
The subject of his song related to the posture of our lives. He talked about how believers [read: ME! in big, fat letters] plan to do great things for God and yet neglect the little things. How about you just live for God? he suggested. "Instead of doing things to be accepted," he offered, "why don't you just live in the knowledge that you [already] are…?" Instead of stealing soap or time from your sister in Christ, how about you live in the knowledge that the LORD will provide for you and not fear to use the things He's already provided?
I read a Scripture verse taped to the wall as I toweled myself dry. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of self-discipline," it read. How self-disciplined is it to neglect to come prepared? How self-disciplined is it to plan on being late? Only fools despise the wisdom and instruction from the LORD, Proverbs declares. I stood there a moment as I let the conviction seep into my skin like abrasive cleanser.
Becky didn't comment on my clean-smell as I returned to the living room. I stood in the doorway of her new room, watching her on Skype and feeling every bit as in the way as I now was. It was time, I knew. "I think I'm gonna head to Itaewon to fix my phone," I told her.
"You're leaving?" she asked. "I'm so glad you and Elizabeth could come and help me move my beds."
I smiled wryly to myself as I thought about her affirmation while gathering my things in the other room. Though some moments about my stay had been harder to bear than others, I was glad I came, too. It was the love of God, I knew, that would allow Becky to overlook the faults I can’t see and desire my company anyway. And it was the grace of God, I was sure, that allowed me to accept such welcoming hospitality in the face of such emulsifying conviction. His is a love that covers a multitude of sins.