Empty or Thriving

This morning I had an hour to fill, and fortunately I like to bring books with me wherever I go for just such moments of waiting that would be otherwise wasted.  My book in hand, I sat down at a park on the grass beneath the sun, the morning still cool, and I began to read.

The book I selected is called Rumors of God, which I have since been reading at intervals throughout the day, and I am currently two-thirds finished reading.  It’s hard to put down.  Its truth has been reverberating in me from the moment I began to read.  It discusses grace, faith, God’s love, and how He can free you from being a slave to a fast-paced schedule, so that you don’t just do things for Him, but be with Him.  This differentiation is crucial.  It is so simple, and I have heard it many times in different ways, but I am really impressed with what I’ve been reading.  It has inspired me. =)

Later in the evening, I watched part of a film called God Grew Tired of Us.  In the documentary, some Sudanese young men who have had a life of suffering and war and who have been malnourished and faced with extreme hardships and despair, come to America to live and work.  They have never been in the so-called “civilized” world.  Everything is foreign to them.  On a plane, one Sudanese young man eats a large piece of butter and remarks that it tastes like soap.  They don’t know how to operate electricity or what it means to have running water, and they think that their jobs in the U.S. might include cleaning dog’s teeth and singing songs to old people.  They are naive of the workings of the world, and America brings improvements to their lives.

Yet it also brings them harm that they didn’t expect.  A lack of a sense of community and family.  A lack of quality friendships.  I believe that America is largely an individualist and commercial country, yet I was struck with just how much so when I saw it from their perspective (the young men wanted to know- what does Santa have to do with the birth of Christ?).  How contrived America can be.  How fake.  We are prosperous, yet we take for granted all that we have.

The Sudanese are amazed that strangers do not welcome each-other into each-other’s homes, and that we are always working- at different jobs, at different times, and with little time for family.  Is this really what life ought to be like?  Perhaps life should not include war and famine, but neither should it include cynicism and isolation.  Something is dreadfully wrong on both sides of the globe.

I feel like the messages of the book and film are interconnected.  I came away with many things, but one of them is that you can just ‘be’ until your world narrows, shrinks and becomes suffocating- you can just survive in a place and an individualist world that exists on existence alone to make money, to eat, and to stay bodily healthy.  If that is all that you do, I think the vastness of your soul will shrink.  You will miss some of the grace God extends to you.  You will be stuck on striving, and not know how to be with God, instead of just for God.  Your world will be about going place to place and doing activity after activity; about working and saving and spending, but not about investing – investing your life in God.  I think this is something that the Sudanese recognized about America, even as they tried to embrace the unique opportunities given to them to learn and grow.

This lie of prosperity really is invasive.  Of abundant food but empty souls.  Of warm water on tap and lukewarm spirits.  We have learned to be rich in everything but our relationships.  Can we be blessed both in spirit and goods?  I think it is possible- there is no need for Americans to become malnourished like Sudanese refugees to feel that God is near: but perhaps we can learn something from our war-torn friends.  The meaning of wealth and abundance.  The need to love and to give.  The necessity of community and friendship, of family and of time spent doing something other than striving.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. – Matthew 6:33, NLT

Art credit: BBC Robin Hood


  1. I agree with you. 🙂 Individualism in America and other Western countries is what most Malaysians notice when they travel overseas. For us in Malaysia, we are communal… like we have open houses during festive seasons and we visit each other and exchange gifts during festive seasons (not just among our families).

  2. Interesting. 🙂 There must be quite a bit of culture shock that can happen.
    I’d like to go to other countries some day not only because I love to travel, but because I’m curious about those sorts of cultural differences that often go unnoticed or unrecognized, but are so important.
    Have you been to America before? =]

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