People who return from being student missionaries for a year are always changed.
It seems to be dawning on me that the change comes from beginning a brand new life. It's hard to say that you're beginning that life from scratch, because the new environment that you enter as an SM is actually abundant, in my opinion. But it's abundant with what is foreign to you, because you've left home. It feels like you're making a new life from scratch on the inside ... probably because our choices as individuals have never meant as much before.
As university students, we had a cafeteria and a dormitory. So much of our lives were organized so we could focus on our studies. And before college our parents took care of us while our siblings either sanded or heightened our rough edges. :-)
Taking a year OFF from school part-way to be a student missionary is like taking a year of life ON early. Life = of work, time off, play, relationships & rest. School is a learning process we need - especially since our world has developed so much - but life in school isn't the life most people are living.
This year off from school isn't like a temporary internship for the career we're actually pursuing; not unless you're really lucky with where you got posted as an SM. I think it's like a temporary internship for character. Things get put into perspective. What wasn't justly thrown at you finally falls off. What you never should have taken on finally sheds. I think these are the results of living in an environment of service. In an environment of loving others with our actions and hopefully our words as well. Love is a collection of choices, not feelings, and often ('seems like most of the time, the older I get...) those choices MUST be made regardless of the feeling at hand, or else it isn't love- it's of-self.
Love is patient. It's not impatient.
Love is kind. It's not mean or deliberately cruel. It's being thoughtful of the feelings of others.
Love does not envy. It's content vs. covetous for what others possess.
Love does not boast. It's modest of heart and speech. Not self-deprecating but modest.
Love is not proud. It's humble. Not self-loathing. It looks into the eye of the other person and keeps the eyes of the heart fixed on Jesus Christ.
Love is polite. It does not dishonor others, while still adhering to uncompromising truth.
Love is not self-seeking. It doesn't not take care of itself (we are supposed to be temples for God's Holy Spirit), but it isn't myopically self-focused.
Love is not easily angered. It doesn't not get angry, (even God gets angry) but it makes sure the journey to anger isn't rash; it pursues blamelessness.
Love keeps no record of [forgiven] wrongs. Forgiving is like letting go of a heated rock[offense]. It's heavy and only burns you to keep carrying it. Yes, it was handed to you but that's no reason to hurt yourself by hanging onto it. Keeping no record of an unforgiven wrong is denial. Make sure your heart is all on the table with God and then let Him help you clean the house of your heart. Keeping no record of wrongs is a strength-building task because forgiving an offender doesn't change them even though it liberates you.
Love does not delight in evil. So often, evil is veiled or sugar-coated. Too often, evil is accepted as normal. It's very difficult in our society to not delight in evil. Especially when an evil means is supposed to justify an end.
Love rejoices with the truth. Again, this is difficult. The truth can hurt and is often ugly - not pleasing to the eye of the beholder. Truth, these days (when there are so many "understandable" options around what is right), is harder to embrace than ever. It has ramifications. A key word that is helpful in carrying out this act of love is the word "rejoice." Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is more of a feeling. Joy is a deeper, calming knowing that joins hands with God's peace that passes understanding. We can trade our sorrows and shame for the joy of the Lord about the truth.
Love always protects. It doesn't let someone get hurt when it could otherwise be prevented or averted.
Love always trusts. This is tricky, because people are consistently untrustworthy. Even your loved ones let you down. When you love someone, they don't stop being human; disappointment on some level is inevitable. So who do you always trust? God. God is the only one 100% capable of keeping promises and doing the impossible.
Love always hopes. Another definition for hope is desire, I recently learned. It's keeping the wanting - the thirst - alive in spite of soul-crushing circumstances. It's always darkest before the dawn and God's love is more faithful than the morning. Hope does not disappoint. In Proverbs (somewhere - forgive me for not directly quoting) it says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. But don't stop hoping. God will attend to your wounds and in the end, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - especially in matters of the heart.
Love always perseveres. Perseverance is the carrier of hope. Perseverance is done by choosing. God made our choice a special creation. He wanted creations who would love him back, not be obedient robots. This allows for rejection of Him, which is extremely sad, but it also allows for eternal life which - when we get to Heaven - we will find out has been cheap enough indeed! Our choice is a special creation because Satan cannot force our choice (but don't estimate how dirty he'll play) and God will not force our choice (but don't forget God will never give up on you, never leave nor forsake you). I think that perseverance in all that love entails is why Love Never Fails. If you employ your impregnable choice over and over in persevering alliance with what can never fail ... God's blessings can never be robbed from you. Until we are in heaven, Satan will always try to bring us down - especially those of us who work to actively choose God - it's the result of the war on our souls; symptoms of the Great Controversy in the spiritual realm that we can't see with the eyes of our flesh.
Clearly, to love one another is a high standard. It is not a joke.
There's a quote that says to shoot for the moon because even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. Only God can love perfectly, but when we try to follow this standard (walking with God & listening for His specific guidance is necessary for the application in our individual situations), it changes us. And when we're trying to follow this standard for a whole year because it's our job and because we chose this job (whatever you think of yourself, be encouraged: nobody trips & falls into the life of an SM; you made months of choices towards where you're at, God saw it all, still sees it and is with you, helping you), God nurtures and leads us to love others and to be transformed by His love working through us. His Holy Spirit conveys what we can't put words to and intercedes for our needs in a language we could never grasp.
I think that - whether you have seen it yet or not - a very likely theme in every SM's experience is healing of a sort. What I've come to learn about healing is that it's not the same as restoration. Restoration is pure gift. We don't have to work to receive it - it's grace. Healing, on the other hand, is neither glorious or easy. Healing requires active participation. Healing is mundane. Healing brings joy but not a steadily happy high (which isn't natural anyhow). Healing isn't glamorous. There's no euphoria in healing. Sometimes the healing began because of a painful, spiritual operation on your heart that you couldn't even understand at first, making the first leg of your journey laborious like nothing you've ever known. Being an SM can scrub off the crud from your soul. For some that means you finally begin to value yourself more highly. For others, it means an uncomfortable look in the mirror. Being an SM can reopen wounds that never healed correctly so they can finally be ministered to. I've discovered there's a wealth of ministry received as an SM in ministering. Only by love is love awakened. I never saw it coming that in being a student missionary I was entering a year of feeling more loved and laughing more often than I ever have in my life - and it's for exactly who I am; no one else. Nobody tries to shove the square peg that I am into a round hole. All this love & joy I've received came about because I'm working hard for people and for events that have nothing to do with me...! Who knew, huh? Being an SM can also call upon spiritual muscle that you've never exercised, making you sore at first but eventually stronger. At the end of the healing journey, you start really living again. And for many who've finally healed after a life-saving operation or after kicking a long-time disease, re-entering life has never been so sweet. I think that's the event we see - the spark in ex-SMs' eyes - when they return from their post and pick up where they left off.
But you know what's really beautiful? Your SM post isn't a laboratory. It's a real part of the world. The people you bond with are real people. It's not like the Pevensie children in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia who have to leave at the end of each story and have no control over whether or when they can return to that beloved country. Our lives are deeper and wider because of our year of service. Because of our year of aspiring to love. Love always leaves a mark. It isn't a small world after all. We return home to the friends we miss having made new friends to drive us through "the missing experience" all over again, but the pain of temporary parting is only the poignant piercing that we have such wonderful people to miss - that we have been enriched so greatly.
So I invite any SMs who are reading this to think about how God has been healing you and enriching you this year. I invite you to pray and ask Him to reveal what He's been doing in your life. Even if you feel you've already got a handle, with God there's always more to know and more love of His to feel - infinitely more :-) It's the Christmas season and we're away from our families. Ask God to bring His love and His glowing intentions home to your heart for Christmas; it's a joy that surpasses all others and a joy that cannot be taken from you. I got the idea to also ask God to make me into a Christmas present back to Him (since He gave it all up for me) and see where that leads. It's one of the many ideas I've had in how to make my Christmas unique, since it's my first away from home & family.
God loves to give good gifts. Love is never out of season, but other things often are. If you feel like something you want isn't happening or coming to you at the time you'd like, remember God loves to give GOOD gifts. He wants the timing and the ripening to be perfect so that it will be sweet - so that you will feel it everywhere, once it's yours - if indeed you're meant to have it. But a prayer request God always answers YES to is when you ask Him to reveal more of His heart to you. And He never tires of responding over and over and over again. I'm praying that all of you experience something beautiful with Jesus during this unique time.
To any fellow SMs who are reading this - and to the rest of you - I wish a Merry Happy Christmas!