Sometimes I think about wealth and time and luck. And standards of living. And just the idea of sheer comfort.
It’s pretty crazy, when you think about it, how different people have completely different ideas about what’s good or what’s comfortable.
I could dish out a bunch of statistics about people who live on a dollar a day or the 90/10 gap in wealth and healthcare, but I think we know that. We know that Americans are rich, relatively speaking. Just having access to a public library with books and computers and internet and human resources is more than millions of people will ever have. Not to mention a lack of clean water, doctors, and all the other tragedies of poverty we have heard of a million times.
Living in rural China tested what I thought I knew about standards of living. Big time.
I went there to teach English. I knew it would be difficult. It was hot. Dirty. No drinking from the faucet, and there were so many mosquitoes that I started hoping to see the playing-card sized spiders that love to feast on them. As an American that sort of randomly went to China with very little knowledge of Chinese culture and tradition, I ended up eating all sorts of food that I didn’t recognize in settings of questionable sanitation. People spit and littered relentlessly. Sometimes I felt like many people were a bit ill-mannered, maybe even gross.
But I tried to have a good attitude.
Many days I wondered what it would be like to live there. To grow up there. To call that place home.
Would I aspire for more? Would I be content? Would I spit loudly and slurp my noodles and watch kung fu movies through the haze of my grandfather’s cigarette smoke?
I don’t know.
Every weekend most of the teachers went to a small city and stayed in the hotel. I was really against this at first, but after one week I was sold to the idea. We relaxed, took nice showers, sat down to pee, and basked in the air conditioning. When we got back to the village, there was always a tiny bit of shock. Back to the heat, the noise, the demands of teaching children with a language barrier that is more prohibiting than I imagined.
It was like, Now we remember what it’s like to be comfortable. And here we are, back in the village.
Would we be better off to never know?
It’s kind of hard to switch back and forth.
Then I thought, Millions of people throughout the history of the world lived the village way.
They lived, (and still sometimes do) without a super comfy bed, climate control, perfectly clean water, accessible healthcare, a closet full of clothes, shoes for every occassion, Internet, computers, reliable electricity in every room, or an entity to be responsible for the quality of the food they consume. (The FDA, for example. Sounds simple enough, but really it’s very comforting that someone could get into trouble for providing food that could make you sick).
Millions of people.
In the past.
All over the world.
In the present.
Usually the hottest parts of the world.
Countless people lived their whole lives this way.
And then I think
You know who else lived this way?
Jesus lived this way.
And I selfishly think of myself and all the comforts that I know that they don’t. And how it’s hard to forget how good your life can be when you are faced with discomfort and change.
But I went there on purpose. It was my choice, right?
Would I do it again?
But what about Jesus?
Surely the creator of heaven and earth would know that life would get easier.
“Just wait a thousand years to bring salvation to people, Jesus, then you could live in Europe! You could be a king! You would wear better shoes for all that walking you do, and you wouldn’t have to wear those flat sandals all the time. The roads would be nice and easier to get around on, and there would be a better selection of food for you and your listeners than bread and fish.”
“Or better yet, wait TWO thousand years! After all, what is time to God? You could live in Australia, or Sweden, or AMERICA!! You could get around fast, by plane!! You could talk to so many people! You could take a nice hot shower after spending time on the sea covered with salt and smelling like fish, and you could get those neat skeletoe shoes, they’re supposed to be very comfortable. You could have sent your family a text to let them know you got left behind in Nazareth, and you could send Herod to court for trying to kill all those 2-year-old boys, because obviously that wouldn’t fly. You could make podcasts of the Sermon on the Mount, call Mary so she wouldn’t worry about you coming home late, and sleep in Hilton hotels with room service wherever you go. Yes, wouldn’t that be fantastic Jesus? I mean I know the end of your life on earth was a bit rough, but at least you could be comfortable for a while!!”
You see, Jesus knew about all the comforts we have now.
He knows about what’s coming in the future.
And still, all of these probably seem like rural China compared to the treasures in heaven.
Probably even less.
But he still came. Just to have him come and live on earth in those conditions, that’s pretty amazing. I don’t think I would want to live in the first century Roman Empire. Especially if I already knew about air conditioning. And airplanes. And pure water and traffic laws that actually work and clean streets and vaccinations and bug spray.
Not only did he live at this time, he also died. A very painful, cruel death.
So he lived a not-so glamorous life, and then painfully died. All the while knowing all the better things that exist. For us. Wow.
It’s easy to say we know how blessed we are, but maybe a little harder to really digest what that means.
And I thought washing my clothes by hand was difficult.