when you realize you’re a jerk

Posted on June 6, 2013


By Clarissa

That moment. You know, when you realize you are a worse person than you thought you were. I just had one.

It had been a long day. In the heat. In traffic. With a baby. I shuffle through people hoping to sell me stuff and me trying to convince them in as polite a way as possible that I don’t in fact need (another) carving of a rhino. And even though I have been here almost a year (!) grocery shopping can still be lengthy and exhausting. I walk down every isle at least twice trying to find where items are located (of course baby cereal is next to cleaning supplies, why didn’t I think of that!) and time plummets through the hour glass as I try to examine food packages to figure out what the heck the thing I’m holding actually is.

Pulling into our neighborhood, I envision the remaining hours of the day: feed Valencia, reheat leftover rice and dal, put Valencia to sleep, and RELAX. However my pleasant daydream is shattered when I noticed four Kenyan girls waiting for us on the patchy grass outside our house. They have been here before, and I know that they will likely stay until the African sun sinks just below the horizon. So instead of my evening of decompressing from a long day, I dutifully welcome them into our home and run out to the duka to buy milk to make chai for them. For the next few hours we drink tea, talk of life in Kibera, and what school is like for kids in the U.S. Two of the girls—the most talkative—are 13 year old cousins. They dream of going to university and having good jobs.

As the hours tick by I see my relaxing evening becoming less and less of a possibility. And the seed of resentment, which had been planted as soon as I saw them outside our house, begins to grow. I resent them for taking up my evening, and I resent myself for not just directly telling them it was time to go. I had already tried all manner of subtle ways to communicate that they had overstayed their welcome, to no avail. By the time they finally leave, the weed of resentment has bloomed into all out anger. Though I had managed to keep on the culturally required mask of hospitality while they were here, as soon as the gate shuts behind them, my indignation comes tumbling out as I rant to John about how frustrated I was with the situation. John dutifully listens until I huff off to put Valencia to bed.

As the dust settles in my swirling thoughts I realized how much of a jerk I was, at least on the inside, which is who we really are anyway, right? In a epiphanous moment the irony of the situation struck me. When I had visited Kenya in 2010, my heart had been really burdened with pre-teen girls growing up in the slum. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like to work with a few girls, and when or how to even pursue that. Then having a baby, language lessons, piles of dishes, and the occasional moment snatched to enjoy a cup of coffee, somehow all shrouded my desire to connect with girls growing up in one of the most destructive environments for a young woman (read here: rape, prostitution, AIDS, hunger, etc. are rampant). So here come along a few pre-teen girls from the slum knocking on my gate and excited to hang out at my house. These are exactly the kind of relationships that I was hoping to build when I moved here! They are polite and eager to interact. My response: irritation.

I think sometimes God allows us to see a really icky side of ourselves before we can see beyond ourselves. It’s like we get too comfortable and we aren’t able to see ourselves for who we really are until we are caught off guard by a particularly nasty response to life. I wasn’t even able to see the opportunity right in front of me until I was smacked upside the head with an awareness of my own selfishness. As though I was a blind person who had just been given sight, the situation became startlingly clear: I more highly valued my own comfort than being a blessing to these girls.

I am convinced that we don’t generally see who we really are on the inside until life starts to get a little uncomfortable. Sometimes all it takes is a mild inconvenience to bring about impatience, selfishness, and anger. And it’s not as as though the inconvenience caused these less than amiable attitudes. They were there all the time, hidden away in my heart; the circumstances merely brought them to the surface, revealing what was already present. And as unpleasant as it is to see this in myself, in a way I am thankful for these times because they are times of honesty and repentance. They are times of remembering that in order to live a life giving out lavish sacrificial love, I need to be living a life of daily receiving lavish sacrificial love. I’m thankful that there is One of who gives it in abundance.  I am also thankful that there will be more opportunities to love these girls; pray with me that I would truly care about them more than my own comfort.