Finding joy in a miserable land: reflections on living morning to morning in Lebanon
There are much better countries than Lebanon to live in but the question is not “where am I living?” Rather, “whom do I worship and submit to in the place I am living in?”
03 AUGUST 2021 · 09:00 CET
It was a wonderful sunny day. I woke up, had my morning coffee, got dressed, and filled my car with gas on the way to work. Later in the evening I enjoyed shopping at the nearby mall and got some food items from the supermarket. This was two years ago.
Things are different today. There is no coffee in the morning since prolonged electricity cuts means no power to run the coffee machine. It also means no Wi-Fi and no elevator (I live on the 6th floor!). Today, like many others in Lebanon, I need to wait for at least an hour before I can put around 5 gallons of gas in my car. With prices skyrocketing due to inflation, one no longer enjoys going to the mall or the supermarket but rather shopping becomes an ordeal. The problems in Lebanon are numerous and the solutions… well it seems that world peace is more attainable.
Nonetheless, while recently thinking about life in Lebanon, I was reminded of Francesca Battistelli’s This is the Stuff worship song. It talks about the little things that drive her crazy, like losing her keys, then remembering that she is blessed and seeing God working in her through these things. How can losing a key even be compared to, for example, having all your life savings hijacked because of your country’s deep-rooted corruption and incompetent leadership? The answer for me lies not in the issues at hand but in the God who works through these issues. The same God who cares and works through our little things also cares and works through our big things.
Yes, even in Lebanon I can dare say that ALL things work for the good of those who love God and whom He called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). But how am I practically reminded of that in my daily life here? And does that help in not seeking to emigrate from Lebanon under unbearable conditions?
As I reflect on my life in a miserable, corrupted, and wretched Lebanon, what are the things that keep me joyful and appreciating life here rather than searching for an escape? While there are some things that are obvious to spot, like having a stable job, Lebanese food with its mouthwatering goodness, and my four adorable nieces and nephews, the main three things that keep me here are not related to Lebanon itself; they are related to God’s mercies, will, and goodness.
The first thing is the beauty of new beginnings. What extraordinary wisdom it is that God created day and night and gives us a new morning every 24 hours. (I can’t imagine what it feels like for those who live near the poles of the earth and who experience that morning after much longer intervals of time.) It is true that mornings in themselves do not change Lebanon for the better. However, with every morning, I have the chance to be changed for the better, and I have the freedom to have better actions and reactions to the things around me that are beyond my control. After I overcome the daily trap of the snooze button, I can decide to enjoy every new day and allow it to be a new beginning in complete reliance on His mercies.
The second thing is knowing that I am in God’s will. Even though I responded to Christ’s invitation to follow Him at a very early age, and I wanted His will to be in my life early on, it has taken me a long time to understand that this means I must submit my goals and plans to His will. This is not because He is a controlling God but because His knowledge, will, and plans are perfect. And my joy and peace can only overflow when my plans are shaped by the source of joy and peace. One of the exciting things about working at ABTS is seeing how my work is part of God’s plan not only for Lebanon but also the entire Arab world. I remember the first time I met one of our graduates from Morocco and how pleased I was to discover that my work contributes to sharing God’s love with Moroccans. Since I was a child, I have always wanted to serve God in a place of big impact. I had no idea it would be in a place such as ABTS that reaches countries across the Middle East and North Africa.
The third thing is focusing on God’s faithfulness and character wherever I am. I must say that this is not easy to do especially in a crumbling country where people are suffering and where injustice is rampant. But then again, living as a Christ follower in Lebanon is not even comparable to living as one in the time of King Darius or Emperor Nero, yet Daniel and the early Christians kept trusting and worshipping God despite all circumstances. Yes, the God whom Daniel and the early Christians worshipped is the same God whom I worship. But how do I keep that in mind in Lebanon? It is a relief to know that God’s love and mercy continuously pursue me and remind me of His goodness. Whether through His word, my work, my church, my family and friends, or even podcasts and worship songs, He is always sending the right people and the right words at the right time to do just that. He is worthy and He is making all things new.
There are much better countries than Lebanon to live in -there are worse places too- but the question is not “where am I living?” Rather, “whom do I worship and submit to in the place I am living in?” At the end, wherever I am, I will wake up in the morning, find a way to drink coffee, sing with the prophet Habakkuk and give praise to the One who is worthy.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
Loulwa El Maalouf, Director of Partnerships at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon.
This article was first published on the Institute of Midddle East Studies blog of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, and was re-published with permission.