I was in a beautiful setting, enjoying the experience of hiking around a small portion of the largest and most ancient of lakes. How could there be a snake in my garden?
Well, by day five I was pretty much over the trip and I just wanted to be done. I didn’t want to see one more hill and as much as I genuinely enjoyed my very warm and pretty comfortable sleeping bag, I was ready for the lovely bed I knew was waiting for me in my hotel room back in Irkutsk. I learned on that trip that six whole days of just walking with no final goal except to finish isn’t my thing. That was the same day that my love fail came.
Sometime during the night, it had occurred to me that I was unwittingly pushing myself on the German family. Don’t get me wrong, they were cordial and pleasant, but I finally realised that I was the one asking all the questions and trying to get to know them. They answered my questions very nicely and even asked a couple in return a few times. But I realised that, while they were perfectly polite, they didn’t seem to have a genuine interest in getting to know me. They would often break off into extended periods of speaking German and ignoring the guide and me. I got that they were a family on vacation at a crucial time in the children’s lives but it seemed rude to me to purposely exclude the solo traveller in the group. From my Yakutian camping experiences, I wasn’t used to this type of exclusionary behaviour at all. It was kind of a bummer when I realised what was up.
I decided to put my theory to the test. For all of day 5, I didn’t ask any getting-to-know-you questions. I kept my countenance pleasant but I initiated no conversations. And no conversations were had with me that day so my theory proved correct. Except for their exclusionary family conversations in German, silence reigned over our group with my decision to zip my lip. It annoyed me no end. I found myself ridiculously irritated and offended by the realisation that I wasn’t as fascinating to this family as I’ve been to most other people I’ve met over the past couple of years. I didn’t see it at the time but in hindsight it’s obvious that my pride was just as wounded as my feelings. Unfortunately, as much as I prayed to God to take the negative feelings away from me, I just couldn’t shake them.
So for days 5 and 6 I was quieter and markedly not as social as I had been for the previous four days. This isn’t to say that I ignored my companions. I still made a few comments and I even ran and helped the daughter when she took a tumble in front of me, while her dad, who was closer, sauntered over. Obviously, I didn’t wish them harm in any way but I was still irritated.
This is what lead to a sour parting of ways at the end of our trip. After our minivan ride back to town during the evening of day 6, the family were getting dropped off at a flat they were renting for the remainder of their vacation and I was getting dropped off at my hotel just a couple of blocks away. The family also wanted to stop at a supermarket to stock up on supplies. With dreams of a hot shower and a lush bed dancing in my head, being mentally done with the trip, and more than ready to say goodbye to my co-hikers, I asked the guide to have me dropped off first. He ignored my request and proceeded to the family’s rented flat, where we then had to wait around for the landlord to show up with the key. I was not amused and I didn’t even try to hide it.
During the first twenty minutes that we waited, I paced the opposite sidewalk and didn’t say much, trying to distract myself by catching up on the phone messages I had missed while I was out in the wilderness and away from mobile service. When that time was up and we were still waiting, I went over to the guide and told him that I didn’t appreciate being the one to be inconvenienced for no good reason, then I hit him with my RBF. You’ll need to Google that, if you don’t know what it is. I know I have one because my colleagues at school are always hilariously asking me to do it, saying that it scares them; but this was the first time that I consciously used it to get someone to fall in line (not counting one or two of my more unruly kids). I stared at him for a full five minutes until he succumbed to the force of my RBF and decided to send me to my hotel with the driver, while he stayed with the family as they continued to wait for the landlord.
The family had observed all of this. On top of my silence since the previous day (again, not an angry silence but totally not how I had behaved for the first four days) and this small conflict, I’m pretty sure they were uncomfortable and just as ready to see the back of me as I was ready to go. Thus followed the quickest and most awkward goodbye that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I had planned to wish them well for the rest of their vacation, for their return to Germany, and for some new endeavours that I had found out in my questioning phase were coming for their family. They didn’t give me a chance to say any of that. I turned from the guide towards them and they all threw out, “Bye,” with looks in their eyes that were practically begging me to go. There was no way I could nonchalantly wish them well after that. So I said an equally awkward, “Bye,” hopped into the van and sped off with the driver towards the wonderful promise of my hotel room.
It was then that I started feeling guilty. I knew that I hadn’t acted right for two whole days. I hadn’t been pouty or mean, as far as I know, but I had in no way represented Christ to these professed non-believers during those two days. In fact, I may have done harm since they knew that I’m a Christian. Within an hour of our parting, I was praying for forgiveness. I know, it sounds like a lame cop-out, but what else could I do? I had basically burned my bridges with the family with that last awkward scene. They literally couldn’t get rid of me fast enough and imagine the added awkwardness of trying to explain by WhatsApp why I had acted the way I had.
For hours that night I replayed the previous two days in my head, seeing where I could have done a few things differently. As always, hindsight proved to be 20/20. I still feel a guilty twinge when I think about it so I clearly haven’t accepted God’s forgiveness yet and the whole episode still bothers me, at least a little bit.
What is it about loving people who offend me that I struggle with so? I’ve learned over the past few years not to take offence at haters or insensitive people on the street; those people’s offences roll right off me and I regard them with a sort of wry amusement and pity at their ignorance. So why can’t I do the same for people who come a bit closer? Why do I pick up the offence and carry it like my 16 kg rucksack, unable to put it down again until they depart from my presence? It frustrates me in the extreme!
I am so looking forward to the day when I learn to love unlovable people. I’m not looking forward to the fire I’ll have to walk through to get there but it’s got to be done, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)