I have had a message popping up all over my life recently: geography affects character.
The rainforests and fertile soil of Guatemala grow a friendly nation that communicates kindness to a stranger who can’t even speak their language. The busy, dirty, noisy streets of New York manage to send out a message of progressiveness mixed with loneliness, a subtle cocktail that no one blesses as magically as this city. In the south, we have a peculiar aptitude for blessing your heart while we personally are drowning under the weight of a self-prescribed guilt and shame over various life events that our family members are also choosing to be guilted and shamed over.
It is truly fascinating! My father was the world’s worst, and the most explicit example of this phenomenon in my life. At the risk of sharing too much, I was dealing with the development of a boil on my leg and experiencing quite a bit of discomfort. My father looked at me, broken-hearted, and apologized. I returned the phrase that is always returned, “Thank you, but it’s not your fault.” Imagine my astonishment when he told me that it actually was his fault. Seems he also experienced these medical maladies from time to time and so was somehow guilty of causing my discomfort. What?
Someone I respect, who was raised up north, says she has noticed something about southerners. She has pointed out to me that we tend to hang out by family. Friends are important to us, but we often overlook friendships for the sake of families when that would not be found as true when you travel north.
“…don’t knock yourself out being good,
and don’t go overboard being wise…
but don’t press your luck by being bad, either.”
-Ecclesiastes 7:16-17, MSG
The New Living Translation says not to be “too good” or “too wise” or even “too wicked”. You could also say we don’t want to feel “too guilty” or “too ashamed”. See, if my theory is correct, if geography in some ways affects character, this verse speaks grace. Geographically of course. Because the truth of the Scripture is…
It isn’t about trying to be good
trying to be wise
trying not to be wicked.
It is all about
belonging to God.
Not trying to.
Just doing it.
So no matter what part of the world we’re from, whether we flower with hospitality, solitarily limp ever forward, or languish beneath loads of guilt and shame, the grace of God meets us where we are and always has the antidote to our “too muchness”.