“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”—Genesis 3:17
This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.—Revelation 13:10
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.—Revelation 21:4
Years ago, I was riding in a 15-passenger van, taking a group of college students on a spring break mission trip to a small border town in Mexico. We were all getting to know each other, and the pastor who had organized the trip revealed that for a long time he pastored a church in South Lake Tahoe. Since that is such a beautiful, desirable place to live, I respond with a sarcastic “That must be rough.” His answer was a gentle rebuke: “Well, it’s still under the curse.”
I had never heard that term before, “under the curse,” but I knew right away what he meant. Since Adam and Eve first sinned, this world is not what it was meant to be. Sin taints everything, and no place is exempt, no matter how beautiful. This pastor went on to tell stories of greed, depression, broken families, mean and grouchy Christians—all the same stuff pastors deal with everywhere. Since the beginning, humanity has tried countless times to create heaven on earth, and has never succeeded. Gated communities can’t keep sin out, no matter how nice the landscaping.
When we arrived in the town of Agua Prieta, on the border of Arizona, we were eager to do what we could to help the small church and its faithful pastor to reach its community. We would be sharing the gospel through a Vacation Bible School, and a couple of other projects. But one of our main purposes was to clear a vacant lot and turn it into a soccer field. The church had gotten permission to take over the lot from the city, to create a safe and positive place where kids could come after school. We would be clearing the ground, mixing and pouring concrete, setting up goals, and, we assumed, planting grass.
But we quickly learned we were mistaken. When we mentioned grass, the pastor just laughed at us. He explained that there was not enough money, water, or personnel to maintain a grass field in their town. The best we could do was to set up the goals, clear the rocks and trash from the field, and try to level it. The kids could play soccer in the dirt. Soccer in the dirt is better than soccer in the rocks.
So that is what we did. We did the best we could to provide a place for the children of that community to play soccer in the dirt. We worked hard all day in the hot sun, and toward the end of the week the children began to come out and play soccer with us in the evenings after school. They were so grateful, and in their joy they drew us in, to the point that by the last night we were all joyfully playing soccer in the dirt. It wasn’t perfect, but that was okay. I thought about children back home, playing soccer on nicely maintained grass fields, and I remembered that even those children have parents who are getting divorced and siblings who get cancer. Some places on earth are cleaner and nicer than others, but no place is heaven. All of us are under the curse, doing the best we can for now, waiting for the day when all things are made new.
I mention this because life in Lassen County lately feels a lot like playing soccer in the dirt. It’s miserably hot, the power keeps going out, and the skies are often filled with smoke. Right now as I type this, I’m racing against time because my laptop battery is almost dead, and I have no way to recharge it until the power comes back. It’s evening and it’s far too hot and humid in my house to sleep, but we don’t want to open the doors because the air is too smoky. Also I have a nasty cold in the middle of summer, which is just the worst.
I have been praying a lot this week for the firefighters who protect our communities, and for all the people involved in the Lassen County Fair who work so hard and can’t control things like smoke and power outages. I often pray something really simple like “God, have mercy on our little town.” I think it’s good to care for the place you live, and to want life there to be the best it can be. It’s normal to want clear skies and a way to escape the heat. It’s only natural that we would want life to go smoothly.
As we pray these things, though, we have to keep in mind that even if all those prayers are answered, this place will still not be perfect. There will be more fires, and more sickness. Better weather won’t fix the broken relationships and sinful hearts that affect us all the time, every day. It is still heaven we are really longing for. So while it’s only human to long for green grass, it’s also important to learn how to play soccer in the dirt with a smile. To keep our eyes fixed on eternity, and to be grateful for the little blessings God gives us along the way.
I hope you have a great time at the fair, even if it’s a little smoky. I hope power outages make you grateful for all the times you had access to fast internet and a cool house and didn’t even think about it. I hope there is a part of your heart that prays “God, have mercy on Susanville,” and another part that prays “Come, Lord Jesus.” Because someday He will, and when He does He deserves to find us longing for Him, not settling for anything less.