Last week I was in Aomori. It’s a fairly remote place on the northern part of Honshu and apparently the snowiest area on planet earth, which I can easily believe.
I was there to help a friend get his new home ready for his wife and five children to move into. For me that meant painting. Pretty much six solid days of it. And in the midst of that I learnt a few lessons about what it will look like for me to love Japan.
It was very much a labour of love. For a few reasons:
- I was painting everything white, and whilst I admit it makes the place brighter, I’m not a huge fan.
- There was an awful lot to be painted.
- It all needed three coats of paint.
- The stairs.
Oh, those stairs! It was whilst painting those stairs that I almost cracked. I mean, look at them!
That twirly bannister . . . those battered steps . . . so . . . many . . . panels. And my friend wanted it all painted white. Essentially I was going to be painting a bunch of incredibly awkward surfaces, with a colour I wouldn’t have chosen (three times over!), for someone else to enjoy.
I’ll be honest, when I finished the first coat and stood back to look at my work, I almost cried.
A whole world of ugly, right? I really wanted to give up. Or at least work out a way to cut some corners. Was it really worth the effort it took to get into all the twists and edges and cracks? After I had finished the second coat, it looked a bit better from a distance. Maybe that was enough.
But then my friend related his daughter’s reaction from being shown the staircase over Skype,
“Oh, Daddy! It looks like a palace!”
That put pay to my tiredness. Sure, my friend had mentioned several times how much he liked the house, how much brighter it looked, yadayada. But knowing that his daughter was delighted with how it was looking: that got me working with joy.
As I was thinking about this, I remembered one of my favourite stories from the Bible: the story of when Jacob met Rachael. It’s a classic boy-meets-girl, boys-falls-in-love-with-girl, boy-promises-to-work-as-a-shepherd-for-seven-years-in-return-for-girl’s-hand-in-marriage kinda story. And then we get this beautiful verse,
‘So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.’
Seven years of hard labour, waiting all the time for the girl he loved. Not even Westley could boast that.
So as I was giving that staircase its third coat of white, I reflected on this story and how it links to the question I’ve been thinking about recently: Do I love Japan or is it just lust?
One of the points, you might remember, was that ‘Lust demands instant gratification but love waits.’
I totally agree with that, but I think we need to make sure we don’t misunderstand what ‘waits’ means here. It’s not a sitting-around-doing-nothing sort of waiting. And it’s not a go-and-do-your-own-thing sort of waiting. It’s a serve-and-actively-seek-the-good-of-the-other-person-whilst-you-wait kind of waiting. It’s the kind of waiting that Jacob did for Rachael for seven years. It’s the kind of waiting that God did for Israel for many more years. It’s the kind of waiting that a man is meant to do for his wife, or the girl he’s pursuing. And it’s the kind of waiting that I should do for Japan.
So the question is: am I willing to wait? And am I willing to labour whilst I wait? Am I willing to paint over the same spot again and again in a colour that I wouldn’t choose so that someone’s daughter will get giddy with excitement at the idea of moving into a palace?
Am I willing to love Japan when that love requires a labour of love?
You know, I think I am. Because I think it will be worth it. That’s why love labors, because the wait is worth it.