One of the great difficulties of this trip has been the constant fight against becoming passive to the experience. It’s so easy to fall into a kind of glazed, un-engaging state of mind—especially after everyone told me how it was an amazing opportunity or such an incredible experience or pressed upon me how it would be life-changing. After hearing that so often, it was almost natural to slip into this jaded mindset. Of course it’s going to be life-changing, I thought. You don’t need to tell me over and over again.
Of course such a thing is natural. My friends and family were always going to be excited for me, and they were always going to remind me about how it was going to be so amazing and awesome and life-changing and all that. That was always going to happen because it’s all true. It’s true because people around me have experienced it and returned with glowing reports—people like my grandparents and Katie Slusher and Preston Sprinkle. These are people who have been where I am, lived where I live, seen the things I’ve seen, talked to the people I’ve talked to, and encouraged me to go in the first place. The latter two stayed in the same dorms, learned in the same classroom, ate the same potatoes and rice and crusty pita bread (well, not the exact same obviously, but you get the idea), hung out in the same miklat, exchanged money with the same Shaban and listened to the same Bill Schlegel talk about the same Kiriat Jearim and insist that he is not a tour guide. They know the trip, they know how it changed their lives. Therefore it’s going to change mine too.
But that’s the trap. Their great experience doesn’t guarantee one for me; it doesn’t give me any kind of “earnest of success” or any degree of certainty. There are bad stories too. Granted, there may be one bad IBEX experience for every twenty good ones, but who’s to say I’m not the unlucky one? Who’s to say that I’m better than the person who took it for granted? Who’s to say that I’m shrewder than the person who listened to everybody talk about how awesome and life-changing the experience was going to be and took it all in stride, but got to the end and realized that they wasted the whole time?
No, the greatest fear of IBEX is not bombs or terrorists or Hamas. The greatest threat to IBEX, or my experience at IBEX to be more to the point, is myself. It’s my apathy; my jaded, uncaring personality. I may not be like Katie Slusher or Preston Sprikle. I may not engage the land and culture the same way they did, and I may not glean the same enjoyment from the trip.
The great trap is the feeling that it’s going to affect me no matter what. It’s not. I have to engage the moment, live in the present, live with a “wherever you are, be all there” mindset. That’s the only way Israel is going to affect me. Otherwise, I’ll miss it all, like a lazy person sleeping on a sunny day. This is why, in our first day on the Moshav, when the forty of us sat wide-eyed and excited in the IBEX classroom, Abner told us to believe it. Believe what everyone has been telling us, believe the experience, to not let ourselves be jaded by the sweet talk of others who have had or wish for a similar experience, just believe it. If you believe it, he said, it will change your life. But if you don’t, you’ll head back to America the same person you were before—and that is a real tragedy. He told us stories about former IBEX-ers who email him and say: tell the students this semester to take advantage of it all, because I wasted it.
What is it that can possibly make us apathetic to Israel? What is it that could freeze my imagination and block my mind from the blessings right in front of me?
I love home. I love my family. I love Cedarville. I love my friends, I love Chuck’s, I love the lake on a very warm spring day, I love the comfort of my own bed, I love watching the Mets on television, I love smelling the griddle on a lazy morning and running downstairs to see the table set and the pancakes ready to be eaten. I love playing golf beneath the warm yellow blanket of the sun, playing baseball with my brothers in the backyard, curling in a chair and reading a good book. I love the new comfort of the BTS, the ridiculous drawn-out theological conversations with Jon and Kyle, and the quiet intensity of playing mini-cornhole after quiet hour in Lawlor. I love basking in summer optimism about Michigan football with my Papa, talking to my Dad about the new way the Mets are going to fail, convincing my Mom how amazing some book is, and telling my sister how often she’s wrong. I love the feeling of orange juice going all the way down my throat in the morning, fresh strawberries, cold grapes, chocolate chip cookies just pulled out of the oven with the soft dough and melted chocolate, cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza.
But if I dwell on these things too long, if I long for these things, if I wish and wish how I could enjoy my family or taste that pepperoni pizza, I stop living in the present. If I’m always thinking about how great it would be to be home, I’m no longer considering how great it is to be here. And that is the elusive, hard-to-pin-down and even harder to admit danger of IBEX, or any trip abroad in college. If you’re anxious for the future, if you long for where you’re going and don’t focus on where you are, you can miss it. You can miss it all.
It doesn’t take bad people to miss their opportunities. It just takes anxious—and by extension apathetic—ones. Staying in the present is difficult and draining, but in the end, it’s more rewarding.
So may I live in the moment, be someone who is “all there”, consecrate this chance and sanctify my attitude—so that in the end I can enjoy my family and friends and all those other things as a person changed and captivated by a renewed awe for Christ. And that, of course, is why I came at all.