The following are words from a missionary who’s being brutally honest about how the adventures aren’t always fun, but can hurt at times…
For some time now I’ve been wrestling with fears, big fears, that have discouraged me (Erika) from taking the step of faith to move to Italy and start this new chapter in my personal life and in my work/ministry. Fears that I won’t adjust to the culture well, that I’ll never really grasp the language well, that the struggles will pull Jon and I apart, that I won’t be able to do the work I’ve always dreamed of, that I’ll be isolated and lonely in Italy, that I won’t learn to enjoy the differences in Italy or the people who I encounter, that I’ll miss my family too much or always feel guilty for leaving, that living on support will be too hard… The list goes on but I’ve basically boiled it down to the fact that I’m afraid of being out of my element because that means I have no way of attempting to control the situation. I’m terrified because it means I can’t anticipate what I need to do to be able to perform well, which leaves huge potential for failure. I HATE to feel like I’ve failed, even to feel like I didn’t do a great job at something let alone that I’ve made a mistake or blown it altogether. Everything in my flesh rises up to defend my honor and avoid or explain away the failure (unless of course acting humble is what I need to do to perform best).
I know in my head that this is all wrong on so many levels. Although I think it’s pretty natural as far as the flesh is concerned. But from God’s perspective I’m fearing all of these things because I’m not trusting Him with them. I believe that He is good and He is sovereign but I don’t trust Him because I don’t always like His definition of good. I know that just because it’s best doesn’t mean it will be comfortable or enjoyable. In fact, often times I’ve found His good, is painful. I’m pretty sure I have a jaded perspective on the topic because of the exposure I’ve had to suffering both personally and in the field of social work. And the gift of compassion God’s given me is also a burden as it increases my awareness to the pain in the world around me. So while I feel everything deeply I react to it intensely wanting it to be better, some times for prideful reasons and other times for good, even godly, reasons.
So here I sit 3 days after arriving in Italy, eyes stinging from a recent watershed of tears. I know it’s normal to feel waves of sadness and anger throughout this transition, but knowing it only makes me feel worse about it, like I should be able to handle it better knowing it’s coming. Though I guess even if you knew you were going to have your arm cut off it wouldn’t hurt any less when it happened. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of the fact that emotions are important to recognize and process even if we don’t like them or how they make us feel. But it does seem like it can take awhile for them to bring healing.
It’s hard being a missionary. I know I haven’t experienced anything yet, it could be so much worse, and there will be countless trials to come, but this week has been rough as I’ve realized the fear of losing control of just about everything. I still have a lot but I’ve also lost a lot and know it will take longer than I’d like to regain a sense of stability in almost every area of life which currently feel thoroughly unsettled. Though the most difficult 24 hours of the week and some of the most hours difficult I’ve had in my life, were on New Year’s Day. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is to walk away from a loving family like I did that day – tears on their faces (and mine) – and get on a plane taking me to a place far away full of the unknown. It’s not like I’ve never said goodbye to family to go live far away, but this time was different on so many levels. I can still see my family members waving back to me as we finished going through security and took a final look back before going to our gate.
I don’t know if God changes weather patterns to speak to His children but as I sat on the plane a short time later, waiting to take off, it sure seemed like the weather was the perfect metaphor for what was going on in my heart.
From my window seat I could see the sky growing darker. And while I looked out considering the grief our leaving caused, it started to rain. Before long, raindrops were running down my window pane and then tears were running down my face..again. We had to sit on the runway for what seemed like a torturously long time as I was forced to consider that I was still close to home and could be back with family in a matter of minutes if I chose (I even imagined what it would be like to tell them to stop the plane and let me off). It kept raining and I cried again thinking about my family driving home – processing the distance growing between us and then coming home to a house with two less people to hug, greet, feed, and talk with, not to mention the reminders our lingering belongings would be that we have gone. Living with them for 7 months created great opportunities for us to interact and create memories, but it also made the separation more difficult. Now I know more than ever what I’ll be missing while I’m over 4,000 miles away for multiple birthdays and holidays in a row.
The plane finally began moving and as we took off my heart sank a bit while it all became more real. While we climbed higher in the stormy sky I told God – for the umpteenth time – “Only for You. Only for the sake of Your name and the Gospel would I sacrifice nearness of my family and willingly leave to go to a place I don’t know, which promises to be difficult in every way. Only for You would I put my family through the heartache.” And I thought, thank God we have that common bond – knowing Christ is the reason for it all, it is the right thing, and He’ll sustain us in the midst of angst and sadness.
Eventually, and all at once we broke through the dark clouds and rain into a clear blue sky. I remembered my Mom saying it would be a special moment when all of the sudden the sunshine flooded the space and the rainclouds were replaced by a bed of fluffy white clouds below. I hesitated to enjoy the moment and admit the beauty I saw because I was still sad. But I was grateful as it continued to echo what God was doing in my heart. The sun has always been the natural wonder God has used to gently remind me of His presence. And I know it’s because of His kindness that I even have a family that I can be so close to that it makes it terrible to be pulled apart. The transformation of my surroundings reminded me that even when I’m hurting, there is Hope. It’s always there whether we can see it through the storm and tears or not.
While I feel compelled to put on a face for the world about how strong I am, if I’m honest, leaving (if you haven’t realized already) was rather traumatizing for me. I struggled with anxiety throughout the 9 hour flight over and most of my first day in Italy. It’s not like I’ve lived at home my whole life, or haven’t planned to make this move at some point, or don’t feel called, or have any sort of pushback about leaving from the ones I care about, or don’t love and trust the man I’m following to this new adventure… It’s just hard.
I’ve lost an immediate family member to death and I know intense grief and pain. I know that this could be worse and so many are suffering in much more difficult ways, but it’s a loss nonetheless – a season closed and with that sadness for the changes that are unwelcome. But I also am grateful for what has transpired. I’m amazed at the way God has created us for relationship. Scenes such as a reunion between loved ones and the emotion of those moments are so strong. It’s a testament to the gift God has given in our ability to love one another, and in that way reflect Him. To think if our love is merely a shadow of His how much that must mean God, who loves perfectly, loves His own Son, Spirit, AND US, His adopted sons and daughters!
And yet in order to open your heart to love you have to open it to pain (as Christ did for us). So sometimes love hurts for better or for worse. One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Psalm 62 and inevitably I go there when I’m hurting and need comfort. Interestingly, tonight I resisted the comfort it offered. It talks about how God ALONE is my rock, my salvation, my glory, my refuge (v6-7). But all I could think was, “I don’t want You to be my refuge” because that means I have to resign to the fact that I can’t provide that for myself. It means I have to be okay with being out of control and let my hope be from Him and Him alone (v5). When it comes down to it, actually submitting to this truth is scary, for my flesh. But the truth is that without Him, I am but a breath (v9) and He only wants to care for me, to make my burden light, if only I’ll let Him.
So, I’ll keep pouring out my heart to Him when this hurts and cautiously (though it should be persistently and joyfully) rest my all on Him. He IS my rock, my salvation, my fortress, my glory, my refuge…but I have to go to him and trust who He is (v8). What good is a refuge if you stand out from under it or a fortress if you stand on the outside looking in while the gate stands wide open? I fear this lesson will be something God relentlessly teaches, re-teaches and forces me to understand more deeply in the coming weeks and months here, but I look forward to the freedom, joy, and newness of life that I know waits for me when I trust in Him at all times and rest in His steadfast love (v12).
In His grip,