Muted by a Lie
We have all likely thought it one time or another. Our home churches seem to think it of us. We know it is wrong, that it is not possible. Somehow, in spite of that knowledge, we struggle to meet it, to live up to it.
The lie—that cross cultural workers have to be perfect. At the very least, they should be super-saints.
We laugh at that when we think of ourselves. Us? Snort! Nevertheless, it too often holds us in bondage as well. We are expected to be that way, so we try. For many of us, our support depends on the image we portray, so there is that added incentive to try to hold the image together.
The problem? We are not perfect. We know it. It eats away at us. Perhaps we are managing fine, but we know we are nowhere remotely close to super-saints. Unfortunately, it is when we are struggling the most that the lie holds us back with the cruelest grip.
We hesitate to ask for help. How can we ask? Whom do we ask? How do we admit we are struggling, that we have problems? What repercussions will that have? Will we be pulled off the field? Will our support fall? Will we cause shame to people who are just beginning to believe? Will our problems add more stress to our already stressed-out and over-worked coworkers and team leaders?
So we stay silent, held in bondage by a lie.
This is my story. Struggling on the field, but held back from getting help by those fears. Needing help when our problems did not just solve themselves, but not sure where to begin getting help. How could I ask for help without shaming ourselves and leaving an important ministry with a gaping hole? So I struggled on, mostly alone, trying to tough it out.
I believed God. I trusted Him to meet me. I was sure that if I just did what He asked, then the problems we were having would go away. They did not. A friend who encouraged me during this time had told me to keep journaling, telling me that I would get there, urging me to write about it when I did. So, for a few years, I have had this article that I have wanted to write—I have just been waiting until I “got there”!
You see, I am a cross cultural worker who was struggling. While working, I was struggling in my marriage with some tough issues. It has been very difficult, and our family was suffering.
So I did what we all know to do—get closer to God, pray, work on my issues, and then work hard on the situation. I was open and honest with people. I changed. I grew. I knew I would get through this. When I did, I wanted to write that article: How to Get Help on the Mission Field. I wanted to get there—to the “other side,” the land of being close to perfect again. To “arrive.” Then I would look back and write that article. But I did not arrive. Not even close.
Yet in all these years of aiming at “arriving,” I did learn some things. Some were encouraging, others tough and disappointing. Some break my heart. Others make me sing a quiet song of joy that cannot be drowned out by the darkness. Some make me question and rail against the injustice. Some still bring tears in the night.
So I write from my heart, not out of a twisted bitterness, but out of a deep sadness and an even deeper gratitude. I am sad for the lies we allow which keep us in bondage to that image of super-saints, sad for the reality of how harsh we can be to each other when we need help. I am deeply grateful to those who did not give up on me, grateful to a God who continued to sing a song of delight over me until I looked up to see the truth that He loved me because He chose to and not because I was doing enough or was good enough. I write from my heart and share what I learned.
I have learned that those whom we most expect to respond when we need help may be the ones who will fail us the most. Just as surprisingly, those who do step in will likely be the ones with the least reason to do so.
There seems to be a struggle in missions between the concepts of usefulness and care. It is like the old saying, “if it works, why fix it?” In the very organizations of which we are a part, where our corporate aim is to communicate love and concern to the world, we neglect it in ourselves. Leaders are often more concerned with the “Can they work?” question than the “Are they healthy?” question. As long as we still “work,” there is no need to stop work to provide care.
I learned that the first response to a request for help will often be accusations.
“Do you really want to disrupt the progress of the Gospel for your little problem?”
“Can’t you just tough it out and wait for it to change?”
“Maybe you just aren’t trying enough.”
“You really don’t want me to stop the work just for that, do you? We have things to do.”
Over the years I was shamed into answering that in the negative. I held on, only to find the problem getting worse and worse. In the midst of that, I wrote this mental letter to those leaders:
Mission leaders, team leaders, do you really think that when we have given up family, comfort, and freedom for this work, been willing to move our families with small children to a place where their very lives are in danger, put up with people and needs invading our lives, served with a smile, cared for you without complaint, held down the fort while our husbands are gone on extended trips, when we have done all this, that when we come with a need and a request for help for a marriage or family problems, that it might not be serious?
We know that this jeopardizes “the work” and messes up your plans. We know that. We haven’t done this lightly. We haven’t done this because we are whining women who need to toughen up. We’ve shown you our toughness and our willingness to sacrifice, so when we ask for help, we really need it. It is serious.
When you tell us “not now, later – we’re busy,” we’re willing to wait, but when that wait stretches to years…we’re suffering. And then, when you do not act, and we have to go over your head or around you to get help, and you feel betrayed and disrespected, that hurts us. We had no intention to hurt you, but we needed help. Please hear.
There is a limit to how long the injured man can survive without help on the side of the road, while the Levite and the priest walk on by, busy with their calling and work. As I write that, a sudden clarity comes to mind. It was an outsider who had compassion on the beaten-up one on the side of the road. It was not those who should have been acting. That was an accurate picture in Jesus’ day; I found that to be true even today, even in our Christian organizations, in our missions.
Another thing I learned along the way is that there are times where all of your best efforts cannot solve a problem. If a problem is in a relationship—husband/wife, coworkers, leaders/workers—it is impossible to force a good resolving of issues on your own. It does not matter how much I try and work and really want to grow and improve. In any relationship, there are at least two people. Relationships cannot be fixed by me; they must be fixed by us. Sometimes the other half of “us” does not want to work on the relationship. I cannot force repair. It took me years to get to that realization. So how do I live in the now? The now of when another person is not willing to work on a relationship? It handicaps us to work with a damaged relationship. It is like walking with a limp, like being handicapped. I fought this simple truth for a few years, wanting to object to it, to rationalize around it, to reason, to try harder, and I finally gave up in exhaustion. I have tried to bargain, “If only I do this…., then…?”, but God sits silent. He is not in the habit of forcing His children to change. He gave us our freedom of choice at creation and will not take it back. I know His heart is to work with His child, to bring him back into a right relationship with Himself, but He will not force, not even in response to my pleadings.
Eventually, reality stared me in the face. I had to come to a place where I was able to see this and accept it. I may have to walk with a limp in that relationship. I may not get to run so freely and carelessly as I had dreamed. I cannot force another to change, and when I am in a relationship with someone who is not yet willing to work on the problems, I will walk with a limp. There is something wrong.
That was my reality. I sat quietly in the sadness of that realization, my hopes of what I had imagined for my life dashed, hope dimmed. Then, sitting there, I heard something. Very quietly, but I heard it still—a quiet song. It is the one I have learned to listen to in the darkness. God, Himself, singing over me. He sings in delight over me. He is no less delighted in me even with my limp. He loves me no less. His beauty is not only able to be seen in whole, healthy people, but it can also shine out brilliantly even through my limping and my scars. Beauty, gentleness, and God’s tender love can still be in my life. In my whole-hearted limping, I can still be pleasing to Him. I can still honor Him while I limp.
One day, I trust it will be all better. In the meantime, however I can, be it limping, shuffling, or crawling, I will move toward Him. I am not perfect, but I am His.
I read a book this last year which ended with the statement that change is not a destination, but a journey. It talked about the ongoing pain and effort involved in that lifelong change. It was not encouraging. Not at all. I still wanted to hold on to my dream that one day I would arrive, that I would solve all relationship problems with family, coworkers, and leadership, that I would be a shining example of a good servant of God. But I might not. The question in front of me today is “If I never get past the painful limping, will I still keep going? Is it worth it?”
It is. I still limp. Remember, God has promised to be near to the broken-hearted—and He has been near. There have been those who responded to help. They have never yet been the people who “should have.” During all this, my honor has been smeared, my reputation slandered, my motives and truthfulness accused. Even my sanity has been questioned. My heart has been ripped to shreds. In it all, God has continued to sing His quiet song of love over me, and I continue to limp towards Him.
This was my story. I wrote this then, in the middle of it all, but set it aside. Who is interested in a story from a failing cross cultural worker? My quiet encourager kept insisting to me, “Tell the story. It should be heard.”
What would I say if I was asked that question now: “How do you get help on the mission field?” I would say I think there is a way, but, like a path that leads through boulders, it will not be an easy journey. My answer would be to say, never give up. Keep asking. Keep searching. Do not let the lie humiliate you into remaining in silence. Do not let accusations mute you. Keep asking. In it all, train your heart to listen to the quiet song of love that God sings over you. You will need it. He will be your Shield, your Glory, and the Lifter of your head. The road may be longer and rougher than you expect, and the priest and the Levite may well walk on by on the other side of the road. The Lord will not. He will be with you. He has been with me.
The relationship that was the most broken is today the most healed. God did not do it in my timing, but in His. I was much more impatient that He was, and the wait was agonizing. Today, there is delight not only in the voice of God singing over His own, but also in the voices of love and peace in a home that was fractured into a battlefield only a few short years ago. What I would have fixed quickly with patches that may not have lasted, God has repaired from the inside. Today, I am watching Him beginning to repair other relationships, too. Recently, we had the privilege of sitting with other cross cultural workers who are in pain, struggling and unsure how to look for help; we listened. We passed on our hope to them. God is able. Keep asking. Keep looking. Reach out—keep reaching out. Grab our hand, and we will walk with you.
There comes the deep gratitude! It comes not because of my struggling, but because of the intimate, deep work of God, in a difficult place.