In a recent film, Helen Hunt plays a waitress who is annoyed with a customer, a man who cuts her down, is sarcastic, and is generally unkind. At one point she says to him, ‘I don’t want to be around you anymore. You make me not like me.’
My sentiments exactly about living overseas. The second I get off the plane, I do not like who I am. I live in a country that values intellect, language, words and idioms as means of expressing ideas, opinions and feelings. And because I have to express myself in a foreign language, I manage that minimally…maybe.
I do have a grasp of the language, but at a high school level at best. The language has been my frustration from the get-go. I go through stages of even hating it (a bad spot for a global worker). But getting to the root of it, I don’t like it because when I speak it I feel stupid. I feel dumb. I feel like a seventh grader in a room full of high school seniors. I sometimes hate myself for it. And I don’t like that feeling.
I like to feel like I am eloquent (in my dreams anyway). I like to feel that I can express myself, that I have opinions that are worth hearing. I want to have people respect me; awe would be nice. You know, “There she goes, justa walkin’ down the street…”
But instead I feel like my tongue is tied up like Chinese noodles, and so is my identity as a capable, in-control person. I feel misunderstood and un-understood. I want to scream, “This is not who I am. If you knew who I am, you would be impressed. You would like me better. Your ears would not be offended when I speak.”
But when I say that, who am I saying that I am? Am I my degrees, my pedigree, my family background, my experiences? Is that what makes me who I am, and is that why I am so frustrated, because I depend so on those things? Because I don’t think I am anything unless someone knows about what I’ve done, where I’ve been, who I know, my connections?
I get mad at this country, collectively, as 1) it is the place where I feel badly and 2) honestly speaking, I need a scapegoat. I compare my comfort levels with how I am at home, how I feel better, more competent in my home country. There, I am me: in control, confident, ready to take on the world. I have done the “right” things there…check-check-check…and have managed to fit into a level of society that I like. But alas, I don’t have those things overseas and feel very uncomfortable, and not exactly sparkly.
I have recently, finally, come to the conclusion that the last nine years as a global worker have been mostly about me, about me trying to present a confident, proud, perhaps arrogant personality. How do people see me? How can I give the illusion that I am in control? How can I appear not so dull? Do people respect me (most of all)?
But I am not and should not be the center point, as much as I seem to be comfortable in that role. The ‘Here am I, send me’ part was not hard; unfortunately, it was the “I” and “ME” part that were featured. I have sinned in wanting people to be in awe of me, to think of me as being so incredible, to respect me, to love me, to want to be with me.
But others need to be in awe of GOD; it is God who needs to be the one that they see as incredible, whom they respect, whom they love, whom they want to be with. I need to be the person who points them to Him, to somehow be the outworking of His love in a body and spirit on this earth. And my, do I have to pray to not get in the way.
I have forgotten that I came here to minister, not to be ministered unto. I came to show people the way to life, not to take more for myself. I came here to speak their language so that we could understand each other, not to wow people with my grasp of grammar. I learned this language, frustrating as it is, so that I could tell other people about Jesus. If I didn’t learn it, they wouldn’t hear.
Bottom line is that I am telling people that Jesus loves them regardless of who they are, what they’ve done or what they do, that nothing that they do can make God love them more, or less. The basic theological question is whether I believe this myself.
With everything stripped away, without the respect that I might feel in my own country, without being able to speak ‘intelligently,’ without the ‘props’ that I so lean on, can I accept God’s love? Can I believe that I am nothing without Him and it is in Him that I find my meaning?
Am I worthy of this? No, but that is what grace is all about. And that is our message, one that we may first have to learn or re-learn ourselves. Then we can truly accept how much God loves us and how special we are to Him, saying to Him, “I like to be around you. You make me like me.”
And in turn, have others say that to us.