There are two things that are difficult to know about yourself: your true motivations and your pre-conceived expectations. When we were in our missionary training days I remember one speaker talking about culture shock. She said that we all carry our culture secretely within us. At some point it will most definitely collide with something our new culture, but we won’t be able to anticipate the collision ahead of time because most of us are completely unaware of our cultural expectations. They are as natural to us as our own skin. I so desperately wanted her to tell me exactly what I would struggle with in my new culture, but she couldn’t. And I couldn’t see myself objectively enough to identify my expectations.
But with time comes perspective. This week I wrote this for an orientation for missions teams:
Be flexible and expect the plans to change. Expect to ‘hurry up and wait’, expect things to go wrong, expect things to start late, expect traffic, expect hunger, expect exhaustion, expect to hear from God, expect to be changed, expect to see great things happen, expect to be uncomfortable, expect to have your eyes opened, expect to fall in love with missions, expect to have the time of your life!
After I reread what I wrote, I sat back and thought about it. These are MY expectations. This is very much a reflection of my expectations of ministry overseas. So what do I do when one of these perky phrases is left dangling, frayed and loose? These are the cultural things in me that have come to a screeching, shattering collision with Latin America.
I expected that learning Spanish would be easier than it is. Anyone who says learning Spanish is easy has never done it. The verbs kill me! Fifteen tenses, moods and voices, multiplied by six variations in person… These verbs are hard! I expected to be smart. I didn’t expect so many tears. I didn’t expect feeling frustrated at not being able to say exactly what I mean. I didn’t expect to mourn the loss of eloquence. I didn’t expect that 6 years later I’d still have days when I don’t understand what people say to me.
I expected to make a couple of really close friends that I could minister to. Instead I have a few really close friends that humble me with how much they bless me over and over again. I came here to make a difference in the lives of others, but I think they are having a greater impact on me. I came here prepared to love, but I find myself the loved one.
I expected to settle into the culture and to never feel home sick. This was to be my new home. Now I have two homes. When I’m here, I miss Minnesota. When I’m in Minnesota, I miss Costa Rica. It seems like I can never be whole. I always ache for another place. I know that aching is ultimately a longing for my home in Heaven. We are not citizens of this world, we are just sojourners passing through for a time. I long, I pine, I ache, I didn’t expect this unsettled feeling.
I didn’t expect to feel so lonely, but I am.
I expected that living on the mission field would be more like living on a missions trip. I expected miracles and dramatic salvations every week! I didn’t expect boredom. And I didn’t expect feeling so dry. I’m spiritually parched, just trudging through this desert one step at a time. I don’t feel God every day. I know he’s still there. I just don’t feel him or hear him very well. I expected a view from the mountain top, instead this looks a lot like a valley of dry bones.
I’ve always had good health, so I expected that to continue. I expected it in an indirect kind of way by not ever even thinking about my health. Today I went to the pharmacy to buy another box of pills. I didn’t expect getting cancer. I could tell something was wrong, but never in a million years did I think I had cancer. I knew I felt really awful- like I was always on the verge of getting the flu. I knew this was not normal for me. But I didn’t expect the worst. Now I have a new normal. I have less stamina than before. I ache everywhere and I’m tired, so unrelentingly tired. I never expected to be weak.
Have you ever heard someone say, “If you lower your expectations, you’ll be happier”? If that’s true, then why does that statement make me sad? Maybe a better way of saying it would be “If you have REALISTIC expectations you’ll be LESS DISAPPOINTED.” Most of the time when I find myself unhappy I don’t really know why. But if I take the time to wade deeper into the sadness, I find it’s source springs from an unrealistic expectation that has burst open under the pressure of an incongruent reality. And it is no one’s fault but my own.
So the final question is, after this cultural collision of expectations against hard reality, can I still walk away from the crash unscathed or am I forever living wounded like Jacob with his limp after wrestling with an angel? I limp.