Many of you have probably heard of culture shock, but how many of you have heard of culture stress? At this point, 6 months since the start of the toilet paper shortage in the US due to coronavirus, I think you may be able to easily see and understand the difference.
First of all, 6 months ago, how many of you would have thought that we’d still be feeling the pandemic so much all this time later? Crazy!
Now let’s start with definitions:
Culture shock – “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation” (www.merriam-webster.com).
Culture stress – “Culture stress is the stress that occurs when you change to a different way of living in a new culture. It is what you experience as you move beyond understanding the culture to making it your own so that you accept the customs, becoming comfortable and at home with them” (http://www.missionarycare.com/culture-stress.html).
In 2020 terms, culture shock was what happened in March and April – it was the toilet paper hoarding, the 2020 memes and jokes, the free online concerts by musicians, the “life is totally weird right now” sensation, the “we need to watch the news every day to find out what rules may be in play tomorrow” attitude. Culture shock is the confusion and uncertainty (see the definition above) that comes when all of a sudden a whole new way of life is thrust upon you without enough preparation. Hence March and April, 2020.
But then it starts to become a bit more normal, everything isn’t changing quite as fast, and life gets somewhat into a routine (albeit it’s a new routine that still feels a little weird). That may technically be the end of culture shock.
But even though that may be the end of culture shock, things are still weird after that, and sometimes the change/weirdness hits at the most random times. Doesn’t it? That’s why many people who work overseas or who train people who head overseas talk more about “culture stress” than they used to.
So what is “culture stress” in 2020 terms? Culture stress is when some days it still feels weird to put on a mask to walk into Walmart, even though you’ve been doing it for months now. Culture stress is when you see a 6-month old baby and realize that their whole life has been this “new normal.” Culture stress is when you really just want a hug, but you know that such a simple thing may still be off-limits. Culture stress is when you hear “social distancing” one too many times and it really bugs you this time. Culture stress is when you just want life to go back to normal, though in some ways you’re starting to forget what that was like. Culture stress is when you realize yet again that this may be the new normal for a long time. Culture stress is when you get in disagreements with loved ones over how “safe” you need to be. Culture stress is when you feel like you’ve been robbed of what “should” be yours, and you’re tired of it happening over and over again (ex. Graduation, meeting the new baby, a stress-free family vacation, a hug). Culture stress is when everyday life just takes a bit more energy and you feel a bit more tired than you normally “should” feel. And culture stress is also when you wonder if you’re a traitor when there are things about this “new normal” that you actually prefer over the “old normal.”
Basically, culture stress is that little gauge of “weirdness” in your gut that sometimes is fine with the new normal, but sometimes, at the oddest of times, screams at you, wanting your “non-weird” life back. And it hurts because it’s been going on for a while and you feel like it should not hurt quite so much anymore. But it still does. And some days, and for some people, it hurts more than others.
So what do you do about culture stress? First of all, I think that realizing that it really is a true thing and that you really are feeling it is a big step. It can help to relieve the pressure of feeling like you really should have it all together already. And give you the permission to sleep a little more if you need it. Or to just do nothing for a bit. Or take a cheesy family vacation to the next town over, wearing fanny packs, sunglasses, and a big camera around your neck, complete with the gaudiest mask you can find, and take the craziest pictures you can, making a fun memory out of a hard situation.
Prayer is also a helpful tool. God understands. Remember the verse that says that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, but was without sin? I’m pretty sure that He also understood culture stress. Imagine His life for a moment – He left heaven and came to Earth. He lived with people who had no idea where He came from or what His “old normal” was like. How many days must He have been homesick for heaven? For His old normal? For things to just go back to the way they had always been (and I literally mean “always”)? And when He tried to talk to people about the old normal, they didn’t get it. But He “gets it” when we talk to Him about how we miss the old normal or even the things we really like about the new normal. And He promised to never change, but to always be the same normal (Hebrews 13:8).
It’s also good to talk to people about it, too. One of the nice things about the coronavirus is that it’s worldwide. Ok, so that’s not really good news. But it does mean that other people understand, since we’re all going through this at the same time. You aren’t the only one who is dealing with this, though it may feel like it. Often the devil wants us to think that our struggles are our own and no one else understands, but it’s not true. On the days that culture stress is really getting to you, call up a friend and talk it over with them. They may need to call you the next week as it’s hit them like a ton of bricks again.
Lastly, as you think about culture stress and the culture stress you’re going through, could you pray for overseas missionaries, too? Yes, lots of them have learned to live in their “new normals” pretty well, but there are still days that it’s hard, that it’s exhausting, or that it just makes them want to cry or throw in the towel. As hard as this coronavirus stuff is, it is also an opportunity for the church to better understand what life is like for overseas missionaries and to pray for those who live in a sometimes awkward “new normal” for 5, 10, 15, 20 years. Could you imagine?
Thanks for your prayers for your brothers and sisters around the world, including those across the street! And let me or someone else know if you just need to talk on your hard culture stress days.
(PS. The picture really doesn’t have much to do with the post, but it’s a fun picture from lately. Yes, it’s a cow sticking its head in the car window! Yes, it’s at a wildlife place where you get to feed the animals, not just a random cow putting its head through my window. And actually, the way that it relates to the post is that all of this that’s been happening lately may feel like an intrusion into your life, as this cow was an intrusion into the car. See, now it relates a little bit!)