In 2 short days Mary’s world was flipped upside down. Everything that she had known, the “rules to the game of life,” as it were, were all thrown out the window. Those rules wouldn’t work anymore – not here, not now. She’d have to learn to navigate these new waters, figure out how this new life worked. How could she educate her kids? Buy groceries? Buy toilet paper? Have social interactions? Even talking to her neighbors was now a chore! Planning ahead is out the window, as she doesn’t even know what today looks like. Everything feels like an unknown today! Will life ever go back to normal? Or will she ever get used to this new normal? Will she ever feel adept at living by these new rules? Or even know what these new rules are?!? . . .
Which of the following endings to this paragraph best fits with the story that’s playing out in your head?
. . . She continued unpacking her suitcases, trying to find places for these American things that looked so out of place in this new apartment that wasn’t set up like any home she’d ever been in. She knew life would get better as she started to learn this foreign language and culture and adjust to this new life overseas, but today it was hard. She was so grateful for the training she had received in how to adjust to a new language and make friends in a new culture, but everything was still so new and so different. It was going to be a long road, but she was looking forward to making a difference. And He was worth it. Wasn’t He?
. . . She looked at the calendar wistfully – at all those plans that would be changed for the next month because of the governor’s new “Safer at Home” law to combat the coronavirus. This new life will last at least a month, but what about after that? How long will it really last? And what will happen after that? This is something that she had never imagined in her wildest dreams and something for which she was completely unprepared. Help!
Have you ever thought about how what you may be going through right now is similar to what a new global worker faces when moving overseas? Having the “rules of life” suddenly not work anymore may feel like the rug was torn out from under your feet. Or maybe it wasn’t “that bad” at first, and though life was weird it was ok. But it’s starting to get long, tiring, and discouraging now. Those are all normal feelings and emotions that people feel when entering a new culture, and the “coronavirus” culture does seem to qualify as a different culture than normal.
Did you notice some of the differences between those two endings to the story, though? Unlike the new global worker who has had training and preparation, who knows that this is what God is calling them to, who had a choice in the matter, and who is being prayed for by lots of people back in their other home, many of you have never had such training, never imagined something like this happening to you, had no choice in the matter, and may feel abandoned and on your own.
This weekend I received an e-mail from a friend at a church here in the US who asked for some Adjustment 101 basics/tips, adding that she was afraid that she was a seed sown among thorns because she wasn’t sure her faith would survive this trial. It was my privilege to respond to her and I so appreciate her honesty and vulnerability. Thinking that some of you may be feeling the same way, though you may not put it in exactly those words, I wanted to share some of the same thoughts with you to encourage you that yes, it may be very hard, and that yes, you will make it through this since no, Jesus will never abandon you (Matthew 28:20).
(Also, as an aside – some of you may be dealing with other things, such as depression or anxiety. Though those are, actually, common among global workers as well, I am not qualified to speak into them and am not trying to do so here. If you think you may be experiencing something like that, please talk to someone more qualified than I!)
Here is a bit of my advice from my Adjustment 101 course (I could give you examples of all of these from my life, but in order to keep this a bit shorter, I’ll skip that for here. But if stories of someone else dealing with this would encourage you, jot me a note and I’ll send them your way!):
- It’s ok if you feel like you have less energy than normal! Living in the unknown, as your mind and body are trying to figure out the new rules to life, actually uses a lot of energy. So your energy levels may feel lower than “normal,” and that’s ok. Do what you can, and accept that you may need to sleep more, relax more, hang out more, or do “nothing” more. Eventually your energy level should get back up to normal.
- With that in mind, one thing that’s important is maintaining personal interaction with others. I know that it’s hard now, but this can help you (eventually) feel more settled in this “new world” you’re living in. It will also help you stay sane! So even if you have to force yourself, make it a point to call a friend or family member, say, at least once a week. Or plan a game night over Skype or Zoom or something. One fun (free) game we’ve found lately is Code Names online, available at www.codewordsgame.com.
- Stay encouraged in the Lord. Especially if/since you aren’t around other believers as much as you’re used to, you may need to be more intentional at “feeding your soul” during these days. As your heart is no longer distracted with all that you are used to doing (though I’m sure they’re all good things!), you may notice it crying out for, for something. And that can be filled in a painful yet somehow deeply-good way through listening to worship songs, reading the Bible, praying (though you may not always have words), and/or listening to sermons/Bible teaching. Some Psalms I’ve found really helpful in hard times are Psalm 3, 4, 18, 27, and 77. Some songs that I’ve found encouraging are (in no particular order):
- It’s ok to mourn. In a lot of ways you may be experiencing loss right now, whether it’s the physical death of a loved one, economic loss, loss of a job, loss of a routine, loss of normalcy, loss of a plan, etc. Those can all be worth mourning over, even if your loss is not as big as someone else’s loss. And if your loss is bigger than someone else’s loss, know that theirs may still be hard for them and may they may still be struggling like you, only in a different way.
- It’s ok to question. As your world may be turned upside down and nothing seems to work anymore, not to mention that you may have extra time on your hands, some scary questions may arise. Why is this happening? What have I done to deserve this? Where are You, God? Do You really love me, God? Are You faithful? Are You all-powerful? Do You really know what You’re doing, God? Why?!? Is it worth it? Etc. Know that while it may feel scary to question everything you’ve ever believed, it’s ok. People seem to say that you aren’t supposed to admit to struggles like that, but that’s not what God says. He called David the man after His own heart, but many of the psalms are prayers of David in which he questions what God has said. But he brings the questions back to God in prayer, seeking God’s answer; I think that’s what God likes. Turn it into a prayer, or at least be honest with your feelings (as much as you even know what they are) before Him. (FYI, did you know that even missionaries question these things sometimes? Probably more often than you’d realize.)
- Know that you may experience “reverse culture shock” when this is all over. Often when missionaries come back to their first “home,” their passport country, everything that used to be normal there now feels weird. It can be especially unsettling since this is what they had always known as normal and “safe,” and they never expected it to feel unknown like this. So when these “safer at home” and “shelter in place” laws are lifted, and life goes back to “normal,” be prepared for the fact that the old normal may or may not feel normal anymore, at least at the beginning.
I know that this post is longer than usual from me, but my desire is that it may be an encouragement and help to those of you who are struggling right now. And if you aren’t struggling in some of these ways, may it help you better understand and have grace and patience with those who are.
If any of you, especially those whose worlds have been flipped upside down before, have any more advice or wisdom to add, please add it in the comments below or shoot me an e-mail so that I can add it to this post. Thanks!