When I returned form living in Afghanistan I was worn out, almost burnt out. I had some PTSD and I was weary in so many ways. I signed my self up for a place that’s kind of like the “Betty Ford for Missionaries”. There is a great ministry called in California… It’s a place for missionaries to receive counseling and healing. I spent a good chunk of the summer there. When I was driving out there I was picturing a lovely place on the coast…I hadn’t taken the time to realize it was in the armpit of Cali (Fresno). My weeks there were full of reading, group sessions, and private counseling. I’m so glad that I did it! That summer I was able to jump start some of the internal work God was doing in me.
At the end of my time there I wrote out a document called Take Aways and Goals. I came across this paper when I was cleaning out a closet at my parent’s house the other day. The first paragraph goes something like this:
I have realized that my heart has grown hard over the last few years. It really stems from learning to stuff my emotions in my childhood. I began to think of negative emotions as sinful and that I needed to get rid of them but I never possessed or actually owned them to start with so instead they lingered around and created a slow bitterness. That coupled with my fear of being really known (which also stemmed from feeling like those feelings were sinful as well as the sin and confusion inside me) caused a wall to build up around my heart and then when hard days came and hurt penetrated my wall, as well as cultural struggles in Afghanistan and some shattered dreams etc.…Satan had a hay day and I began to let a crust form over my heart. I’ve heard it said that Missionaries should develop thick skin and a soft heart but that the opposite often happens, their hearts harden and their skin thins.
That’s what happened to me and the result was that I was easily hurt by the things said to me or the things I saw happen around me but I didn’t let it sink in…I was able to really empathize or to allow others to really care for me.
I think part of God’s plan in taking me to Afghanistan was to change me and transform me! My prayer from Bible College days to my first year in Afghanistan was often something like this “God please break me and make me completely yours”.
Well, God did allow me to be broken and then my prayer started to be heal and mold my heart, I am completely yours.
Darn those walls around my hard heart…they seem to creep back up, even today I’m reminded that I need to keep asking God to heal me and to melt my hard heart. We are all gradually being transformed to be brighter and more beautiful like Christ. If you are preparing to work cross-cultural I encourage you to have lots of support in place (good mentors, leaders, counselors, friends etc.) to keep you from becoming depressed or hard-hearted.
If you are living overseas and need support I encourage you to speak up and ask for it! There are all kinds of people and places out there that want to help support and care for you! The organization that you are sent through should have some retreat centers or resources for you…or ask your church. Here’s a couple of places I’ve heard great things about: