Sally shared with me this Sunday a line she heard from a counseling class she took recently, "The reason [people who have gone overseas to serve others] often deal with addictive behaviors (I insert "Often!?".... she assures me, "yes, often") is because of an unwillingness to suffer.... "
Daily for a while now, I have struggled tearfully with culture hardships here that seem unbeatable naturally. Pain to just buck up and live in. Culture shock was that big cloud that I expected would hover over people who wanted to work overseas much less than I did. Pride comes before a .... and I am laid low.
"Standing in line is catching on here," Matt said the other day as we rode past a line of people waiting to buy tickets for the train. Well, it is and it isn't. In the days of pre-olympic fury, the country urged it's people to study the 11th.... Every month, "National Stand in Line Day" just like a one standing behind another. It was a great idea but the masses are far from practicing "pai dui" (stand in line) as standard protocol. And it's hard to block off elbows and knees coming at you from all sides, pressing their way forward, coming at you and your three little kids and your now protruding belly. I do get angry. Stand in line, would you? Really, it doesn't seem to much too ask. Not too unreasonable...
But I get way more frustrated with what I call the "Zoo Life" that we lead here. This week most folks are off work and the kids are out of school for the nation's birthday. (We are still meeting with our language tutors though.... we don't really do American holidays the same here because this isn't America and we don't celebrate Chinese holidays because we're not Chinese and I really need to take a break, but that's another story.)
So for a special day today, I took the kids to the park and from almost the moment we got out of the bike, we were surrounded and followed by at least a handful of people. Staring, gaping, gawking is all normal, everyday stuff here. But we are not. We are as odd as can be: blonde hair, blue eyes, THREE kids. The Plural Offspring bit is thought of, it would seem, as physically or naturally impossible by many around us.
I don't mind so much hearing 156 times "3 kids, wow".... but when it's "3 kids!? Agh! Too many! How tiring!" I get angry, sometimes sinfully angry in my heart, and sometimes I say awful things. Today I told a man who kindly asked if he could take pictures of our kids, "Yes, but please don't ask them to pose. (As so many do, wherever we go.) They are kids and we've come to the park just to play. They're not zoo animals, they're just kids." Poor guy.... he didn’t need to hear all that.
I'm really trying to just "smile and nod" as Matt tells me repeatedly, but it's really hard for my too-stinking-verbal self. Oh that every word, to everyone, would be a lead in for, a fragrant demonstration of the Gospel... but I fall hard, fall low, so often and the struggle and the failure both sting.
I was thinking over those wise words that Sally mentioned as I rode us all back from the park this morning. I've always pictured "fixing my culture problem," being victorious in this battle of cross-cultural living, as somehow making these hardships all turn into ease and pleasure. I've had in the back of my mind that embracing this suffering would make it kind of go away. Surely "victory" in culture shock would be to not feel the weight of the shock any longer.
Or maybe it doesn't? Maybe it means counting this shock, this burden, as a suffering that I allow myself to enter into, to willingly, intentionally embrace. So... maybe I should learn to walk in this, dwell in it, trusting that in Christ, he will make a way to dwell in this suffering richly for his glory and for my own good in him. (Yes, that is just his way.)
Then... how? How do I live this? How does anyone "embrace their suffering?" Because surely each life is full of it's own suffering. I’m baffled...
Oh for grace.
I don't think I've thought of things in quite this light before. I would love your prayers for grace to grow in this, to hide myself in Christ for these culture storms here and to, with Christ’s grace and patient humility and servant heart, be willing to suffer. Thank you for praying, friends.
The council "called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." Acts 5:40-42
May it be, Lord Jesus. Give us your grace and may this be so...