From Airplane to Car

One of my favorite views from an airplane is the descent into LAX – houses, cars and freeways for miles. All of it looks small, and I often wonder where everyone is headed while they sit in rush hour traffic. Now as I pass an airport on my way to and from work each day, I’m the one who appears small from the airplane, the one who is living “normal” life in America, not sitting in 28C on my way to live in a foreign country.

Reentry has made me feel small, insignificant, useless. Lack of knowledge, lack of vocabulary, lack of a defined role – all lead to this feeling of smallness and all of which I experienced while living overseas. What I never anticipated was how my thoughts and my pride would contribute to my feelings of smallness.

At work I’m the newbie; albeit one with years of ministry experience, which makes me well-qualified to discuss Sunday School curriculum and Vacation Bible School programs with customers. However, I regularly forget exactly how to apply a credit to a customer’s invoice. This forgetfulness is an expected moment of smallness. But the way I interpret the actions of co-workers and others makes me feel even smaller. My thoughts go something like this, “She knew I wasn’t good at this but didn’t want to tell me directly, so she mentioned it to a supervisor who then included it in the training portion of the next staff meeting.” Instead of being thankful for semi-formal training at my job, I internalize the words as “Laura’s doing a bad job, and this training isn’t really for everyone, just her.” Suddenly my train of thought makes me feel miniscule.

Work isn’t the only place I’ve felt small as I’ve transitioned back to life at “home.” Church often impacts me in the same way. Going from pastor’s daughter and missionary to a “regular” person at church has been a struggle. I’m not used to feeling small at church. Church has always been the place where I have served and been known. Now I’m new and hesitant to commit to ministry opportunities because being newly married and a full-time employee are my focuses during this season of life. “If they only knew me, if they only comprehended how much I could contribute, then I would feel a sense of belonging.” These are my thoughts, all while I’m politely saying no to a ministry opportunity because it’s not a wise yes for me right now. And yet I long to be recognized for what I bring to the table in the area of ministry because I dislike feeling small at church.

Finally there’s writing. I watch friends and acquaintances invest in new websites, writing retreats and conferences. My heart battles happiness for them and jealousy of them because I long to be able to have all of those things for myself. My jealousy tells me I’m small and I don’t have a voice because my blog doesn’t look amazingly professional and because I don’t have the time or the money to invest in writing retreats and conferences. I allow my “lack” to overshadow the gifts God has given me in this area, and when I focus on my “lack,” I feel tiny.

All of these feelings of smallness convict me of my pride, my need for approval, my desire for acceptance. My pride tells me I’m above the need for training, even though I know I have room for improvement at work. My desire for acceptance tells me I’m not important because my words aren’t recognized by a well-known website or author. My need for approval tells me I should be the first choice for ministry opportunities simply because I have experience even though the timing isn’t right. Life becomes about me. Not about serving others. Or learning from others. Or living contentedly in this season of life.

I couldn’t wait to be “normal,” to be someone driving to work while the airplane flies overhead. However, all of the attention which comes with being a cross-cultural worker, whether it was desired or not, was my norm, and the lack of attention has left me feeling insignificant and exposed my sin. I fight self-inflicted feelings of insignificance daily by filling my mind with the Truth about who I am – a child with a Father who knows my entire story, who knows my struggles, who loves me always. Truth allows me to find my worth in Him, not in my pride or being accepted or approved by others.

What has smallness, either in reentry or on the field, taught you about yourself?

18 Comments

  1. Elizabeth October 31, 2016

    Ok, so what you’re talking about here, shrinking into smallness after a life of ministry and cross-cultural service, it’s a fear in the back of my mind. I’ve been in ministry as long as I’ve been an adult (overseas only 5 of those years), and I love the church, both local and global. I’ve always found both relationships and significance in it. But I’ve heard other people talk about this kind of thing, and I think, oy, I don’t want to NOT be in ministry and the sense of importance and belonging I get from it. I don’t like to think about the possibility. I don’t primarily define myself as an overseas worker, but I do primarily define myself as someone in ministry, so if THAT changed, if that were taken away, yes, I am quite sure I would have an identity crisis of some kind! Now, I also primarily define myself as a wife and mother and home school teacher, so all my eggs are not in the ministry basket, but a lot of them are, and getting “out of ministry” would, I’m sure, lead to a complete overhaul of my understanding of myself. And I’m sure this says all sorts of things about where I get my sense of worth and value, but I’m not going to pretend I’ve got my identity in Christ all figured out and that those thoughts aren’t there. . . .

    1. Laura October 31, 2016

      Elizabeth,

      Yes, it has been a bit of an identity crisis. Thankfully God has lessons for me even during an identity crisis. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being willing to share your fear about this topic.

  2. fadzai October 31, 2016

    I
    So identify with this. Smallness on the field humbles me and constantly brings me back to God the real hero. Moved to a new area 9 months ago in the same country. I thought I had it all figured out but I was so wrong! I feel helpless learning things anew and trying to hear what God is saying. Sometimes all I can say is I love you Jesus, i trust you, and I praise you even if the path seems to be so winding right now and I don’t have any clue where I am going or what I am doing!

    1. Laura October 31, 2016

      Fadzai,

      I love You (Jesus), I trust You, I praise You – such great advice! Thank you for sharing. Praying for you as you adjust to a new city.

  3. Margaret November 1, 2016

    It’s my first time home after just one year on the field and am returning in a couple of days. I’m acutely aware of the power the is transferred to the ‘expatriate ‘ in my location. It’s so hard to be ordinary in ministry and not feel insignificant.

    1. Laura November 1, 2016

      Margaret, thanks for sharing. Praying for you as you head home.

  4. Hannah-Leah November 1, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this, Laura. I have been experiencing the same feelings recently. I have been ‘home’ for almost two years now and did not expect to still be struggling with not feeling needed at my church. Coming off of the overseas field where all help is needed, being at a large church now makes me feel so insignificant. As you said though, I really need to check my pride and just focus on where I am serving God in small ways.

    1. Laura November 1, 2016

      Hannah-Leah, I’m glad I’m not alone in this struggle. Praying for you as you serve in “small” ways. 🙂

  5. Katherine Wong November 2, 2016

    Thank you for being so open about your experience. I feel like mine is pretty similar – I just moved back “home” after years of overseas work, and though I stayed connected to friends and community here, it has been hard being insignificant again. It’s a different kind of insignificance than not being known overseas. Clerks at stores are more interested in starting up conversations with me than the people in my church… which is pretty messed up. But I know the responsibility doesn’t lie solely with others. And it’s been clear that this is not a season for me to pursue being big in the world’s eyes, but to step back and hear from the Lord about who I am and how I’m significant to Him – and for that to be enough – more than enough.

    I needed the community and connection that your post inspired, and to be reminded that I’m definitely not alone on this journey (so hopefully you’re comforted knowing you aren’t alone either!)

    “These are my thoughts, all while I’m politely saying no to a ministry opportunity because it’s not a wise yes for me right now,” especially struck a chord with me, as volunteering and being part of a ministry is a huge part of my “home” community. I have to constantly battle against what’s “good” for what is actually from God.

    Thanks for creating a space to process some of this, and starting a conversation I’ve been needing to have!

    1. Laura November 4, 2016

      Katherine, I’m thankful my words encouraged you, and it’s encouraging to me to know I’m not alone in all this. Praying for you as you continue to transition.

  6. Heidi November 6, 2016

    Laura, thank you for writing this post. I am still in the field and just hit my 5 year mark and have struggled with a lot of what you talked about. I went from a job and where I was “needed”, knew my responsibilities, felt like I accomplished stuff each day to obscurity. I have dealt with jealousy because my husband moved into the spotlight and I went to the back of the bus. It exposed pride I did not know I had hidden in my heart. I am thankful that this stuff has been exposed and I feel God is re-working me in a lot of ways and that I am really starting to understand what “finding my identity in Him” truely means.

    1. Laura November 6, 2016

      Heidi, thank you for sharing your struggle. Praying for you as God continues to work in your heart.

  7. Bethany November 6, 2016

    Wow… Thank you, Lord, for this article right now in my life.

    I have been working as an overseas worker teacher in Honduras for 3 1/2 years now (will be 4 when I leave in June). God revealed to me at the end of the last school year that this would be my final year at the school. When I first got here, I was completely lost and desperate, but now that I am finally getting the whole thing “down” (although I won’t pretend that classroom teaching is my strong suit), he is leading me back to the States, the one place I thought I would never go, for training into a whole different kind of work/ministry. While I know that I want to stay going strong in ministry, I feel that this next season is going to be a lot of private meditation, study, and just learning to be intimate with the Lord.

    He has been revealing SO much to me recently in the area of pride as well. Ouch. And I know that even as I struggle with it here, where I am absolutely vital to my team, respected by the teachers (although not so much by the students at times), and looked up to by all the “normal” people back home, it is going to be a huge shock to become one of those “normal”people again. And I rebelled against it for several months, which is part of how the huge issue of pride came to my attention.

    Every single thing you said lines up with the insecurities I am already running into (and I’m not even back for another 8 months!) – At 27 and in my first relationship (necessarily long distance at the moment), I know that will also take a huge portion of my time once I am actually with him in person. I want to start writing more, but I will be trying to find a full-time job. On top of my goal of studying for my next step, I just don’t see how that will leave any time for “ministry”, and I will have to be okay with that, and just let my life be my ministry for the time being, instead of my ministry being my life, as has been the case for the past 4 years.

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me, but then our perfect, loving Father knew that, didn’t he? 😉

    1. Laura November 6, 2016

      Bethany, praying for you as you continue to prepare for leave your current ministry. I’m thankful my words encouraged you, and I’m glad I’m not alone in walking through these same struggles. 🙂

  8. Sarah November 15, 2016

    Laura, Thank you for writing this. I’ve been “home” for 5 years. And it’s been hard. I went from being a high school Bible teacher overseas to a stay at home mom in a tiny town…while my husband continues to teach at a small Christian school. I went from feeling like I was part of something ‘big’ for God to not being able to volunteer for much of anything because of having little kids and health issues. What are some of the Bible verses you meditate on? I obviously need to be reading them, because I still am trying to find more of my worth in what I can lead/teach/volunteer for instead of in who God is and who I am as His child. Although I don’t over commit, I feel guilty every time there’s a sermon about evangelism… I want to be on the front lines of leading people to Christ, but I don’t see God opening those doors at all right now. Deep inside, I’m afraid that if I’m not doing those things now, I’ll fall into complacent American Christianity and never be able to escape. How do I shake those fears? How do I ‘keep my head up’ when I hear yet another sermon on reaching out (our church is really focused on growth right now…which is a good thing, but really hard for me!)? Thanks for listening. 🙂

    1. Laura November 15, 2016

      Sarah, thank you for sharing your story! I focus a lot on Psalm 139 and Romans 12. I struggle with the same fear — falling into complacent American Christianity. Will be praying for you, especially in relation to church.

  9. Margarita March 9, 2017

    I nodded my head along as I read this entry. I have been back in the states for two months after spending 6 months on the mission field in Peru. And they have not been easy. I got a job, which I am thankful for the opportunity, and there are days where I forget how to do simple things. I am a cashier and times I forget or get confused as to how to handle the groceries or scanning barcode. Being around other people at my job who are not from Christian backgrounds make it hard because they don’t see my struggle of me getting use to life here again. Socially things have been hard too. I read in this post about being equipped for teaching Sunday School lessons and feeling small in church, where I used to do a ton of things and now feel weird and uncomfortable. I’m currently learning that I have to trust God in this re-entry of small town life as a new person. But each day God shows me that He is right by my side in the days I don’t feel qualified to be doing anything.

    1. Laura March 13, 2017

      Margarita, praying for you as you continue to adjust back to life in the States! Loved hearing what God is teaching you about Himself during this time. 🙂

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