Overcoming My American Self

There are so many things my American self had to get over living overseas. So many. So many times I had to squelch an eye roll and sigh silently to myself. So many times I had to remember that different doesn’t equal wrong or crazy.

For example, ice in drinks. A totally normal and complete way of life for us Americans is seen as a sure fire way to make you sick in other countries. If I had a forint or a crown or a euro for every time a citizen from one of those countries told me that ice in my drink would make me sick, I would be very wealthy in three separate currencies. Every time that phrase was uttered, I said something along the lines of, “Oh, I’ll be ok.”

I never said what I actually thought. I never actually said, “Seriously? I’ve been drinking ice in drinks my whole life. I guarantee you it won’t make me sick. In fact, the whole country of the USA puts ice in their drinks and no one gets sick. In fact, we even have different kinds of ice: cubes, crushed or Sonic which has ice that’s made in heaven and shipped to America on angels’ wings.”

Nope. Never said that.

Overcoming my American self meant overcoming my sense of entitlement. Recognizing areas of entitlement in my life did not happen until I moved overseas and I had to begin living without claim to much at all. From the insignificant moments like being chastised for my normal practice of putting ice in my drink to the bigger ones like expecting a certain level of emergency room care for my child only to realize that idea was Not-An-Option.

Entitlement is the silent enemy of overseas workers. It creeps in slowly like dusk and then envelops you in its darkening clutches.

I’ve seen overseas workers leave the field for no other reason than entitlement.

I am entitled to a car.

I am entitled to better medical care.

I am entitled to more square feet of living space.

I am entitled to live without the headache of . . .

I am entitled to raise my children according to my disciplinary rules and not the rules of the country in which I live.

There is but one way to overcome this fallacious attitude. And that is to remember that the only thing I am truly entitled to is death. We must remember that there is no one righteous, no not one, there is no one who seeks God. We must look at ourselves through the stained lens of the blood of Jesus, only then will we see with a level of clarity that gives us the strength to overcome our entitlements. And overcome we must, as women who follow Jesus striving to overcome is not an option. We must overcome anything that attempts to separate us from loving and serving Christ fully.

I started my eleven years of overseas life in Hungary and it was Hungary that began to open my eyes to my vast sense of entitlement. In my experience, serving overseas is akin to holding up a mirror that reflects every single fault within ourselves. We all know things become magnified overseas. I believe this to be true of our faults as well. Sinful attitudes become magnified. But I say that is a blessing. For it is a blessing to shed the sins that entangle us, and shedding is easier if our awareness is keener.

Overcoming is a common theme in scripture. And it all begins with overcoming ourselves, our flesh that wanders and dives headfirst into a dark sea of sin and entitlement. One of the keys that opens the door to successful ministry overseas is overcoming our entitlements and inviting Christ to work marvelous ministry in us during the process.

If you want to see how God worked a miracle in a young woman overseas you can read my book Stepping Stone: Finding Life and Love in a Foreign Land.

And if you want to rid yourself of pressing entitlement, precious servant, pray to the One who holds you in His hand and ask Him to begin removing the layers. He is faithful and to be trusted during the process.

Have you already begun this process?

Or are you willing to?

18 Comments

  1. Erika August 28, 2016

    I think you are so right. SO often we are entitled. And it is almost impossible to see until we live somewhere different. Of course, Americans aren’t the only ones who are entitled. Everyone likes to have things the way they are used to them. 🙂 Although, I think those of us from richer countries take many things for granted that can’t be taken for granted. However, I have wrestled with this so much. I don’t want to be entitled. But God knows what I need. He knows I am coming from a pretty comfortable life. He knows that we are living somewhere that is less comfortable for me. We serve in Asia, but are from the US and Australia, pretty comfy countries. I think there are lots of opinions of what overseas workers SHOULD do. I have felt so guilty for living in a large house with a yard. That is mainly for the wealthier people here. But without it, we would not have survived. Without some dirt to roll in, my children with sensory issues would have gone nuts. And we would have to go home. And probably some people would say we left due to entitlement. But God gave us a house with some dirt around it. And we can stay. We also have air conditioning in our bedrooms so we can sleep. I also don’t think I could have lived here without it. And sure, people could say we left due to entitlement, but God was gracious and gave us a home with air-conditioning in the bedrooms. And we can stay. So, I agree. We ARE entitled. But God is gracious and works through that. And, as counselors, we have seen people, time and time again, give and give and give and BURN OUT because they never allowed themselves rest or some of things that would have helped them settle and stay. Because none of us want to be entitled, or seem entitled.

    1. Ellie August 29, 2016

      Amen Erika! It’s a difficult balance and while we definitely need to become aware of our entitlement and as you say Stacy, God peels back the layers and we will have our eyes opened to things we couldn’t see without being overseas. But I too have seen in myself and others the tendency to try to go beyond what God wants for us because we don’t want to look entitled and we feel we should be able to “give it all up” and “live like the locals”.

      And actually I am just thinking now that we need to honour our birth countries and the fact that God chose for us to be born there. Yes, we need to share our wealth and not be entitled and yet we need to be in a place of giving thanks for what we have had in our home countries *and* recognising the good in the countries we go to that we don’t have in our countries of origin (attitude to children for example – I have found other countries to be more loving and caring and open towards children and the sense of community and graciousness to be higher.)

      And that our willingness to go out of our comfort zones and be abroad in places that are less comfortable for us should not be underestimated – sometimes it’s the small things that we give up that make a bigger impact than we think – or the big things that we think we need to give up would seem just stupid or bizarre to locals.

      Prayer, prayer and more prayer I guess, and a really good support team who we can check our impulses and directions with – who can help us to see our sin if we are wrong or our need to take care of ourselves if we are not doing that well (also sin because God made us.) ?

      1. Stacy August 29, 2016

        Ellie, it is such a difficult balance! You are so right that to push ourselves too far is not good for anyone! And I have thought so many times about how God chose for me to be born in America — so what do I do with that??? I think you said it well, prayer, prayer and more prayer for God to take what He gave us to bless others.

    2. Stacy August 29, 2016

      Great thoughts, Erika! Isn’t it wonderful that God gives us what we need to make it?! I read about your air conditioner and think how I could not have survived in a hot place at all! But, God knew that and put me in cold places. And I so agree with you on burnout. I think the key is finding a balance of what material things we really do need to help make us more effective verses what we would really like to have or feel we need. That can be a difficult balance to find. But in searching for it, it sure can open our eyes!

  2. Bes August 29, 2016

    Wow, that is a tough word – Entitled. Our sin nature encourages us all to be entitled. May I be sensitive to what can hurt my ministry and what I don’t really “need” even though I want it desperately. Depending on where we work, I think we will always seem “wealthy” to those we minister to. May we find the balance of what helps us survive and be long term overseas workers and what we just want as comfort but don’t need. Thanks, I’m going to be chewing on this one for a while.

    1. Stacy August 29, 2016

      Bes — so true! How I wish I could take back my wasted moments of dreaming of things I didn’t need!

  3. Heather Ling August 29, 2016

    This is an excellent article. I totally agree! After having been on the field for almost four years I can see how God has dealt with many areas of entitlement and a condescending attitude deep within. I’m sure there’s still more work to be done in those areas but your article brought a thankful realization of the work in progress. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Stacy August 29, 2016

      How encouraging! What a joy to recognize God’s work in us! I often tell people that being on the field is as much for me as the people I came to serve. What God reveals and changes on the field is such a gift.

  4. Sarah Smith August 30, 2016

    This article is extremely accurate. After 18 years overseas serving in several nations I have learned to shed my American self- but it has not always been an easy process. I watch others who are new overseas workers or who come on a short term basis struggle with this very thing. If they don’t learn to leave America behind, they will never really connect with the local people. I have also learned that they usually have a pretty valid reason behind their thinking. We need to learn to think like them in many cases! For instance, the ice in the drinks: In central America, although very hot, there is no ice served with your drinks. But let’s face it, people DO actually get sick from ice in the drinks (and I forbid ice in drinks for short term teams) because the water is usually contaminated.
    There is so much more I could add about the entitlement mentality and how it hinders us. How it robs overseas workers of so many blessings when their focus is on trying to maintain and American lifestyle on foreign soil.
    But I especially liked how you brought it all to a close: when we can see ourselves more clearly and recognize our faults, we can repent. In the process, we become more like Jesus and less like “America”.

    1. Stacy August 30, 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Sarah! I’ve seen the struggle with short termers as well. Yes, sometimes there are reasons for their beliefs about things like ice. Other times it’s just non-sense though. In my case, water was always safe, they just thought the cold liquid in your throat would make you sick. Chilled drinks were even frowned upon. But, ice cream was perfectly ok! :). Go figure:).

      1. Sarah Smith August 30, 2016

        well, you are right about that! I was told walking barefoot would make my menstrual cramps worse. I still haven’t been able to determine where that belief springs from and just had to learn to wear shoes at all times to keep the locals from fearing for my well-being.

  5. Erin August 30, 2016

    I was reading Matt 20 today about the laborers in the vineyard and thought about this article that I read a few days ago. The workers were upset because of a sense of entitlement, that they deserved more because they did more. How true is that of me, deep down, as a Christian and worker overseas. Love the “more like jesus, less like America ” line above!

    1. Stacy August 30, 2016

      Great insight, Erin!

  6. Lily September 3, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I remember when I moved to China, I had been thinking about how as Christ-followers we have given up our rights. Thus I didn’t have a “right” to whatever I might have felt that I did as an American, be it free speech (this was before social media really entered my life, but there were carefully-written emails to be sure) or a comfortable couch… Same idea, different words. I was also aware that however much comfort or convenience I grew accustomed to in my new home, I would probably begin to take it as my right going forward – there was a sense of a fresh start that I knew (from experience over my first year out of my parents’ home) would wear off over time. It’s harder to continue to hold onto once things start to feel settled. I see where entitlement rose back up in me when they blocked various websites a few years later (once social media really was a part of life!), but then there were ways around the Great Firewall for those who wanted/needed to stay connected with family and friends outside the country. God is gracious. I’m grateful for this reminder as I’m back here in the US that I still don’t really have a right to anything, aside from what the heavenly Father blesses me with.

    1. Stacy September 7, 2016

      Good word, Lily!

  7. Christine September 4, 2016

    Thank you for your words! I, one of few, don’t use ice in my drinks… 🙂

    1. Stacy September 7, 2016

      Christine — ha!

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