Every year of living overseas keeps revealing more deeply that to live overseas is to be a lifelong learner. What you thought you knew about God, the world, people and even about yourself will all be challenged. You will need to pay attention, listen more than talk, and ask questions more than give explanations.
There is a lot of learning that happens initially but I think that learning doesn’t stop once you are no longer a newbie. The past two years we were caught in the rapid waters of the chaos of transition. With 3 kids in tow, we navigated a third cross-cultural move, a flare up of an autoimmune disease, a systemic infection, culture shock and resettling in yet another country, while learning its language. We were in survival mode, gripping the edge of our rafts. Waves knocked us off and we fell overboard. The waters washed over our head and at times footing was hard to find. At the bottom, though, was the Rock. He wouldn’t let us drown.
We are no longer in those rapids. We made it to a calmer part of the river. But I am finding that the relative calmness of this season is revealing the undercurrents of my soul. And so the learning continues.
I am discovering that I am going through a mild form of PTSD – the fear of moving again, of losing more, feeling the exhaustion that comes from wanting to know and be known. Grief is still raw. I easily sob at the loss that we or others have experienced. My heart is tender. The capacity to endure stress is still less than normal. I am learning I need time to build up that capacity by sleeping, working out, “sabbathing,” and intentionally seeking margin.
The gift is that in this season there is a little more space to process and do important soul work – to let the Lord reveal the undercurrents, make me face the fears, doubts and lies I am tempted to believe.
But I am not just learning about myself but also about us – my husband and me. Every change exposes all the areas we still need to keep growing in oneness, and learn to love each other. And man, are we learning about our kids! They too, are growing and responding differently than they used to.
So here are a few thoughts on being a learner while living overseas:
- Margins are vital for you to learn all the things.
Some lessons will be really obvious (like, this schedule is clearly not working for us, or the best place to shop for bananas is that street market at the end of the street). But other lessons will take time. You may discover you are relearning who you are because change has a way of accelerating the process of becoming new. You will need spaces where you can pray, journal, and stare at the sunset with no clear thoughts.
In this current season with our kids, we are intentionally creating margin, not planning many extra things. We are doing things like guarding bedtime with them so that we have plenty of time to cuddle, listen and ask them questions. For some reason bedtime is when their little hearts overflow with emotion and struggle and we don’t want to rush that. Learning often happens in the unhurried spaces of life.
- Become a cultural learner (not a cultural critic).
I think being cultural critics is a real temptation for both the new expat and the one who has lived overseas a long time. It is easy to note all the ways your host culture is not what you think it should be. You only expect nationals to fall short of your expectations and standards.
And yet entering the world of our friends doesn’t mean coming to judge them. It means coming to truly know, understand and love. In our life overseas we need to make sure we are taking time to challenge our assumptions, ask questions, actually listen to the answers and pay attention to the blessings of their way of life.
- As you learn, remember you are safe in Christ.
There is nothing better than being able to process all this knowing that we are safely hidden in Jesus Christ. We will see the ugliness of our hearts. We will see how much we need to grow in learning to love our kids as they are, not as we want them to be. We might feel discouraged by how we fall short in loving our spouse well.
We don’t need to try to fix ourselves, away from him, hiding from him. We are always, “Christ in me, me in Christ.” He hid us within himself, and is there lovingly changing us. He delights to shape us into who we already are in Him. He is so confident in His finished work in our lives. So we too can be.
So friend, let’s embrace our lifelong learning with courage and joy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about being a learner overseas. Have you found your learning has continued well into your years overseas? What do you do to make sure you have space to learn?
We invite you to share in The Grove. You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.
Share your images on this week’s theme with #VelvetAshesLearn. You can add yours!