When I was doing my undergrad, one of the required courses was Spiritual Formation. The course centered around going through Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline within a small group context and practicing each of the disciplines together with peers. If you’ve read the book (you should!) you know where I am headed with this – the final discipline is, in fact, celebration!
This was an entirely new concept to me, and truthfully one I still struggle with. Celebrating, as a discipline? It seems counterintuitive, to be honest. I think of celebrations as a bit unhinged, a little too free to be a discipline, but Foster says differently. Celebration is, in fact, something we should practice, get better at, and incorporate strategically into our spiritual walks.
This has never made more sense to me than the last years I’ve lived in a cross-cultural context. Every holiday feels different here, for starters. There is so much more strategy involved, and lots of letting go of expectations.
Victories are few and far between here, too. Ministry goals can take years to meet. We don’t have harvests to celebrate like maybe we thought we would. We struggle. We sigh deeply. We cling to truth and trust Christ to bring us through when the wins don’t come easily.
Enter: celebration as a discipline. Something we cultivate, practice, and do on purpose.
We have to be intentional with celebrations. Make them habit.
To me, celebration is inherently linked to gratitude. When I practice being actively thankful for what is around me, it makes finding things to celebrate much easier. The small victories carry more weight. The eternal significance of the little wins feels more apparent in my day-to-day quest to see Christ working around me.
So how do we practice celebration in our lives overseas?
Break goals down into smaller steps and celebrate each step. This is a great practice for anyone, but especially for those of us living abroad. We often come in with lofty goals that will take years to achieve, and the years to get there will feel like a slog. Breaking things down a bit, recognizing the steps along the way and deeming them celebration-worthy will give you built-in moments to stop and reflect on how Christ is working through you.
Create milestones and find rituals or rewards around them. This could be fun for language learning! Within your team, you could have different milestones that you celebrate in different ways. Going out to dinner after someone preaches their first sermon in the language, ice cream when you handle your first phone call or cab ride, etc.
Give yourself permission to actually celebrate. I think there’s an added layer of complication for those of us who raise support – is it right for us to go away for an anniversary? Buy myself something I’ve been wanting when I hit a ministry milestone? Really relax into vacations, or truly indulge, ever? This is something you’ll need to work out within your organization, team, and ultimately within your own heart. But I would encourage you to consider the goodness of celebration, rest, and grace for your mental health.
Adopt celebrations from your host culture, and (appropriately) make them a part of your life, too. This is a great way to get to know the culture more deeply and assimilate your own rhythms to where you’ve been called.
Conversely, find new, culturally appropriate or relevant ways to observe cultural celebrations from your passport or heart culture. Sometimes, Christmas needs to look really different – or isn’t even celebrated at all. This is a great opportunity to create your own fun traditions of celebration. Maybe you always have tacos and go to a certain beach on Christmas, or you have Super Bowl Sleepovers because the game is in the middle of the night. You could start celebrating National Donut Day because you need *something* to brighten up a hard week. Maybe you observe 7-11 Free Slurpee Day in November, because that’s when it is in many countries that write the date with the day first! Remember the creative God who brought all this into being, and let your imagination run wild!
Friends, wherever you find yourselves on the spectrum of celebration as a practice, I pray you feel the Lord’s grace and desire for lightness and peace and joy to rule in your heart as you serve Him. Lean into the good things as you navigate this overseas life and know that He is with you.
What are some ways you have grown in intentionally celebrating while living cross-culturally?
Join us for the 2022 Velvet Ashes Online Retreat as we explore the desire for home. Together we’ll journey through the powerful pathway that Solomon’s temple provides for us today. We’ll invite the Holy Spirit to draw our heart’s into deeper connection with God. Retreat with the worldwide community April 22-24!