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?