In Returning and Rest

God called me overseas first. I’ve wanted to be a cross-cultural worker since a retreat in 6th grade. My calling overseas has propelled me forward, sustained me when times were hard, and been the driving force of much of my life.

God called my husband overseas second. He came to faith in high school and went through a rough patch with legalism in college. During his pursuit of a Master of Theology in his 30s, God began calling him into overseas ministry. (Let the record show that I was already serving in Tanzania at that time… not that anyone’s keeping records!)

3 out of the 3 overseas assignments we’ve accepted as a couple have been based mainly on my work. It’s fairly easy to find work as a medical provider overseas, but a theologian who doesn’t feel called to church planting can be harder to place.

During our overseas assignments, I have had clear expectations and been automatically granted a certain level of respect for the job I’m doing. My days are purposeful and full. I’m doing work that I’ve always dreamed of doing.

My husband’s time overseas thus far has involved much more vague job descriptions and unspecified tasks. As a man who loves to cook and hasn’t fathered a child, he’s viewed with some suspicion in the rural African villages we’ve lived in. Yet, with his good-natured personality and his deep faith, he has accepted these circumstances and trusted God to use him and guide him.

By God’s grace, our time overseas has been fruitful and joyful despite challenges and struggles.

God called my husband back to the U.S. first. He saw the writing on the wall with COVID right from the start. As he started wondering what we’d do back in the States, the long-buried dream of becoming a chaplain started to surface. He began researching programs and polishing his application.

God called me back to the U.S. second. After much kicking, screaming, crying, and stubbornness, I finally gave up and gave in. I honestly didn’t really believe we were going home until we boarded that plane. There was so much I still wanted to do overseas and so little I wanted to do in the U.S.

When we moved back home and God made it very clear that he was calling my husband to begin a 2-year hospital chaplain training program, I was equal parts proud wife and crushed dreamer. I love that my husband is pouring himself into this important ministry, but I struggle returning to work that I’m not passionate about.

I’ve battled with jealousy and bitterness as I watch my husband pursue his passions while I punch a clock. He seems to live in technicolor while my days feel more black and white. And, believe me, I know how spoiled and ungrateful I seem. He sacrificed and supported my dreams. He even opened himself up and accepted a new calling. It’s only fair that I should do the same.

It doesn’t feel fair, though. And it certainly isn’t easy.

I think the crux of it for me is that somewhere along the way I started to confuse my productivity for Christ with my identity in Christ. As a cross-cultural worker, my work on the margins brings me close to the God who came to seek and save those on the margins. But I make a crucial mistake when I start to imagine that my work earns me that closeness with Christ. Because then when the work is taken away, I feel rudderless, purposeless, and seem to drift quickly from my Father.

I identify as an overseas worker. My husband identifies as a Christian working overseas. Guess who has a harder time returning home?

I know the churchy answers, but my heart rebels against them. I am just like the Israelites who bore this reproach:

“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling.” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV)

The Israelites and I are both promised a savior and strength if we will return to God and trust in Him. We both find the thought of returning distasteful and overwhelming. We both have a God who longs to bless us no matter how much we push him away. We’ve both forgotten that our main identity is not what fills our hours or where we lay our head, but how deeply and completely and totally loved we are by our God.

Has your returning journey involved some unwilling kicking and screaming or dragging your feet? Have you wrestled with differences in your spouse’s calling or ministry and what that looks like back ‘home’?

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

7 Comments

  1. Jane September 2, 2021

    Even though I’m neither a returned worker or anyone’s spouse, this is one of my favourite posts I’ve read on this website. You really captured in writing the pain and struggle of turning to God that some of us go through before resting. May God bless you and your husband in your new journey back in your home country.

    1. Alyson Rockhold September 3, 2021

      Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging reply! May God bless you too!

  2. Kristen September 3, 2021

    More than 14 years ago, our family followed God to serve overseas. It’s always been my adventuresome husband’s passion and my not-always-so-joyful act of obedience. There have been wonderful years, and I don’t regret one minute of it…but like your husband, I’m ready to move back…and like you, my husband is not. This has caused more than one heated conversation that ends in tears. More than that, it has caused tremendous amounts of guilt and shame on my part. I have no idea how God will get us on the same page, but I have to trust that He will. Until then, I will do my best to be present where we are and believe that God has a plan in all of it.

    1. Alyson Rockhold September 3, 2021

      Thank you for sharing your story. My husband and I also had more than one heated conversation that ended in tears as we discussed leaving the mission field. I’m so sorry to hear that guilt and shame are attacking- those are foes of mine as well. I pray that God will bring agreement between you and your husband and give you both the grace and courage to walk that agreement out together. Joining you in trusting that He will.

  3. Rebekah September 3, 2021

    Tomorrow my husband and I are returning to the field after a couple of months back in Europe (returning to E. Africa, same team, but a new country). I’m so excited to get back and get settled and finally set up a home together (we’ve been married 2 years, and have lived in our own home for nearly 4 months the first year and nearly 3 months the second year). My husband however … he’s not so keen. His job can be done anywhere, whereas mine is easier to do with colleagues in E. Africa. This gives him flexibility but also is one less tie he has to that place. He’d much rather we settled in Europe where things are easier and more comfortable. It is a really hard thing to talk about because it just makes me sad and him frustrated. So, we’re going back, for now. I’m trying to pray that God would help me to listen to Him if/when He wants us to leave the field, and also that for as long as He wants us to live overseas, that He’d help my husband to do so and help me to help my husband too.

    1. Alyson Rockhold September 3, 2021

      May God bless your journey back to East Africa! (I’ll admit- I’m a little jealous!) It’s so hard when each spouse feels convicted to move in a different direction. I pray that God would bring you both clarity and wisdom on where He is calling you to live. Thank you for commenting!

  4. Alyson Rockhold September 3, 2021

    Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging reply! May God bless you too!

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