Location ≠ Identity

“We need to operate, it’s urgent. You’ll be taken to theatre today.”

At 29, I was young, enthusiastic and about to start my third year in Rwanda. Instead, after a long stream of stomach pain, I was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. I was admitted to hospital, hoping to manage with medication, but unfortunately the cyst ruptured and caused internal bleeding. I was taken to theatre in Rwanda, alone and very frightened.

Following the surgery, I was keen to resume work and life. However, the surgery I had can take months to recover from, and ongoing pain and questions around chronic disease conditions forced me to make the painful decision to return to my passport country for a season. I was angry, hurt and confused. Why was my body so weak it couldn’t handle the stress of life overseas? Why couldn’t I just continue as before?

Since being back, ongoing health issues, including post-surgery complications have resulted in two trips to the emergency room, and multiple scans and meetings with doctors. I’ve also been diagnosed with burnout.

Suddenly my whole focus has shifted from who I serve, where I am in the world and what I’m doing, to managing pain every day. I’m severely limited compared to what I did before. I’m in constant pain, and due to the burnout, completely exhausted. My mind wants to keep going but I can manage a short walk or coffee out and that’s my lot. I feel like my body has failed me. It has let me down.

I have always felt called to East Africa, having spent a number of years in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, and grown up around East African influences. But now my body is stopping me from fulfilling my calling, and being who I am.

Except, being ‘in’ Africa is not ‘who I am.’ I am on the painful journey of realizing that my physicality is intrinsically related to who I am, whilst my physical presence in a place does not equal my identity. I’m learning to love my body, and have compassion while also struggling with pain, exhaustion and grief.

I’m learning that God loving and creating me means He loves and created my body, as well as my soul and spirit, and when my body is hurt or limited and I can’t be where I feel He wants me to be, His love for me doesn’t change.

I’ve been working so hard for so long to fulfil a calling that He put on my life that I’ve sacrificed my physical and mental health in the process. My burnout has shown me that it’s not what God intended for us to keep pushing, and that when He created us, it was in a way that is hard wired to need rest. My body hasn’t failed, it’s reminding me who I am, a daughter of the King, but not King, a servant, not a slave, a whole person, not just a calling.

When I decided to leave Rwanda, I felt the Lord say to me Psalm 127:2— “He grants rest to those he loves.” I’m learning that physical rest doesn’t mean He loves me less. It’s an indication of his love for me.

How do you take time for physical rest, knowing that’s an outworking of God’s love for you? Has your body stopped you ever doing what you feel God has called you to? How have you reconciled that?

How do you hold on to the physicality of life with Christ, especially overseas?

Is your identity linked to your physical presence in your host country? How do you hold the truth in the midst of those voices?

7 Comments

  1. Ruth Potinu June 7, 2022

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. What a painful experience but in away beautiful the things you are learning along the way.

  2. Joni Patterson June 8, 2022

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey as you have navigated God’s heart and will for you. I’m finding myself in a similar situation and trying to discern between “trust in the struggle” or an invitation to a path of rest. Sometimes, when you work in ministry you can (wrongly) begin to feel like you have to be suffering to really be serving God, to really be in his will. But that isn’t what He asks of us…

    I pray blessing over you, Anna! May our weaknesses point other’s hearts and our own to see more of God’s love and care and presence. I pray against any condemnation of the enemy that says what you are doing is not enough or as important- there is no condemnation in Christ! It isn’t about sacrifice, but obedience. It isn’t about what we can do or where we can be, it is just that we are dwelling with our Beloved.

  3. Beth Coffman June 8, 2022

    We have been living in Nicaragua for 3 years. And I have realized calling is not my identity. My identity is a child of God. Covid has wrecked havoc on the ministry that I thought I was called too. So I stead of mourning the loss of what I used ti do I an learning to be present where I am at. It is with friendships and striving in community. My husband is retired and we simply live and help the local church.

    The past 2 months we have dealt with a moto accident (husband) and covid (both). Our community took care of us. Between house visits, meals, medicine and driving to doctor appointments. We have learned “reposos”. Rest.

    Life is seasonal. Our vision has changed. We thank God every day for the opportunity to live and love here. Not only do we get to be with Nicas but we are a part of the the expat community too. We balance both. My identity is me as God formed me.

    With the onset of covid my anxiety ramped up and I am now on maintenance meds. And that is ok.

    I am learning.

    1. Rachel Mutesi June 10, 2022

      Thanks for sharing this Anna! I’m going through a really similar experience right now and have been wrestling with some of the same thoughts and questions. What a precious and timely reminder of where my identity really lies and who and whose I am.
      I’m praying for you as you rest and recover! It’s such a hard thing, but He is good and kind even in the midst of this.

  4. Katie June 8, 2022

    Thanks for sharing part of your journey with us Anna! I feel upon returning the States I have struggled and strived hard to find God’s will for my life and it has been exhausting. This is such a good reminder that our identity comes from who we are in Him not what we are doing or where we are in the world. Praying for deep rest in Him in this new season. I would love to read some of your poems if you make them public.

    1. Anna June 9, 2022

      Thank you Katie! You can find my poems on Instagram, AnnaUwera poems. Praying for you as you transition x

  5. Anna June 9, 2022

    Thank you Katie! You can find my poems on Instagram, AnnaUwera poems. Praying for you as you transition x

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