I lived in dread of making copies. My first year in China I didn’t have a printer, so nearly every day I headed to a small copy shop to print lesson plans and copy handouts. It was very simple, even with my extremely limited Chinese. I could just say the number of copies I wanted and the sweet little owner would take it from there. The shop was right in the next building, so the whole trip only took ten minutes. And yet every day the very thought of making it filled me with dread.
Culture shock combined with underlying anxiety made this simple task overwhelming. “This is ridiculous,” I would tell myself. “This is not a big deal. You just moved across the world and are living on your own for the first time. You are teaching students barely younger than yourself and eating food you don’t quite recognize. Making copies is no big deal.”
Except that it was a big deal. Every time I ventured out of the apartment, I was surrounded by staring faces. Eyes followed me with intense curiosity, analyzing everything about my strange foreign self. (A student once described in detail what I was wearing when she first saw me on campus two years before.) These eyes seemed to say, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong. Go home!”
Every time I had to open my mouth I felt like a toddler just learning to speak. Everything I said, or didn’t say, or mistakenly said, made me feel small and stupid. Numbers were one of the first things I learned, but as I neared the copy shop, anxiety threw my brain into confusion. The copy shop owners stood waiting patiently, amused, while I struggled to say something understandable.
Each day I returned to my apartment feeling a mixture of relief and defeat. I survived another day of making copies! The earth did not open up and swallow me whole! But oh man, how did I sink to this level? I’m supposed to be brave and daring, living this exotic life in a foreign land and here I am scared of the copy shop! I can barely even make copies – how am I going to accomplish anything in this country? This juvenile struggle was certainly not going to make the newsletter.
Maybe you are struggling with something really big and significant. Something spiritual. Something to write a book about. Or maybe you are struggling to overcome your fear of making copies. (Is there a phobia for that?) Sometimes the hardest struggles are those private daily ones, the ones that seem so petty, the ones that nobody else sees. Whether you are two weeks or twenty years in, those little things can really trip you up.
These are the difficulties that must be faced day after day, long after the initial burst of adrenaline and optimism has worn off. There are no crowds cheering you on – in fact you hope nobody finds out you are having such a hard time with something so simple. Something that everyone else can do so easily.
Well, I want to be the one to cheer you on. Today you are overcoming! You got out of bed, and maybe that was really hard. You stepped out of your door when you really wanted to stay hidden at home. You dealt with that same problem as yesterday, the same one you must face again tomorrow, and it took extraordinary persistence and patience. You stumbled through another language encounter, or you herded your children safely across a chaotic street, or you treated that difficult person with grace. And that may have taken just as much courage as getting on the airplane the first time.
And the best news is that this battle is not even fought in your own strength but through the power of the One who has overcome all. The One who clothes the lilies and feeds the birds sees your struggle and cares. When you feel weak and inadequate and kind of ridiculous, draw on His strength. In this too, you shall overcome.
What are the small struggles you are overcoming right now?