There’s a danger in being honest with yourself. A danger that the honest version of you is grubbier than you would ever dream. More broken. More fragile. More vulnerable to attack, belittlement, shame, and sorrow.
This sensation can intensify while living abroad. Cultural transition is already a vulnerable position. When you attempt it alone, the powers of darkness seem to take special care in plotting your downfall.
Or so it can seem.
While I lived by myself abroad for two years, I felt like I lost something every day. There was the bevy of people and things that I loved and left in order to go abroad. Then there were events that I lost out on because I was on the other side of the world: the birth of my sister’s first baby, my grandfather’s funeral. There were all the holidays and special days, all the happenings I knew when leaving home I would miss while abroad.
But the losses also included things that I didn’t expect to lose. The pieces of myself that broke off into my hands as I tried to hold myself together. The ways I defined myself. The characteristics I thought I possessed. The person I thought I was.
As the pieces broke away, what lay beneath began to show. Personal revelations began to surface. Sins of my own creation that I had been harboring for countless years and never looked at. I was crushed. Who was this woman?
Some people go abroad under the pretext of finding themselves. The assumption is that finding yourself will be glorious. To wake up to the realization that perhaps you have found yourself—and you are much worse than you thought you were—is breathtaking. The darkness closes in and you wonder if all is lost.
I mentally fled. God didn’t want this, didn’t want me. How could God forgive me when I couldn’t forgive myself?
Humans have a strong tendency toward egocentric thinking. We start with us and extrapolate out. Yet when we start with ourselves, we can get the picture horribly skewed. I assumed that God wanted me the way I felt I should be, the way I thought I was until I lost the covering I had accumulated over twenty plus years. I assumed that because I couldn’t forgive myself, He could not either. But that is a lie from hell.
In Romans 5, Paul says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). Still sinners. What a wonder our God is! We were still sinners, still miserable sinners, but as Paul puts it a few verses before, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1).
I found myself often turning to this passage of Romans. In fact, I tracked my progress via the stages of suffering Paul outlines: “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (vv. 3-5).
Over and over again in the Bible, it is God’s actions, God’s love, God’s forgiveness that is acting, redeeming, renewing, and healing. It is all Him and all His. I am neither righteous nor good, but God, in His boundless mercy, forgave me. Forgave me long before I ever sat alone in my gray apartment, convicted of sins I didn’t have the luxury to avoid anymore. He was always there, with His love. Nothing changed with Him.
The reason hope does not disappoint is because God does not. With His love in our hearts, we have surety of Him. And that makes the world and our suffering feel very small.
An unforeseen side effect of my hardships abroad was that it left me with nothing to cling to but the hope of God’s love and forgiveness. In turn, I found it near impossible to look at the people of this new culture with anything but love. I had been stripped of all I held dear, including my pride and good opinion of myself. All I had left was God’s love. It was all I felt I had to give the people around me.
And God knows, that’s all they needed.
In what areas of your life are you denying yourself the forgiveness of God? Are you ready to stand in His unconditional love?