Why Doing It On My Own Was The Way To Go (Wrong)

If you asked me to describe myself, I would go with the adjectives strong and independent. I like to blame this on my German-American heritage and my Western culture, but the truth is that at the deepest level of my heart, it is rooted in pride and an unwillingness to rely on others.

When my husband and I made our first cross-cultural move as newlyweds, I thought I had everything under control. I had grown up overseas after all and was a seasoned international traveler. I knew how to carry my money so that a pickpocket couldn’t get to it, to never drink water from a source that I couldn’t verify, how to bargain like a pro, and how to bake just about anything from scratch over an open fire using whatever ingredients were on hand.

But I soon found out that living overseas as an adult was a completely different ball of wax. As the only foreigners in a province where no one spoke a word of English, everything I did and said was a community event—if I bought more than one roll of toilet paper or walked into a room in the wrong direction, the whole town knew about it within a few hours. I was forced to rely on our neighbors and coworkers for everything from buying groceries to paying bills.

After 6 months of this, I was exhausted. We needed to travel to a nearby country for a conference, and since we had a layover in Beijing, we decided to stop and do some sightseeing. I was so  looking forward to staying in a nice hotel and being an anonymous tourist for a few days.

But life rarely goes according to plan.

As soon as we exited the airport, I made the mistake that EVERY guide book tells you not to do. Instead of asking someone to show us where the taxi stand was with the bright yellow, licensed taxis, I allowed a smooth-talking operator to put our bags in the trunk of his shiny, black car. We spent the 45-minute drive to our hotel terrified that we would be mugged and left in a dark alleyway. (We were delivered to our hotel without incident, but I learned my lesson!)

The next day, excited to be in a city that served real coffee, we made our way to the closest Starbucks. But I couldn’t understand the menu, and instead of asking for help, I ordered what I thought was a frappuccino, only to be given one of those crème drinks without any coffee at all. I was so disappointed that I began to cry.

We then wandered down to Tiananmen Square, only to discover that the tourist bus that went to the Great Wall of China had just left. Instead of returning to our hotel and asking them to arrange a ride for us, some enterprising students convinced us to let them drive us for an exorbitant fee, but instead of taking us all the way, they dropped us at a bus stop and put us on a public bus that would take us there. (Are you noticing a theme here? Avoid getting into unmarked cars with strangers, especially when you can’t speak their language!)

Thankfully an old lady sitting next to me on the bus understood my wild gesticulating and pushed us off the bus at the right stop, but then we couldn’t find the actual entrance to the Wall. We had been in China for less than 24 hours, and I felt like I had gone through three rounds in a boxing ring—3 points for China and 0 points for me.

We finally spied some other foreigners at what appeared to be a ticket window, and in desperation, I caved and asked them for help. We started chatting, only to find out that they were in China as English teachers and were from the same small town in Pennsylvania as my cousins. In fact, they had all gone to the same church, and the husband’s mother (who was visiting them in China) had been my older cousin’s kindergarten teacher! We ended up spending the rest of the day together in Beijing. They helped us navigate the city and showed us how to get to the places we wanted to see. 13 years later, we are still friends.

So what’s the point of me sharing this story? Well, besides letting the whole world know about my embarrassing tendency to be scammed in China (which is a huge admission for a TCK), my first months overseas as an adult taught me some important lessons.

First, we were created to need each other. We were designed to live in community and to be in relationship with each other. We see this theme pop up again and again throughout scripture. We are admonished to bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), comfort one another (I Thess 1:18), help the weak (I Thess 5:14), stir one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24), lift each other up when we fall (Ecc 4:9), eat and pray together (Acts 2:42), love each other as we love ourselves (Matt 5:13), live in peace and unity (Ps 133:1), and lay down our lives for each other (John 15:12).

In fact, we can see godly community in the very nature of God, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit functioning as One. So how does this apply to me? This means that I need to stop idolizing independence and individuality and instead intentionally rely on my husband and children, my neighbors and friends, and my fellow believers. And yes, this means swallowing my pride and asking for help instead of trying to figure out everything on my own!

Second, our God is a God of grace. Despite our glaring weaknesses and even when we need to be learning important lessons, he can’t help but lavish grace upon us. It is integral to his very character and is an overwhelming example of what our love should look like for each other. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:4-9).

As I wandered around outside the entrance to the Great Wall of China, tired and frazzled, His grace took the form of a young couple from Pennsylvania. When I was at a low point, He stepped in and gathered me in his arms. Did I need to learn the important lesson of relying on others? Yes. Was it something that I had to do completely on my own? Absolutely not! Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16).

What have you learned from relying on others?

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