We can probably all remember the first people we encountered after returning home from the World Race. At that moment we had to give our first answer to the dreaded question "how was your trip?" It doesn't take many of these conversations to feel like people just "don't get it." We truly want people to understand how important and transformational this journey was for us. But it seems that people barely even want to hear about it, and when they do, our answers and explanations seem to fall flat.
When I returned home from the World Race, the first person from my home church that I saw was at a gas station. Only, instead of asking how my trip was, they said, "hey, you're getting ready to go on that big trip aren't you?" Somewhat stunned, I said, "...actually, I just got back from that trip." Looking back at this point, this story only makes me laugh. However, at the time it taught me something very important; that the attitude of disappointment and frustration with people "just not understanding" is just plain silly.
I've talked with numerous racers about their reentry process. This is something that seems to come up quite a bit. They don't feel understood or they feel out of place because of how their experiences have changed how they view the world and God. These feelings are of course natural and even justified in some sense. But I always ask these racers, simply, "why do you expect anyone to understand?"
Think about it for just a moment. Did you experience this transformation because someone told you about their mission trip experience? Or was it because you made the hard decision to go on this trip, then work on raising the money, and go to a training camp that rocked your view of God, and be vulnerable in community, and travel around the world, and abandon your comforts, and serve the poor and the lost, and push through heartbreak, and continually choose to say yes to what was in front of you, etc? The people we have come back home to have, by and large, not experienced any of those things. They have continued on in life as usual, to the point that some (like the member of my church showed me) didn't even realize that you were gone. So why should we expect someone to understand something that we could only understand after 9 or 11 months (or in some cases, just 2 or 3) of wrestling with God in a very particular setting?
A shift in our perspective is in order, and there are 3 primary shifts that I propose.
First and foremost is humility.
It is so incredibly easy for us to be filled with pride at what we've experienced and done. One of the most insidious and subtle forms of pride is pride in our own supposed humility. We can end up like the Pharisee who beats his chest and thanks God that he is "not like this tax collector" (Luke 18:11). But it is helpful to remember that even the initial desire to go and serve comes from God, not from ourselves. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose." (Phil 2:13)
Our challenge is to weed out our own pride and to not dismiss others.
Second is that we have more than a story to give.
We have received an incredible gift, and we now have the opportunity to give that gift away to others. But that gift cannot be given just by explaining. It needs to be given through many invitations: invitations to vulnerability, to feedback, to prayer and to listening. We invite others step by step into a way of life, the same way of life that we worked so hard to cultivate along the journey. It may be to our benefit to stop thinking of how to explain what we know, and start thinking of what we can invite people into.
Our challenge is not to get others to understand our experiences, but to faithfully give away what we have received.
Third is to be interested, not interesting
Because of what we have experienced and learned, it can be easy to get absorbed in the desire to share our experiences. Those around us have been living their lives in our absence. Of course we know this, but do we give it the attention that it deserves? The people we return to know that we have more than likely had an amazing experience, but they probably don't even know how to ask about it, and they may even be a little self-conscious about trying. It could even be that parts of our stories and experience may make others a bit insecure, wishing that they could do more, but don't know how. But what a gift it would be to them to show true interest in their lives and empower them in their story.
Our challenge is not to try to use our own story to inspire others, but look with them deeply at their own and help them see how God is moving and calling them to more.
So if you need help with a shift in perspective our coaches can be of help to you. We love sitting with people in transition and helping them move forward by coaching them through that process! Click on "Find a Coach" above to get started!