One month ago, I arrived back to my cosy mountain home with my two little boys and my amazing husband, Jono. I was relieved to be finally back, but I couldn’t manage to conjure up any excitement for being here. I sat in a chair, immobile and unmotivated to figure out what to have for dinner or to help the boys rediscover all the toys and books they’d missed while we’d been gone for the last few weeks. I didn’t recognise myself. I definitely did not want to talk to any of my neighbours or friends! Something was wrong. Usually, I love going out to see my friends. Now instead of just feeling like a very heavy rock, I was also getting worried and anxious. Am I having a breakdown? Is this what burn-out feels like? How long am I going to be like this?!
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. – 2 Co 4:7-10
Yes, I am most certainly a clay jar! If not handled very carefully, I get chips and cracks and these blemishes mean that I don’t work very well anymore. Unfortunately, when I’m not working very well, someone else has to pick up the slack, usually Jono, which means he goes into his own work feeling tired from doing mine.
I was relieved that after two days of Jono keeping house and taking care of the kids, I was feeling able to take over again. Praise God, it wasn’t burn-out, it was just good old regular exhaustion—doing too much for too long.
These chips and cracks in my jar took time to repair. A month or more of running a crazy schedule of hosting visitors, studying the Word with friends, taking care of two energetic toddlers, attending team meetings, and preparing for our fellowship meetings was what I had planned on. I forgot to leave room for the visitors getting sick, friends sharing difficult situations with me, and energy-zapping travel days. Maybe I had energy for what I had planned, but I forgot to leave room for the unexpected. And it took a few weeks of slowing down to fully recover from that busy time. I believe that God wants to help us through these busy times if we look to Him for strength—and He does. As I look back, I am amazed again at God’s grace, that each day He gave me what I needed to get the necessary tasks done, and to get them done well. That is why I was so surprised to arrive home feeling so numb—I didn’t feel it coming, I just crashed all of a sudden one day. God is teaching me that even with all of the spiritual strength He gives, I still have a physical body that can only take so much. When I ask more of myself than God asks of me, I start cracking. Taking on more than God is asking me to is a symptom that I don’t trust Him to take care of the things that are beyond me; instead I get anxious and tired—a bad combination!
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” – Heb 4:9-11
What was ‘their example of disobedience’? Maybe they didn’t place their faith in Jesus (v. 2)? Or maybe they refused to give up some sin (v. 6)? Maybe that amounts to the same thing. God has given me a choice. I can choose to place my faith in Him, give up my right to feel anxious, rest, and believe that He is God and therefore able to accomplish His purposes without any help from me. Or I can try to manage overwhelming situations on my own. But if I choose to take control of these situations, I have to give up this rest—I have to forget that I am just a clay pot. Then the pot breaks--again. And I am amazed at God's grace for me--again.
God designed me for rest. I am grateful that the busy season here has come to an end, and as the Northern Hemisphere winter begins, life is slowing down. People have finished preparing for the long winter and now are entering the hibernation phase of the year. The firewood has been collected, now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the fire.
Anxiety isn’t the only emotion that God is walking me through here on the field. Sadness also seems to come around frequently.seems to come around frequently.
A few days ago, I went to a shop to get some preschool supplies for my three-year-old. My friend of seven years works there. I hadn’t seen her for the last six months or so as we’re both busy with our kids these days. I was excited to ask her about her new baby, but I was glad that before I could, her co-worker told me that her full-term baby boy had died. It was like a shot in the stomach. Not again, not another friend to lose a baby. I know this happens in Australia too, but it feels much more common here, and I struggle to know how to cope with their grief, and my own vicarious grief. How do I talk to someone who has survived such a tragedy?
Mums here in Central Asia who lose a baby are often told after a few days of grieving that they shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t think about the baby, and should just try to have another baby instead. But it’s not so easy to push this kind of grief aside. I know that there are no answers to give someone who has lost a child, but I also know that grieving in isolation only makes grief harder to bear. Once in a while people talk to me about these tragedies, but I don’t know what to do. I’m not a counsellor. I’m not even the most brilliant listener. I interrupt and try to fix things even when I know that’s not possible and that people need to be listened to and cared for, not fixed.
Every time I hear of someone losing a baby, I am deeply sad. This sadness sticks to me for quite some time. I do not forget these stories quickly. God didn’t design me to deal with this terrible loss; I was designed for the garden, for walking with Him and caring for His beautiful earth. If God hadn’t sent me His Spirit to be my Counsellor, I would be crushed by the sadness of this world. Very few people here in these mountains have His Spirit and oftentimes they are crushed, either by being unable to re-engage with life in a healthy way, or sometimes even by suicide. Either way, the circle of grief expands to include their family and community who then have to find some way to deal with more tragedy than had originally occurred.
Of course, Central Asia doesn’t have a monopoly on grief. I almost lost my sister-in-law in New Zealand to cancer last year. Today my Aussie friend is waiting to see whether his father will make it through the night or not. A friend in the US is struggling to find a reason to live. These situations weigh on my heart as well as the friends I live amongst. People everywhere struggle with the sadness and brokenness of this world.I don’t have any answers for this. I was asked to write about emotions and how they affect us, so that’s what I’ve done. I am not immune to the grief of the world just because I live and work overseas. Suffering definitely touches my life and it takes time for me to give it to God and remember the joy that He gives His children. I have bad days sometimes. I am not patient with my kids, or I don’t have any energy left to ask how Jono’s day was when he comes home. I am distracted with my own thoughts and feelings until I find a way to resolve the sadness I have because of these overwhelming situations.
I am so grateful that I am part of a team of people here who love and trust God. We meet regularly together, and one of those meetings is a monthly prayer and fasting time together. Last Saturday, everyone came to our house and we spent some hours praying through the things on our hearts. It was a healing thing to be able to cry over the brokenness of this world together. I left that meeting not feeling like the weight of the world had disappeared, but knowing that it was not on me anymore. It was on God’s shoulders, where it belongs. I long for my friends here to know that they have a Father who is happy to bear their burdens as well. Lately, the song ‘The Eternal Weight of Glory’ by Kendell Wimbrough has been meaningful to me, and if you relate to what it written in this article, then maybe you’ll enjoy it too.
Thank you for your prayers for me and people like me who are seeking to find ways to live honourably among people of a different culture and faith. We are not any different from you. We struggle with the same emotions that affect everyone else on earth and we value your support and prayers for us. Thank you for taking the time to read this and to try to understand life from the other side of the world. God’s Body is truly a beautiful thing.