Written by Susan McCrary
Drawing from her years of experience, Susan McCrary speaks to the hearts of returning sent ones- identifying with them, encouraging them inwardly, and admonishing them onwardly. If you recently returned to your home country, or are planning to return someday, may these insights soften your landing.
Remember where you have been
You've come a long way baby was the simple tagline of the 1968 Virginia Slims marketing campaign. Although this quote was, strangely, a catchy advertisement luring young female professionals to smoke expensive cigarettes, it’s actually not a bad saying for transitioning.
Look at how far you’ve come!
You’ve made it to here.
What have you learned along the way?
Where all has God led you thus far?
Let that be an encouraging reminder of His faithfulness to continue to lead you where He wants you to go. It is helpful to pause and look back, to see His leading, His care, His work in your life.
Deuteronomy 7:18-19 says "you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trial that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out."
And Deuteronomy 8:2 echoes a similar word: "you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not."
We felt a great loss when we left our lives and jobs overseas and moved back home. We wondered what our lives could count for and what our new role would be. There is a space of ministerial inactivity in a big move that makes you feel like you may not have a vital part in God’s mission anymore. We can easily be sidelined by this spiritual warfare. Take a look back at what God has done all along the way, and take heart that He is with you as you move forward.
No Guilt in Rest
Sometimes we forget to rest. I don't know how it happens, but it does, and often. We know we need it. We feel it. But it eludes us—as do most things that are good for us: exercise, veggies, hobbies, and especially soul care. I’m not equating broccoli to soul care; just making a point.
The more troubling question is this: why do we feel guilty when we do rest? By Genesis 2:2-3, God himself rested. By Exodus 20:8, He commanded rest, following his example of working for six days and resting on the seventh, the Sabbath. According to Exodus 20:11, He blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy, or set aside as special. So, if rest is given to us by God, then the proper type of rest should not be linked to guilt.
Maybe the problem comes when we don’t know what we’re resting from. Rest, real rest, is more than just a good nap. It is a respite from the merry-go-round of life. It is stepping away from the fray. It is being still and quiet enough to feel and hear. It is finding our soul care from the One who created us. He created the work that He has given our hands to do; we can rest in Him and allow Him to pour back into our souls the nourishment we need. Then we can pick our work back up and carry on again.
There is no better time to make rest a priority than when you make a big move back to your homeland. You are going to face many changes and countless decisions to be made. That takes energy. There will be new challenges to tackle, and though some will be fun, their composite demand is intense. The merry-go-round has just sped up a notch. This is not your every day run-of-the-mill move across town. Recognize a big move for what it is, even if you consider yourself a mobile globe-trotter.
I am encouraging you, no, actually exhorting you, to rest. How? Rest fully: body, mind, and soul rest. In addition to Sabbath rest, make it a priority to get away for a time. This could be right before you make the final move or right afterward. I'm not telling you a certain length of time because there are lots of factors that determine this. I am encouraging you to make it happen, whether it be a day, a weekend, a week, or more. The best indulgence that my husband and I allowed for ourselves was a few weeks of downtime at a friend's cabin when we flew back from Europe. It gave us time to pace ourselves, to enter slowly and re-engage with our home culture. We were pretty exhausted after packing up everything and saying goodbyes, so the timing was perfect. Rest is needed. Pack up and head out. But fight to leave the guilt behind.
The Higher Calling
He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it, Isaiah 44:14-15
Idolatry can work its way into our everyday lives. There is a subtlety with which this can occur. We go about our business and little by little we become immune to seeing the separation between what we do and what we worship.
Do you see the 'over there' work being a higher calling than what you do 'over here' in our home culture? Has it been idealized to the point of becoming idolatry? We must resist the urge to say that it is better kingdom work there than here. It isn't. It may be unique, but it isn't better. Everywhere we are, we serve the Lord. Be it far away or near, urban or rural, palace or prison, it is a place where God is. That’s the higher calling—to him. It always has been. God uses each and every place and circumstance for His purpose and His glory, if we allow Him to use us and work through us. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss Him.
Tell your stories
Our experiences are meant to be shared. It is in hearing one another's stories that we learn and grow. Be willing to share what your life was like overseas. Humbly share your life and experiences, not for self-gratification, but so others can better understand where you have come from. It will grow you closer to them, expose them to cross-cultural living, and help you process further as you verbalize your experiences. I have a dear group of ladies in my home church who have always been there for me. They pray for me and encourage me, but one of the greatest gifts they give me are listening ears as I share my stories with them. They want to know how I am. They want to know what I’ve been doing and what ministry looked like overseas. It’s been an honor and a privilege to bring sweet friends alongside in my coming and going. I feel supported and loved by them.
Don't forget to listen to others' stories, too. Their lives have also changed while you have been gone. Ask them about it and listen respectfully and compassionately. It will impact you and bring you closer to them to hear all that God has been doing for them. Isn’t sharing with one another part of the beauty of the body of Christ?
Connect with people
Stepping back into the stream of social activity, albeit at a reasonable pace, will help you connect with those around you. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, find ways to begin engaging with people you are just meeting. Re-engage with those you already know. Granted, sometimes it seemed overwhelming to us to begin making friendships again. But we needed to have community around us—it’s crucial for beginning to feel more at home again.
God desires us to be united with one another. Romans 15:5-7 says, "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
Leaning on others allows an exchange of welcoming that points to Christ’s grand welcome. And that brings Him great glory!
Be a learner
Just as going to a new place requires teachability, so does coming back to your home culture. It has changed and so have you. This is a rare and wonderful opportunity to see your own culture with a fresh set of eyes. Most likely, life in another culture has helped you grow as a student of language and culture. You’ve probably awakened to your own ethnocentrism and how deeply culture informs our spiritual sense of reality. What can you learn that you haven't learned before? Take advantage of this moment to enter again with a new perspective, a humble heart, and an open mind.
Embrace the present
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19
When making a transition, it requires a mind shift from where you were to where you are. As you begin to accept what lies ahead, allow God to speak to you in a fresh way. Anticipate what He has for you in the new. Assuming that life will be as it was before can lead to deep disappointments. Some things will be the same, but much will change. You will change. Sure, take time to reflect and praise God for his faithfulness in the past. But eventually, like Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51), resolutely set your face forward and walk with the Father into a new season of life and a new step in your journey of faith. Be ready and eager to grow.