I’m going to write something that may be controversial. Your life as a missionary is in many ways probably a lot harder than it would have been had you never left your home country. I say that this might be controversial because I join with many of you in believing that we as missionary women need to be so very careful not to get caught up in “the grass is always greener” fantasies about life back "home." I think these fantasies, which many of them really are just fantasies and not reality at all, can damage our contentedness while on the field. Many things are in fact harder in the States! The grass is not green anywhere other than in heaven! It’s dying everywhere on this fallen earth.
BUT, I do want to write in hopes of helping to free some of us from feelings of defeat that are common to us as missionary moms when we sometimes look at our day/week/month/year… and wonder, how on earth is this that ALL that we’ve managed to do?! One thing that I do think is generally true is that we get to enjoy more conveniences in the US and therefore can often do more in less time there. Now we're on the overseas mission field, with a huge passion to see much supernatural eternity-changing transformation, yet at times it is all that we can do to keep up with the basics. Sometimes we can’t even do that without help!
I remember a revelation during our first year overseas. In my previous life in the States, I was all about time management and efficiency. I also loved to multi-task. I tried to carry these values over to life here in Russia and within a couple of months I was DEAD TIRED. I had been thinking things like “Oh, my daughter needs a walk and we need groceries. We’ll walk to the grocery store and play a bit on the way home and, bingo, I’ve lumped both needs into one trip. Time saved!” But this simplification left me laying on the living-room floor feeling like I was going to die by 7:30pm at night. What was wrong with me?!
Well, I had failed to factor things in like the stress of a language, the stress not knowing what things were in the grocery store, the work of trying to figure out what to cook with such unfamiliar foods, the challenge of trying to figure out how to quickly bag my own groceries, the added physical work of having to carry the stroller/child/groceries up and down multiple flights of stairs, the stress of trying to keep my newly walking little one away from the broken glass strewn all about on the playground, the stress of being scolded by strangers for my child being inappropriately dressed for the weather (despite my best attempts to do what was culturally right)…. All of these little things add up into a huge amount of energy spent that I just didn’t think to factor into my “walk+groceries=time saved” equation.
It was just too much stress at once. I eventually realized that I needed to change my value from “time saved” to “energy saved.” I had to accept that to save energy, I likely was going to need to spend time, multi-task less, and drastically adjust my expectations on how much could get done in a day.
Of course now that we’re in our 8th year overseas, these stresses have significantly lessened, but in all honesty, life does just take more energy than if I were to do the same things in my home culture. Sometimes I still forget that as I calculate my capacity for a given day. The language is still not my own, I’m still not a cultural insider, appliances and things around the house are still poorer quality and break all of the time, we go through longer seasons without common conveniences (hot-water, a vehicle, a dryer…), we don’t have the support of extended family, etc. I forget about these things all of the time because I truly love my life here and would not trade it, BUT, it does affect how much I can do in a day’s time.
(Doing dishes in the bathtub... The water in our kitchen had a habit of going out frequently for a season, so dish-doing at that time was quite a time-consuming task.)
Sometimes when I look at my friends’ lives back home via facebook, or when I read blogs, or see things that people have posted from Pintrest, I feel defeated and wonder, “Why can’t I do things like that?” God kindly has been reminding me lately that one of the sacrifices that He has asked me to make in order to serve Him here and to receive the many blessing of this life on the overseas mission field is that of efficiency. I have often fought feelings of frustration about my reduced capacity here, yet when I think of it rightly, I remember that God called me here and He is the one who gave me the capacity that I have and allows for life to be as time and energy consuming as it is. My all, no matter how small I may feel that it is, is enough for my Almighty God who is more than able to make it count greatly for eternity.
Have you noticed a shift in your prioritization of time/energy since moving overseas? How have your average daily tasks changed as compared to your life back in the States?
(Also, check out this great post by Laura Parker. It has some very interesting things to say about the average stress levels of missionaries.)