When you return from being a missionary, it takes awhile to transition from your “missionary world” to your “home world.” (Yes, perhaps the greatest under-statement of the year.) Besides the social and environmental adjustments, there are often a lot of emotions to endure as well–some good, some bad, but all of them pretty distracting. You quickly discover that living in two worlds at once is difficult–so you end up picking one and leaving the other one behind–at least for awhile. Sometimes you might move from one to the other or even go back and forth between worlds for awhile.
Sometimes you pick the old world. Usually this happens when your mission experience was mostly positive. The world you’ve returned to is a blur, too much to deal with, or maybe not as fun or meaningful as your mission experience. So you escape through pictures, songs, native food and clothing–anything that makes you feel like you’re still in that world. You miss everything–even the stuff you used to hate. Nothing around you right now can measure up to that experience and those emotional highs. You are constantly trying to communicate with others at your mission site or those who you once served with–through facebook, email, Skype–or maybe even making lots of trips to the Post Office. Though others might think you really need to just move on, and the sooner the better, you will be sure to use the deep lessons of your past to help you face your present and future.
Sometimes you pick the new world. Maybe you had a more difficult experience, or you don’t have the energy or time to deal with the emotions–good or bad–that come with thinking about your mission experience. You avoid looking at pictures for awhile, and for some reason it’s really hard to stay in contact with those you served with or who are still at your mission site. You kind of hope people won’t ask you about your experience, and if they do, you try to pacify them with short, acceptable answers. You might dive into your new world with exhilaration–new friends, new clothes, new classes, new job, new identity. Underneath, you may not feel like you totally fit in this new world yet, but you’re going to try. This can be helpful for awhile, so you can establish yourself firmly in the present, and later go back and try to incorporate the past.
Whichever world you choose will have it’s benefits and draw-backs. Either way, you will probably often feel restless and frustrated. You will misunderstand others and feel misunderstood. You will draw on comfort from the past or hope in the future to help you keep going until one day things feel more normal. Until then, here are a few suggestions for whichever world you are in:
1. Make your relationship with God a priority. Your spiritual life can feel like its in shambles as you transition, but God understands. He wants to journey with you, so keep talking to Him. And He actually has a lot to say in His Word if you’re willing to go there. Ask others to pray for you too.
2. Do your best to communicate to others–in both worlds–what you’re going through, and maybe which world you are camped in for awhile. This can help prevent a lot of misunderstandings, and can actually make you feel more supported.
3. Live in healthy community. The temptation to hide can be super strong, whether that’s isolating or over-socializing. It’s ok to have your season of withdrawing or extroverting for awhile, but healthy community–at least a few good friends who you can be honest with–will keep you on track as you transition.
4. Be patient but keep growing. Take your time in whatever world you’re in for awhile, but eventually you’ll be ready to move on. If you feel like you’re stuck and need help with that–whether it’s facing the past or the present–make it a priority to find it. Counseling is not a four-letter word.
5. This too shall pass. Keep in mind you will feel normal again one day, and you will be able to face both worlds without too much distress. It might be two months from now or two years, but the time itself doesn’t matter as much as the growing and learning through it.
“I have called you back from the ends of the earth so you can serve me. For I have chosen you and will not throw you away.”
Isaiah 41:9 (NLT)