In the Face of Deep Disappointment

by Richelle Wright on February 4, 2013

“Men and women enter ministry for various reasons.  ‘Because I want to be a deep disappointment to others as well as to myself’ is rarely listed among them.”

~ Jeff Manion The Land Between

Why are you, as an international worker, doing what you are doing?

And do you feel as though you are accomplishing what you’ve set out to do? Or do you fear you are not only disappointing yourself, but others as well? Why?

I first read that Manion quote a few weekends ago. It isn’t even a key point in the book. but somehow reading it felt like blowing a tire (which we recently did… twice) on our Land Cruiser – and now I’m working to get that tire fixed and changed so I can move on.

Actually, I started reading this book several months back, but I got distracted and my enthusiasm petered out partway. So I set it aside and promptly forgot about it. Then a few weeks ago, my husband and I were having a “discussion-” tensions are running high and people are a little on edge in our corner of the globe these days- and? It tends to show. Tim asked me what I was reading to both encourage and exhort. Not really wanting to answer his question, I tossed the Manion book vaguely (but gently) in his direction, implying that I was… That was not exactly truthful, for I hadn’t actually opened the book for a couple of months. It wasn’t, technically, a lie, because I had started and not yet finished it and it WAS STILL on the table beside my bed, available for me to pick up and resume reading any day…

I still felt guilty.

So that week I picked it up again – this time determined to finish it, hopefully be encouraged and exhorted… and promptly lurched over that quote.

How much of your time  – as an international worker, parent of TCKs, home schooler, language learner, church planter, disciple, translator, expat spouse, blogger/writer, people rescuer, gopher, fund raiser, friend,  awareness trainer, child of aging parents far away, Jesus follower… place whatever label you want on any of the many things that you do and hats that you wear – do you spend feeling like you’ve not measured up, not done enough, caused more harm than good or failed God, others and yourself, all of whom expected, all of whom deserved, so much more of and from you?

When I first stepped foot on this continent, like most fresh-out-of-the-gate missionaries, I was gung ho and sure:  God was going to use me for great things. I was available, good at what I did and I had no doubt I’d really impact people in this community as I lived serving Him and loving others. The icing on the cake would be that we’d look like that cool missionary family who always at least seemed to have it mostly all together.

That illusion lasted all of about 8.3 days.

And actually, lately, I’m acutely aware of how I rarely ever EVER measure up…

  • in the eyes of my local friends and colleagues – to some impossibly perfect and totally hypothetical missionary created from memories of someone here before me… a “mythological” Gladys Aylward, Isabel Crawford, Mother Theresa and Helen Roseveare all rolled into one;
  • in my eyes – to my own preconceived ideas of who I’d be, how I’d act and how much I’d be able to accomplish and how quickly and efficiently I’d get it done; or
  • in the eyes of family, friends and partners back home – to some image I’ve tried to carefully craft so that others would be impressed and therefore want to continue teaming up with us.

Whether it be in service, in time available, in ministry, in language or in how I relate to the person standing beside me that moment, I  often wonder if I’m not just falling short of some impossible standard I’ve set for myself, I’m also disappointing others.

Such disappointment deflates because:

  1. I do care what others think. I do want people to be happy with me. I like it when others label me “competent,” and just maybe, they are the tiniest bit impressed, with me or my family or my ministry.
  2. Recognizing number one above spotlights clearly that I’m still wrapped in concern for my own reputation and how I present myself to others…

And maybe that’s the point.

I need to stop worrying and striving to portray an image of me that I want people to believe and remember

…so that I am completely available to “put on” Jesus and more truly represent Him,

after all, don’t I want people to believe and remember Him?

I adjust my perspective.

I admit that apart from God I am inadequate for the task.

I stop worrying about what other people think of me.

Instead, I begin to concentrate on obedience and what God thinks of me.

**************************

As an international worker, how do you combat discouragement and the fear of disappointing those with whom you work and those to whom you minister? 

Do you feel as though you are accomplishing what you set out to do? Or do you fear you are not only disappointing yourself, but others as well? Why?

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Ooftah Richelle. (that’s Minnesotan for wowsers). Did you climb into my brain/emotions? This is so hard for me, to not judge or praise or assign value the way the world does. Yes and Amen to this reminder today that I must decrease and he must increase. Thank you for being honest about your own struggle too.

    • ooftah, hmmmm…??? i like that. am i allowed in incorporate Minnesotan into my vocab?

      glad to know i’m not the only one who struggles with this sorta stuff. 🙂

  • Beth Bo.

    Mmmhmm. Hit the nail on the head, Richelle!

    • Actually, I must’ve somehow had my toe on my nail head, then – çause writing this one was stepping all over my toes. 😉

  • Nancy Brown

    Submit this one to WOTH!

  • yes. i’m not an international anything, but it hits me right between my home school mama eyes.

    after years of letting others’ names and labels stick to me and define my identity, i am purposing to not only flush those down the toilet, but listen to the one name i *know* i have been given: LOVED.

    and if my life still looks a little untucked around the edges … well, maybe God uses the weak things, right?

    • Hi Kelli ~ so glad you popped over, international or not! As an international home school mama, it seems to apply equally to both situations.

      Aren’t we thankful God uses the weak things, works through us in spite of us sometimes?

  • Needed that. Thanks. :o)

  • Everything you said. Every. Single. Day.

    Period.

    I’d like to say it drives me to “do better” and to “compete with myself to improve”. But that’s not true. It just wears me out. The clique “Those who care to criticize don’t matter, and those who matter don’t care to criticize” doesn’t help very much. I can shoot holes in any clique you throw at me.

    I sometimes say, “Hi. I’m Angie. I’m a recovering perfectionist.” But there’s the irony. If you give a perfectionist 12 steps they will accomplish them flawlessly… yet still feel they are a complete disaster.

    Usually if I am facing discouragement I need to pull myself away from myself and get with strong people who love me. Yes, and put aside ‘image management’, like you say. So hard to do! Especially when if would seem that the livelihood of the work depends on maintaining a positive image in the eyes of supporters. I tell myself: If they really knew ‘this-or-that’ and ‘this-and-such’ who knows what disastrous end would ensue?!?! Slippery stuff, my dear Richelle, slippery stuff.

    • I forgot to mention that not long ago I discovered that my greatest fear is: that I will be a disappointment. Yep. So, um, I get you.

      • So I laughed – recovering perfectionists recovering perfectly… seems redundant but actually it can be quite detrimental. Does that mean we need to recover much less than perfectly? 😉

        I’m a pleaser, too – so the compelling need to make people happy combined with needing to do so perfectly or impeccably is a heavy yoke. That is probably what exhausts me more than anything else in this expat life. I don’t seem to be quite so bound to the need to measure up back home… quite…

        I wonder if a contributing factor to that is the higher baseline stress level in my life when I’m living overseas?

  • Just. yes. The internal dialogue I had all day as I struggled to clean house and prepare for guests and get laundry done on a sunny day was this. exactly. Thinking of all my local friends shaking their heads at the ridiculous amount of clothing we have and therefore have to wash. Thinking of the embarrassment of having to call my neighbor to clean our drain pipe because someone got lazy and flushed toilet paper. Thinking about how I still can’t remember how to say lizard in Spanish. Worried about our guests and their comfort level and our plans for their time here and what they will think of us….and if I will accomplish what I set out to accomplish before we leave for furlough at the end of the month. And, and, and…..taking a deep breath now and digging in to a bit of the Word before I take up my post at the washing machine again.

    • I don’t know what is harder to swallow – the not measuring up to my expat colleagues or not measuring up to what my local friends and colleagues think I should be. and there is some of that, for sure – but I’m also afraid the majority of those fears are ones I conjure up myself – tacking what are really my expectations onto someone else – you know?

      Do mamas of more than one ever escape that washing machine post? 😉

      • I definitely think a lot of it is my own expectations. The whole clean house, clean floor thing though freaks me out. I feel like the neighbors are constantly walking past and “tsk, tsk”-ing my unmopped floors. My Dad used to tell me that my worst habit was beating myself over the head with my own measuring stick. I think that’s probably an accurate estimation. A life in missions give you a few extra yards of stick to beat yourself up with. It’s so nice, though, to be able to talk about it openly with people who get it. Love this space and all of you who share here. It really is growing into such a great community.

  • Incredibly well said. When I read stuff like this I usually think to myself, “Glad I’m not the only one.” Why is it that we think we’re the only ones who feel like this when there are obviously a lot of people who resonate with this?

    • i think it is one of those spiritual battles we are going to face every day – the idea that “i’m all alone in this struggle” or “something must be wrong with me because i seem to be the only one who finds this hard” is a huge cause of discouragement, burnout… giving up. that is not what God wants….

  • Yes.

    I feel this is as someone who works overseas, who works with the church and lately, as someone in an intercultural marriage. Trying NOT to freak out about pleasing my in-laws and my constant fear that they are judging the messiness of our house or the pile of dishes or the way I cook food.

    Sometimes it feels like my differences as a foreigner here read to me as failures or ways that I fall short. In reality, I should see them as ways in which I am different, not less. That is easier said than done most days, especially when it comes to matters of language learning.

    thanks for sharing.

    • i can’t imagine the struggles in an intercultural marriage. my husband and i, in many senses, came from two very different worlds but at least the same country, same heart language, mostly similar sets of values – and i still struggle with what his dad thinks of me or if he really approves of me – deep down inside.

      i love what you said about seeing those differences simply as differences – not ways that you fall short. all of those differences can also be great openers leading to dialogue…

      thank you for jumping into this conversation. 🙂

  • This is so encouraging. I often find myself thinking there is no way I could ever be overseas long term until I feel “good enough” or capable of holding up some image of perfection I have of other overseas missionaries. This breaks down much of that. Thanks for your honesty…feeling freer!

    • Gladys Alyward is one of my “heroes,” (hence why she’s referenced in this post… 🙂 If you’ve never read her story, i’d encourage you to. here’s what she had to say… and i think it relates to your comment:

      “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China… I don’t know who it was… It must have been a man… a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing… and God looked down… and saw Gladys Aylward… And God said – “Well, she’s willing.”

      • ohmy, i love that quote from her. . . . so good on so many levels.

    • I agree Courtney.

      I love the FREEDOM that comes when we release expectation and results to the God who is writing the story in the first place. This is a beautiful place to be.
      Thanks, Richelle– your words are always so inspiring!

  • Great blog ! I spend so much of my day worried I’m not doing “enough” for God for the donors, etc. that I drive myself crazy. It’s nice to know im not the only one out there feeling this way !

    • nope- i think most of us feel this way, at least at times! thanks for popping in and adding to the conversation.

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