“Help! I’ve Fallen off the Pedestal and Now it’s Crushing Me!”

by Editor on October 3, 2014

Pedestals. They’re built high and they fall hard. In this guest post Carole Sparks takes us into the anatomy of a fall. It’s not an easy story but the redemption is there and it is sweet. May you hear these words today and know that there is “no hierarchy in the kingdom.” You can read more about Carole at the end of the post.

Greece (67a)

Help—I’ve fallen off my pedestal and now it’s crushing me! 

On leaving the field

We moved overseas to follow that noblest of callings.  Everyone thought we were great, amazing, uber-Christians.  Even those outside of our religious circles thought we were super-awesome to move halfway around the world with our young children on this grand adventure.  Our training did nothing to quash those ideas.  I remember phrases like “called-out ones” and “specially chosen.”  They said, “If God called you, He will equip you to learn the language.” and “God is already at work there.  You are just joining Him.”  And even though our mouths said, “Hey, we’re just normal people, taking the next step in God’s will,” our hearts just knew there was something special about us.  Otherwise, why would God have called us?

But I started building my pedestal a long time before we bought extra-large suitcases.  As a child, missionaries were my heroes.  They were mysterious—speaking a language I couldn’t understand and proficiently using chopsticks.  They were glamorous—taking the attention of the entire church, where everyone listened with rapt attention.  They were noble—sacrificing all ‘for the sake of the call.’  Oh, if only I could be one of them . . . if only I could stand in front of a church and everyone listen to ME!!

We arrived on the field full of vision and idealism.  What others had started, we would finish!  If it took two years or twenty, we were in it for the long haul, ready to plant our lives among our people group, to follow Christ’s pattern of incarnationality and Paul’s “all things to all men” philosophy.  Our exit strategy said, “When workers are no longer needed in this place, we will leave.”

We learned language . . . mostly in our own strength, supplemented by God’s response to the prayers of those who loved us and remembered us.  We learned a little about how to share Truth and a lot about how NOT to share Truth.  Somewhere along the way, we came to realize that we really weren’t anything special.  If anything, we were the weak ones, called out so that God could get even more glory.  But the people back home still thought we were a couple of levels above the norm.

Just before we returned to the US for a six-month stateside assignment, God blessed us with some encouraging stories.  So we ‘poured out our passion’ to as many groups as we could fit into our time in the US, sharing those stories and challenging people to pray—even to come and join us in the work.  We thought we were thriving.  Without a doubt, we were good at the promotional aspects of mission work.  People laughed; people cried.  They told us that we were the most interesting missionaries they had ever heard.  They gave us money.  It was everything I had dreamed of as a child.

Within two weeks of returning to our assignment, however, things began to fall apart.  A trusted friend had warned us about second-term culture shock, but it just never went away.  And we had not rested (spiritually or physically) while we were stateside.  Obstacle after obstacle pelted our family:  many small things and a few big things.  After less than a year, we fled for counseling, where we patched our spirits up, established stronger boundaries, and cried.  At least I cried . . . a lot.  But when we jumped back into culture and service, we felt restless, unsettled.  We searched our hearts for some sin to confess but found none that renewed our contentment.  We hung on, waiting out the trials because a change was coming.  That change passed.  New workers were coming.  They came.  The sense of discontent just got stronger.  Still, we held on.  We were committed to this people and this work.  Plus, people depended on us to be ‘their’ missionaries.  They prayed for us.  They gave to support us.  How could we abandon all that?

I had quietly but most assuredly fallen from my pedestal.  I was not the mysterious, glamorous, noble missionary that I had dreamed of being.  I was a broken, middle-aged woman with fragile children and few ‘success stories’ to share.  I lay there under my pedestal as it crushed my lungs and prevented me from voicing my disillusionment . . . my failure.

There are many reasons that we came ‘home’ (I use quotation marks because it still doesn’t feel like home.  People say it never will be ‘home’ again.  I’ve been ruined for ‘home’ until we get to Heaven.)  Ultimately, God either called us to come back or released us to come back.  Or both.

I share this story to let you know that the pedestal is punishing.  It holds you to standards that are not God’s, and it isolates you from those who love you.  Kick it out from under you.  Kick it far, far away.  Missionaries are no more ‘called’ than anyone else who obeys God’s direction for his or her life:  teachers, doctors, steel workers, pastors, truck drivers, baristas, lawyers.  There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom.  There are simply those who obey and those who don’t.

I have no doubt that God called us overseas and that He used us for the full six-and-a-half years we lived there, my personal motives notwithstanding.  Whatever God gives us to do next and wherever He takes us, we will be operating in our giftedness (which comes from Him), not in our sense of noble sacrifice or our desire for attention.  It’s time for us to back out of that ‘professional Christian’ status, to simply live out the Christ-life as people who love Him, each other, and those around us.  It’s time for us to focus more on His glory than ours.  Francis Chan said it well in Crazy Love (44-45):

It doesn’t really matter what place you find yourself in right now.  Your part is to bring Him glory—whether eating a sandwich on a lunch break, drinking coffee at 12:04 a.m. so you     can stay awake to study, or watching your four-month-old take a nap.

The point of your life is to point to Him.  Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His.

Have has the pedestal held you to standards that are not God’s? How has it isolated you from those who love you? 

Carole and her husband have twice found themselves “walking Jesus” in coastal African cities—the second time with two small children.  Now, in something resembling a Christian mid-life crisis, they are beginning again (hopefully with a little more wisdom) and watching God work even as they re-prepare.  Carole can be found blogging about whatever God puts into her mind at http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.

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  • Sometimes the family of faith feels like the dysfunctional family I grew up in, needing someone to be a hero, to prove to itself that it’s really okay. If we can have this wonderfully successful hero-person in our family, it validates us, and lets us overlook the craziness. After all, if we’re doing such fabulous X, we don’t need to be too worried about scary Y over in the corner. Here’s the thing. We say our lives are all about grace and glory, but if we read our behavior as a language (and I think we should!) a lot times our lives are really more about work and more work. (Even Francis Chan, drinking coffee at midnight. Lie down and sleep in peace, buddy. God’s got it. It’s okay.) Maybe we all need to collectively believe that our work is going to get us someplace, hence the pedestal? And there are so many, many pedestals: the blogging pedestal, the speaking pedestal, the parenting pedestal. Anyway, I think we all collude in the pedestal-building business. It’s a huge industry in the world of faith, and we are deeply invested in it. Thanks for talking about this, Carole.

    • Richelle Wright

      I used to struggle with a ton with the parenting pedestal… especially was we traveled to churches, speaking a different place every weekend, raising our support. People did evaluate and judge our family based on how our kids acted, responded and behaved… as well as what we, then, as parents did or how we responded to our children in that very public setting. The best thing I ever did was started practicing parenting based off of what was best for my child in the moment… not what was best for me, our impression at a particular church, or for those other people in the vicinity. Jumping off that pedestal, being authentic with our kids but also with those who then questioned why we did/didn’t has been so good for us as a family… and freeing for me personally. Now… if I could just extricate myself from some of those other pedestals I and others have built for me…

      Great post, Carole!

      • Carole

        Richelle (and Kay), that phrase “freeing for me personally” reminds me of an insightful book on this topic: Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. It’s one of those books that you need to read a little, ponder, read a little more, until you work all the way through it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God used it to help me loosen the straightjacket of expectations–both external and internal. Thanks for your comments.

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  • C Anderson

    E.G.O. – Easing God Out. The day I realized humility – not being more than, not being less than – meant never having to be humiliated and always being in the right place with God – which for me is in His lap – was one of the greatest days of my life. Now I refuse to let others lift me up or put me down. I stay right in the middle and I stay right-sized.

  • Jewel Landis

    What you say there about “second-term culture shock”, I would be interested in hearing more about it? What characterizes it? What are some other peoples experiences, etc. I’m guessing that it is typified by a discouragement that comes from ‘falling off the pedestal’, from not having the respect of the fellow works that you thought you had, from returning and the position that you had had before was shaken, or what? Does it come more from ‘internal’ staff stress, or from ‘native’ stress? Has anyone written on the subject?

  • As a “full-time” Christian who has lived a lot of life ex-pat and never as a missionary–oh my, but could I say a lot about this. From different eyes. Thank you, Carole, for writing what you have here. Blessings on your onward journey.

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