This I Used To Believe

by Lisa McKay on January 14, 2013

National Public Radio in the USA used to do a segment called This I Believe, featuring short pieces on people’s most passionate and strongly held beliefs. The essays that resulted from this project span topics ranging from life as an act of literary creation to being nice to the pizza delivery guy. They are united only by the clarity and conviction each writer brings to their chosen topic.

My husband and I were talking about these stories one day when we decided to flip the premise around and discuss things that we used to believe.

There were a lot of these things. Some of these changes in belief were pretty fundamental to faith and identity. And more than a few of these changes were sparked by living overseas.

You don’t need to live overseas to grow and change. Life has a way of confronting us with differences in perspective and practice, giving us opportunities to learn new things, and inviting us to grow in empathy no matter where we’re living.

Moving overseas, however, tends to accelerate this process of change. When everything around you changes it is almost impossible not to change, too. If you open yourself at all to your new culture you will gain new ideas about what’s “normal”, and new ways of understanding right and wrong, honor and shame.

This will, over time, change some of your beliefs about yourself, life, others, and God.

Sometimes our beliefs change suddenly, much the way an earthquake alters the landscape or re-routes a river in one formative instant. Traumatic events, sudden loss, and massive life changes are often the catalysts for these sorts of sudden shifts in beliefs.

More often, though, our beliefs change slowly, in the manner of a river eroding its banks or an oil tanker changing course. These sorts of changes happen so gradually that they only become clear only when you check your rearview mirror or raise your eyes to see a different vista stretching out in front of you.  

Most of my own belief changes have happened like this – incrementally. Here are 10 things I used to believe, six moves, 15 years, and another lifetime ago.

  1. That I knew a fair few of the “right” answers to life’s big questions.
  2. That only people who said “The Sinners Prayer” and “accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior” would go to heaven.
  3. That talking people into saying The Sinners Prayer was more important than talking with them.
  4. That that which does not kill you makes you stronger.
  5. That you only really ever have one home.
  6. That living somewhere for three whole years would mean that you really understand a place and its people.
  7. That staying put in your home culture was the easier, safer (and therefore always second-best) option.
  8. That access to good hospitals isn’t really that important.
  9. That the tougher, more remote, or dangerous the place that you lived, the more cool points you earned.
  10. That cool points really mattered in the grand scheme of life.

What are some of your “this I used to believe” statements?
For those of you who live overseas, how has living cross-culturally changed your beliefs?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Website: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

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About Lisa McKay

Lisa McKay is a psychologist and the award-winning author of the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email, the novel My Hands Came Away Red, and several books on long distance relationships. She lives in Laos with her husband and their two sons.
  • M. H.

    I used to believe that life always worked for the best possible scenario in my own mind, and that God’s plans for my life matched my own. I used to believe I could trust anyone, even those I did not know well. I used to believe that all humans are born “good” and that “evil” is taught.
    This is a great subject, and I really enjoyed reading this article. Although I have never lived overseas (I have never even been out of America), I did have a pretty “smack in the face” lifestyle change when I met my husband.. Before I met him, my parents paid my bills (it was a stipulation in my going to college). When I met him, I knew I wanted a life with him, and ended up dropping out of college. Since I was no longer in college, my parents stopped paying my bills. For the first time ever, I had to “fend for myself.” Looking back, I would never change this, but it did change a lot of my beliefs. I realized I could not trust everyone, and some people will take advantage of kindness. I did not stop being kind because of this change, but I became more cautious about who I trusted. I learned who I could truly lean on for support, and who had taken advantage of my generosity. Later in life, I began reading my Bible again, and realized that humans (because of Adam’s and Eve’s sin) are inherently evil, and being good is actually more difficult for us (in general). This does not mean we should ever give up trying to be good, but it does explain why people find it so easy to accept certain “excuses” for behavior that is wrong. I have learned a lot in the last 10 years, but all of that added to what I thought I knew before has made me into who I am now. I would not change a thing 🙂

    • “I used to believe that all humans are born “good” and that “evil” is taught.”So interesting. I think I used to believe almost the opposite … that humans are born “bad” and that “good” has to be taught. After watching the theatrics of my 15 month old son on a regular basis I’m not sure WHAT I think on this front anymore.

      • um… that we are created in the image of God with sinful natures – so there’s some of both inherent… and there’s much of both learned and fashioned???

        • This morning while I was watching my precious firstborn bang his head on the tile floor after I told him I wouldn’t turn on the TV I figured out how to phrase it in it’s purest form … that we are born willful.

  • Love this post. Living oversees (for 2 and a half years so far) has changed my belief’s a lot. Meeting the truly poor has changed my belief’s on how much the government should be involved, and it has certainly made me stop criticizing poor people or complaining about my taxes. Living oversees shattered my view of Calvinism completely because none of my reasons for unbelief held true oversees. Living oversees made me quit believing everyone who never heard of Jesus was going to hell.

    In other ways,it has led me less afraid of people who are different, okay with odd balls in my house, and more flexible.

    Living oversees has not cured all the selfishness in my heart, but it has certainly made me think twice before I act on it.

    • Love this comment Lana, particularly “Living oversees made me quit believing everyone who never heard of Jesus was going to hell.” Also the part about helping you build in that crucial “before acting” pause.

      This I used to believe … that one day I wouldn’t be selfish.

      • MarianneElliott

        It was the teaching that only those who have chosen Christ as their personal saviour will be reconciled to God that made it impossible for me to follow in my parents’ footsteps as a Christian. I have never been able to believe that my devout Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and other colleagues were destined to an eternity separated from God.
        I used to believe that if I traveled enough, met enough people, ask enough questions – then I would find ‘the’ path to God myself.

  • I used to believe, like you, Lisa, that talking someone into saying a prayer was more important than talking with them, engaging in their stories, listening.

    I also used to believe that if I did it “right” my kids would thus turn out “right”.

    I used to believe that the Bible was more of a constitutional legal document and less of a Divine Story.

    Lisa, you have done it again, my friend. Spoken truth in a powerfully honest way. THANK YOU.

    • I, too, used to believe the Bible was more how-to manual and less … nuanced.

  • Each one of us, if we were honest, could probably write our own books on this topic, eh?

    I also used to believe that convincing someone to say a prayer was more important than entering their world, understanding their story, seeing life from their perspective so that we could dialogue… and then maybe God would change a heart (more often than not, He’s changing mine and I’m trusting that the other person is at least journeying nearer to Him as a result).

    I used to believe that the safest place to be was the center of God’s will until I understood that God and I define safety quite differently.

    I used to believe that my job as a parent was to protect my children from harm at all cost. I sometimes wish I could still believe that…

    I used to think that there could be nothing (or at the most very little) true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy in animistic, indigenous cultures.

    I used to think that Jesus was a lot like me, only a lot better.

    • Courtney

      I love your comment on being in the center of God’s will and that Jesus was a lot like me, only a lot better…. i can totally agree!

    • “God and I define safety quite differently.” Ha ha ha ha! <– Me laughing out loud. Love it, Richelle!

    • “God and I define safety quite differently.” LOVE it. Yeah. This one trips me up in church a lot during singing time. I often end up thinking about famines and the like when I’m singing about how nothing compares to the glory of knowing God and how nothing can harm us. It can get … distracting.

      • yeah – and wrote that BEFORE i dropped kids off at schools where there are now armed guards nearby – for all institutions where, due to events in the country next door (and expected/threatened reprisals), expats are all on high alert… honestly, some days i’m quite ready to gather my chicks and fly this coop.

        • Yeah. Sigh. I get that. May all your precious chicks, little and big, be safe.

  • Courtney Orrange

    I used to believe that I would gladly suffer for God’s glory. That I would happily don the warrior gear and pray my way through it with lessons learned and quick wisdom to dispense afterwards. I have learned that I will suffer but there isn’t an excitement to do so. That it’s excruciatingly hard. That it’s…suffering. Not a game. And that I may not stomp my way through it but it will be suffering. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. That when Paul talked about suffering it was no joke. And that it doesn’t mean God loves me less.

    • Yup. This is so good, Courtney!

    • Amen. I also used to believe that there needed to be some element of suffering in things for them to be “good”.

      • MarianneElliott

        And I likewise used to believe that there needed to be some element of suffering in my life for me to be ‘good’.

    • MarianneElliott

      Amen. Beautifully put Courtney. I used to believe that suffering was the price I had to pay to balance the unfairness of being born into such a privileged life. Now I think suffering comes with the ‘being human’ gig and doesn’t earn me anything other than being ever more human.

  • Just finished re-reading ‘Poisonwood Bible’. Have you read it? I read it first before I boarded a plane with my husband, our 3 children ages 3 and under, all our worldly possessions in a dozen Rubbermaid crates, and one way tickets in hand to a land we first thought was in Europe but later discovered was in South America. Now, reading it after a decade of unraveling and unbelieving concepts I once mistook as invincible titanium cord, I can understand how the father ended up the way he did. I get the mother and her unsettled ways. It’s fiction. Yes. But it speaks oceans of truth to the human nature when our beliefs are challenged.

    I used to believe that bigger was better. I used to believe faster was better. I used to believe most missionaries were exemplary human beings, me included… ha!

    Thanks for a great post, Lisa. I think you are dripping with cool points, lady. 😉

    • I have read Poisonwood Bible. I remember it being disturbing, and sad, because it rang so true and so possible and it said so many things that none of us who call ourselves Christian would want to be true.

      “I used to believe most missionaries were exemplary human beings.” Love it. Me too. Same for humanitarian workers.

      And thanks for the vote on the cool points. Possibly I’d feel cooler right now if I wasn’t fighting off morning sickness and I’d brushed my hair today. But maybe not. 🙂

      • Wait, morning sickness?!?! Did I miss that you are pregnant? Or . . . is there another morning sickness? 🙂

        And btw, I think you can totally still be cool with messy hair. Seems like famous people do that alll the time

        • Nope, I’m pregnant. In a weird turn of events I accidentally broke the news early last week … on CNN. I was being interviewed about my feelings about motherhood.

          http://www.lisamckaywriting.com/im-pregnant-take-two/
          Surprise!

          • Congratulations!! I just stopped by your blog and read the announcement! And I totally want to see the CNN clip– can we find it anywhere? Hillarious.

            Congrats again on new life– so wonderful. 🙂

          • Here’s the link straight to the article. http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/08/living/pregnancy-advice-ireport/index.html. Thanks. Yes. It is wonderful, even if these icky early weeks make you forget that sometimes.

          • How exciting!!!

            Congratulations and may you have grace and lots of rest in these early months. Hair brushing with young ones growing, either inside or outside – is totally optional as is teeth brushing (toothpaste could make it that much worse, sometimes)!

          • Oh, gosh. Glad I haven’t reacted that way to toothpaste. Almost the opposite, thankfully. Feeling like I have clean teeth helps. It’s such an icky time, though, this constant feeling seasick. Not loving it.

          • Oh, I have another one. Yeah. “This I used to believe … that pregnant women GLOWED.”

          • I read about your pregnancy on that CNN link a few days back and am jumping in on the congratulations a bit late, but – congratulations! I feel your morning sickness pain. For some terrible reason I found it helpful to keep a tally of how many times I vomited. Made me feel cool. Or tough. Or something. Or maybe because that was about all I could accomplish in a day I felt like I had at least accomplished SOMEthing!

          • That comment was from me. Internet issues…

          • Aha. Mystery Guest solved. Thanks Rachel. Man … I hope things don’t get that bad this time around. Throwing up multiple times a day just seems so … wrong. Serious design flaws in THAT system, if you ask me. But then again, I think there are some serious design flaws in the whole system of pregnancy and birth. Hope your internet comes and stays for a while. It’s frustrating when it drops in and out.

          • i’m one of those people who can’t throw up to save my life… i would feel so nauseated i’d curl up in a ball by the toilet, trying to eek what cool i could off the tile floor and beg God to let me throw up, just for a few minutes of relief…

          • Ugh. That’s just so miserable. There’s nothing fun about severe nausea, and it’s just one of those things that mind over matter can’t conquer usually either. Endurance all the way.

          • I read about your pregnancy on that CNN link a few days back and am jumping in on the congratulations a bit late, but – congratulations! I feel your morning sickness pain. For some terrible reason I found it helpful to keep a tally of how many times I vomited. Made me feel cool. Or tough. Or something. Or maybe because that was about all I could accomplish in a day I felt like I had at least accomplished SOMEthing! (been trying to post for a while but our internet keeps going in and out…)

          • Laura, don’t miss the follow up post where she, or rather her friend, revels the gender of the precious new child: http://www.lisamckaywriting.com/it-seems-were-having-another-boy/ I shared it with my husband and we were cracking up together. Then we began the fun reminiscing about when infants inhabited our house… oddly, we couldn’t remember much. 🙂 Ha! Too many sleepless nights makes for poor recollection. So we had a creative walk down memory lane.

          • You mean the sleeplessness will end someday? I can’t fathom that at present.

          • still waiting, here…

          • I hear that once they start doing things like driving and dating that the sleeplessness returns. As for this interim period I can safely report that you will know a full night’s sleep once again.

  • Carolyn Yoder

    I used to think that living overseas was a sacrifice, that I’d miss so much cool stuff at home. Now I know how rick I am for having left the security of home.

    Loved this post, Lisa! Thanks.

    • Carolyn Yoder

      Ha! Freudian slip!……”how rick I am”……..for “how rich I am.” I met my husband, Rick, while on my first overseas stint in the Middle East! Yes, how rich I am!

      • Love it. Yes. I’m getting to miss some of that stuff at home more. But I know what you mean about being rich in unexpected ways because you’ve dated to leave.

    • so true!

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  • Just got around to reading this. The cool points statement cracked me up. You might not feel like it, but seen from my safe home culture bubble, you have a lot of cool points, Lisa.

    • This is the latest reply ever (because I’m just now coming back to reading this myself) but … thanks 🙂

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  • Joy_F

    I used to believe the conservative rhetoric in the States about welfare and that there were all these “unworthy” people out there just living off the government.

    Then I volunteered in an inner-city housing project and couldn’t find a single one. These were people who life had dealt a bad hand of cards to. There was so much deep pain there I left shaken.

    I used to believe the stereotypes of Muslims portrayed in the US media.

    And then I came to Asia and met them. And they were nothing like I had been taught to believe. Instead I was treated with grace and hospitality.

    I thought Creationism was really important until a Chinese pastor asked me why.

    Now I think it’s far more important to listen and know people. And that God asked us to go sometimes as much for our own benefit and journey as anyone else’s.

    • I loved these examples. Thanks for sharing.

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