Are You Using Missions as a Free Pass?

A hand reaches out.

I can see it coming, and I wince and turn away. I resist.

It feels like it’s asking me for more, and I don’t have any more to give.

I am so, so tired.

I argue back, “Don’t you know that I’ve done enough? Look at where I am right now! Take a look around, how much more can you possibly ask for? I’ve already given up my house, my car, my clothes, my food, my comfort, my friends, my residency, my career. I’ve made sacrifices not many others have made.”

Yes, it’s true. As a missionary I’ve given up a lot of big things, some easily visible things. We all have. Things that people congratulate us for, pity us for, look at us with amazement for, applaud us for, idolize us for, and sometimes even bring us up onto stage and call us heroes for (grits teeth in uneasiness at the memory).

When I first moved overseas, it was easier to shrug off all the “hero talk” and see it for what it was: the Western church’s idolization of missions. Plus, I figured that I was still pretty fresh on the field in comparison to others and hadn’t yet “done” anything that warranted that sort of attention or praise (as if there were some sort of threshold?).

In the beginning, when I was new to the missionary field, these “sacrifices” didn’t seem like all that big of a deal. They came with the job title; they were part of the package. Don’t get me wrong, walking away from the home where my husband and I had begun our married life was hard. Giving up being close to friends and family stung. Letting go of the sense of stability that came from a steady job that paid the bills was downright frightening.

But the thing is, I’d known those changes were coming, and I’d prepared myself as much as anyone could. I was willing to give them up, and so I opened my hands in release. And in a moment, they were gone. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking back at everything that was behind me because there was so much exciting stuff in front of me.

But then came the reality of our life abroad, and with it came…

  • Loss of security, when we were robbed the first day in our new home in our new community.
  • Loss of competence, as I realized I couldn’t even do something as simple as buy groceries without feeling completely overwhelmed and lost.
  • Loss of closeness, as I felt isolated and alone on a campus of hundreds of people.
  • Loss of control, as schedules changed overnight and job descriptions that I’d once built so many expectations on were shredded before my eyes.
  • Loss of comforts, as I realized there was not a decent dark chocolate bar for miles with which to ease all my emotional woes.
  • Loss of respect, as I navigated being a woman in a more overtly patriarchal society.
  • Loss of identity, as I struggled to figure out how I fit into this new role.
  • Loss of trust, as I struggled underneath the weight of another gut-wrenching betrayal.

The more that I sensed I was losing on the field of missions, the more pain I felt, and the more I longed to find comfort and an end to all of the stretching and pulling, aching, crying, suffering, and grief. The more I lost, the more I began to agree with those church folks back home.

From an outsider’s perspective looking in, it all might seem very reasonable. In the world’s eyes I’ve done enough, more than enough. It certainly appears like I’ve given it all over to Him. But all of these things, the “big” ones that the world tells us are the “hard ones” to give up, the ones that make you somehow superhuman in the eyes of many of your fellow congregants? They are nothing in comparison to the silent war raging inside my heart. The world might be distracted by the collage of exotic looking photos I share in newsletters and the statistics that go into the annual reports, but He knows there’s still so much more to be done, so much more I have yet to surrender to Him.

He knows how I cling to my pride and how I let anxieties rule my thoughts. He knows my tendency to bow down to the opinions of others and how often I lift myself up as I cling to the law. He knows when I let my love for efficiency and being right win out over building relationships.

Yes, the Lord knows all that I still fiercely hold onto deep in the far corners of my heart. He knows ALL I have yet to surrender to Him, but He knows too how much MORE He has to offer me in return.

What He’s asking is not for me to do more for Him, but rather for Him to do more for me.

In our culture, it can be easy to buy into the lie that it is the outward sacrifices, the big grand gestures like moving abroad that mean the most, that make us worthy in God’s Kingdom. Amidst all the noise and fanfare, we can be tempted to hide behind the façade of heroism. We might actually start to believe that these extravagant works and acts of surrender might justify us before the throne and somehow serve as a free pass, exempting us from the work of sanctification that God invites every Christian, missionary or not, to be a part of.

When my heart is already hurting from the pain of losing things that my eyes can see and my hands can touch, all I can sense is a hand reaching down in an attempt to take something else away. And so, I resist, holding up the evidence of all that I’ve already done “for God” and then hiding behind it. I tell God “ENOUGH,” swatting His hand away.

But here’s the thing that I’m finally starting to realize. His hands are not reaching out to try and sneakily grab something away from me when my guard is down and I’m least expecting it. His Hands are reaching out so that He can give me something: more of Him.

It’s for me to decide if I’m going to let go of what I’ve been clinging to and instead reach back and take the gift He offers. It’s up to me if I’m willing to exchange the bitterness of shame for the sweet taste of abundant grace that God alone can give. Am I willing to trade my racing anxieties for never-ending peace and the chance to just be still in His arms; to trade my stubborn pride for the glory and majesty of the cross; to trade my piles and piles of dirty rags that weigh me down for robes of righteousness that flow freely in the breeze? The world may offer you a chance to be well-known as someone who is “greater,” but God offers you an opportunity to be truly known by your Creator. And nothing, nothing will ever compare.

Maybe you too are tired and weary, and you feel like there’s not much more left to give. You feel like you’ve done enough and that you can’t do any more.  But the good news is that God isn’t asking you to “do enough for Him.” He is asking for a chance to do more than enough for you. Will you let Him?

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Anna Glenn

Anna Glenn served as an agricultural missionary with her husband in Liberia, West Africa from 2016-2022. She now works back in her home state of Maryland doing agriculture education and youth development while staying involved with local and international missions. Her writing now focuses on her experiences integrating back into the American culture, reflections on her time in missions, and advocacy for better missionary care and support.

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