Inevitably, moving away from friends and family means changed relationships. Pray, plan, and try as you might; things still change. We have hated that fact, fought against it, deeply grieved it, been angry, and attempted numerous times to make it untrue … To no avail.
When people ask us, “What is the hardest part about living there?” The answer is easy. It has nothing to do with tropical illnesses, bugs, heat, or lack of bacon, milk, and strawberries. It is not the daily interaction with heart-breaking poverty or the front-row seat to see the devastating consequences of it. Those things are certainly hard, but for us, they are not the hardest.
It has everything to do with wanting to stay connected to the family and friends we deeply love and left. It has everything to do with feeling guilty for letting them down, for missing big things in their lives, for being physically and emotionally distant and different and sometimes hard to relate to or understand.
It has everything to do with knowing we are where we want to be and knowing that it hurts some loved ones. It is painful to make a choice that hurts people you love.
On the flip side, there can sometimes be a gross sense of self-importance. In our first few years abroad you might have overheard us saying, “Why are they so mad at us? We are just doing what we think God led us to do. They are selfish. That doesn’t even make sense.”
True or not true, we missed our opportunity to empathize with the pain our close friends and family were feeling. We were defensive about their grief and that wasn’t fair to anyone. One of my favorite posts at A Life Overseas is this post about grief, and the necessity of allowing it – no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.
That article closed with these words:
So please, allow grief in your own heart and in the hearts of your family members. If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief (or your own), you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief. If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it. Begin talking about it, slowly, with a good listener.
Things have become easier in recent years. The grief process is long and we have been gone a long time. It seems that we have all mainly moved into acceptance phase. Because grief is anything but linear, we know that tomorrow things could change.
The newfound peace and the less-stressed long distance relationships are the result of choosing to offer grace and choosing to offer forgiveness. That has meant a new way of communicating with our loved ones. Instead of dreading interaction, we crave it.
I need forgiveness for blowing off and refusing to understand how my parents felt watching us remove the grandkids from their day-to-day life. I need forgiveness for being too uncomfortable with their grief to sit with them in it. I also need to extend forgiveness for things that have hurt me during this long adjustment period. My family and friends are not experiencing the things I am and I cannot expect them to always “get” me. Grace goes a long way in bridging those gaps in understanding. An habitual attitude of forgiveness goes even further.
At one point I thought, “I will never be as close with these people as I once was.” Today, eight years into this overseas adventure, I can honestly say that projection is not holding true. None of us were supposed to know how to live far away from one another and still make each other feel valuable and loved and important. It took time (a lot of time) to figure that out and all the mistakes along the way need to be released completely, keeping only the parts that taught us something.
Corrie Ten Boom wisely observed:
“If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”
Have you struggled with relationships with the loved ones you left behind?
What (if anything) has worked for you to begin to mend those things?
I hope for those of you in the middle of difficult adjustments that this offers some hope for the future.
Tara Livesay works in Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti