Role Deprivation and Guilt

Last month I was part of Velvet Ashes’ Live Class for those in transition to the field. (Sidenote: it was a success and we will be doing future classes). But in one hour we could only dip our toes into a few vital subjects. One of the subjects I had to do a drive-by on was role deprivation when you move to the mission field.

Since that presentation, the thought that will not leave me alone is, “Amy, you did not tell the full story and people who heard you might miss a key point.” So, here is what I said, and what I failed to say.


Role deprivation is part of the incarnational process. Jesus laid aside part of his role as God. We know from Philippians 2:6-7

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

When you move to the field you lay aside either all of or part of a role you have played. Pause for a moment and think of six roles you had before you moved to the field. Before I moved to the field I was a daughter/sister/granddaughter/niece (I’m lumping family roles at that time together), a junior high math teacher, an active member of my church, an active member of the mission committee, a roommate, and a sports fan.  Of course, I had other roles, but those were my top six roles at that time.

When you consider your six roles, some will die. For me, the primary role that died was being a public-school teacher in the U.S. I did not know it at that time, but I never taught in the U.S. public schools again.

Other roles will continue in an altered state. No surprise, I am still a daughter, sister, and niece. In the ensuing years, all of my grandparents have died and four nieces have been born. The first few years I learned to navigate the changes that come with being a family member who is on the other side of the world and not physically a part of significant events. This role is one where I felt the deprivation the most over the years. It is also the role that changed the most with grandparents dying, parents aging, nieces being born, and other family dynamics.

(My ego and the job-side of me felt role deprivation in my paycheck and lack of professional advancement, but my heart felt it in family roles.)

What you can’t tell from my list is the role I felt the guiltiest about because of the complexity of the situation. My roommate was not merely a roommate, she was my friend. Our morning routines were a well-orchestrated thing of beauty. We got up at 5:30 a.m. to attend a 6:00 a.m. class at the gym. Quick turnaround in our apartment followed as one showered and the other made her breakfast and packed her respective lunch . . . and then we switched places and the other showered or food prepped. I dropped Marla at her job on my way to teach and if it worked out, picked her up after work. I could go on about our escapades and adventures in and around Lawrence, Kansas.

The detail I have omitted is this, my dear friend is legally blind. My leaving meant that she could no longer go to the gym in the mornings and that she would have to walk to work. Who would go to the movies and sit in the front row? Who would be her “seeing eye girl” as I was referred to in public when people were confused why she needed help. Would I ever live with anyone as funny as her?

My leaving didn’t just mean she either had to find a new apartment or a new roommate, it meant a drastic change in her life. I understood this was part of the call and Jesus was worth it, but that did not remove the sting of role deprivation.

You too may have a role that others might think is no big deal, but you know the truth.

Here are a few signs of you might be experiencing role deprivation:

  1. Your emotional responses out of proportion to the situation.
  2. You notice you are hustling for your worth. Do you sense yourself being defensive or questioning what others think about you or how you use your time? Your hustling might be related to role deprivation.

Role deprivation is unavoidable but not unnameable … naming helps us make sense of what is going on.

Transitioning to the field makes us aware of roles that have become so automatic we haven’t noticed them in years.

When I transitioned to the mission field, roles I thought were meaningful and added to healthy self-esteem, were taken off the table for a while. And roles that I would define as “not very meaningful” suddenly took an inordinate amount of time. How many of you put “eater” as one of your roles when you made your list?

In your passport country, sure buying food and preparing it takes time, but likely, nothing like when you go to the field! Keeping myself fed took more time than I imagined influenced by how much I could carry home in one shopping trip and the size of my small refrigerator and small oven. Add to that the energy required to figure out how to buy and prep for meals I could actually make, and then washing all of the dishes by hand with water I heated on my stove.

I find that role deprivation is one of the most tender ways Jesus identifies with us.

In the comments share six roles you played before you moved to the field. Which have died? Which have changed? Do you have a role that causes you more guilt to leave?

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

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Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Equipper of cross-cultural worker. Amy is the founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, hosts reading challenges at The Messy Middle, and is the author of five books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying NewslettersGetting Started, and Connected.)

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