The Angry Missionary

Yet again, I found myself seething as I got up from the table and walked out the door. My heart was pumping fast, my hands were shaking, my jaw was clenched, and my eyes were bulging out of my head. Why was this happening again?

I think am an Angry Missionary. Maybe you are too?

Anger. It’s not something we like to talk about a lot. The imagery I’ve engrained of a missionary is someone maybe like Mother Theresa…gentle, kind, loving, quiet, patient, enduring, strong, docile. When I think of her, or any of the other iconic missionaries I’ve read about, I don’t think about anger. And yet, when I talk to other missionaries, here and around me now, this is what I hear:

“I used to be a nice person.”

“I never used to struggle with anger like this before.”

“This country is making me lose my testimony.”

“I don’t know who I am anymore, I feel so angry.”

“Everyone around me is angry and I just find myself falling into that too.”

Why might a missionary in particular struggle with something like anger? First let’s look at what anger is.

Anger, according to Christian counselor and author David Powlison, is the emotion we feel when we identify something that we perceive as 1) not right and 2) important enough to care about.

What types of things can cause anger to rise up within? A simple Google search pointed to a number of things that may occur throughout, if not define, the missionary experience.

  • We experience unmet expectations. We have expectations about what life would be like here, who we would become, how quickly we’d become that person, how much we can get done in a day, when we’d see the fruits of our labors.
  • We experience loss. Loss of friends as they transition in and out, loss of donors, loss of security, loss of careers, loss of schedules, loss of comfort and familiarity, loss of freedom, loss of control, loss of identity.
  • We experience stress. When the home office tells us to add just one more thing to our plates, when donors drop and needs keep rising, when we set foot in any government building to process paperwork, when we walk down the street and horns are blowing and people shouting.
  • We experience or bear witness to injustice. When we see murders and robberies of the material poor that go unsolved and untried, corruption that contaminates every aspect of life, people dying way too young of treatable diseases simply because of where they were born.
  • We feel unheard and misunderstood. When the people we came to love reject us and betray us, when we mispronounce words as we fumble through yet another greeting, when people assume they know who we are or what we want by nature of our skin color or passport, when sponsors back home ask, “How was your trip?” while we are back home on furlough.
  • We experience fear. When we think about what could happen if one of my children got seriously sick in this country, when our home and personal sense of privacy and security has been violated by a home invasion, when we don’t know what to expect any given day.

I laughed as I read through the list and realized that I’d experienced pretty much every single one of these triggers within the past two days. By nature of our lives overseas, we missionaries probably find ourselves living lives that are chock full of things that could easily set anyone off into a fit of rage or downward spiral of bitterness. While some might see those reactions as justifiable, is that really the path we want to take? Are we slaves to our circumstances or emotions or do they simply reveal what is already in our hearts? What does your anger reveal about you?

Think back to the last time you were angry. Why were you angry? What wrong happened? Who/what are you trusting in to right that wrong? How did you react? Why did you care so much? Which ones of your values were violated? Was your response to anger constructive or destructive?

In your anger are you placing anything above God? Your rights? Your will? Your feelings? Your plans?

We often hear in church about righteous anger. When I think of righteous anger, my mind always goes straight to the story in the Bible with Jesus flipping over the tables at the temple (Matt. 11:15-18). The market people had violated the sanctity of the temple, and Jesus came in and uprooted that sin while also preaching the truth to those present. So, what about me? Am I acting in righteous anger when I am red-faced, shouting and rolling my eyes at the man in uniform outright asking for a bribe along the road? 

While there might be a genuinely righteous reason for getting angry (i.e. corruption), often times what I find as I’ve allowed the Spirit to search my heart, is that there is usually also an element of my own sin coming through too. My soul was rightly grieved by the sin, but my flesh was also pricked. My pride has been offended, my feelings have been hurt, my ego has been bruised. I want what I want. Instead of being angry at the presence of sin, I tend to get angrier about how the sin affected memy plans, my day, my happiness, my sense of self. Rather than going after the sin itself, I sometimes get side-tracked and go after the person. At my weakest moments, I want to unleash a mouth full of sass and glare with ice blue eyes that have been likened to piercing daggers. I begin to plot evil against one of God’s beloved.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against a spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Jesus knew this and responded accordingly. He too experienced unmet expectations, loss, fear, stress, injustice. He too was most definitely misunderstood. And yet in His anger He did not sin. In confronting the sin of others, He did not allow himself to fall into the trap of committing sin himself.

Anger is an emotion meant to help us identify when things are not going right and to move us towards action to make it right. That is a big part of our role as created beings here on earth, to be His Hands and His Feet in bringing about the good and perfect and redemptive will of God. However, anger that reacts in uncontrollable, selfish, pitying, passive aggressive, self-righteous, bitter, and argumentative ways does not honor God, but man.

How then can we use our anger to honor God? In the same way that we lay our lives down before God, so must we do with our anger. Our anger must become a servant, bowing down before the God Most High. We are not to become servants to our anger, nor slaves to our circumstances. Only to God.

When we give our anger to God for Him to use in His ways and in His time, we will see that our anger becomes controlled, correctly motivated, and directed along the path of true justice. It isn’t supposed to just simply go away or get stuffed down in hard to reach places of our hearts, nor should it completely overpower us. In submissive anger we can show mercy for the sinner, just as God did for us, while still speaking truth about the wrong that occurred and taking actions to make it right.

Anger must point people towards God, not away. While it highlights and makes known the destruction that has been caused and how it has offended God, it must not destroy any more through words or deeds. Anger misdirected leads people down the path of despair. Anger submitted to the Will of God leads people down the path of hope and redemption.

To be an Angry Missionary is not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.

The wrath of God is inseparable from the love of God. There cannot be anger, if there is not first love. God’s anger is aroused when His love is violated by sin in the world. As missionaries, God has placed a heavy burden on our hearts to love the people of the nation where He has brought us. When we commit to loving His people the way He loves them, asking Him to break our hearts for the same things that break His, we will get angry. But it’s how we use that anger, for His glory and purposes and not our own, that will truly define our life overseas.

Gandalf’s Scream, Love, and Why We Need More Anger

Anger is a wonderful, powerful, amazing, informative, life-giving, protective resource. Or at least it can be. Anger can be a redemptive sword, when it’s wielded by love.

 “Anger is a surgical weapon, designed to destroy ugliness and restore beauty. In the hands of one who is trained in love and who can envision beauty, the knife of righteous anger is a weapon for restoration.” – Allender & Longman

We’ve too often seen anger as the enemy, while all along it was begging to be our teacher. We’ve loved to pray and sing emotional ballads like, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” but have we dared to sing, “Enrage my heart for what enrages yours”?

That sounds crazy, right? And scary.

As Christians, as cross-cultural workers, we’re way more comfortable with holy sadness than holy anger. And that’s not without cause; sadness is safer. More tame. Anger can destroy. Anger can harm deeply. Anger is like electricity — or fire. Both have tremendous potential to destroy, and even kill. But they also reveal, energize (literally), and make magic.

Have you flown on the fire of a jet engine, propelled through the night sky like a populated comet? Have you ever activated a dozen tiny suns with the flip of a switch? These miracles are astounding, and possible due to the power of white-hot fire and lightning fast electrons flowing on demand.

To be sure, arsons exist, but so do steel magnates. They both harness fire for their own purposes; one to destroy, the other to build. I’ve seen the burns and tissue damage wreaked by a lightning strike, but I don’t scream and run away every time I see an outlet.

Again, anger is just energy. It’s an emotion, neither good nor bad, neither healthy nor dysfunctional.

“Feelings are information, not conclusions.” – Greenberg

“Feeling angry or annoyed is as human as feeling sad or afraid.” – Greenberg

We have to be careful, at the start, that we don’t moralize some emotions as good, others as bad, some as holy, others as sinful. That’s not accurate, spiritually or scientifically. [See The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions.]

It’s also important to distinguish between the feeling of anger and the actions of aggression. The two are not the same thing. Greenberg offers this helpful reminder:

“Anger should not be confused with aggression, which comprises attacking or assaultive behavior. Feeling angry does not mean behaving aggressively, and people can be aggressive without feeling any anger at all.” – Greenberg

Chances are you’ve been hurt by someone who acted aggressively. Perhaps their anger/aggression left wounds you’re still recovering from. Chances are you’ve hurt someone in similar ways. So I understand if all this talk about the goodness of anger feels like bile in the brain.

In my ministry as a pastoral counselor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I hear all the stories. I hear terrifying stories and sad stories. I hear stories that make me livid and stories that make me hug my kids a little tighter.

Early on, I assumed that my main job was to help angry people feel their sadness. After all, I feel sadness early and often; it’s my default setting, and it’s easy. But now I realize that just as often, my job is to help sad people feel their anger.

Accessing the motivating, informative energy of anger has been pivotal in my own journey of healing. It has propelled me to have HARD conversations, it has steeled me for necessary conflict, and it has helped me surface on the other side, grateful. I am grateful for the gift of anger; without it, I fear I would have gotten stuck in my own depressive hole.

I used to think that anger and love were separate things, but now I realize that anger can be separate from love, but it doesn’t have to be. Anger is sometimes the energizing force that results from violated love.

In his book on extra-marital affairs, pastor and clinical counselor David Carder goes so far as to say that the partner who was cheated on MUST get angry:

The language of anger is never pleasant; however, it is not only OK to say it with intensity and force, but it is absolutely necessary for true recovery to occur. People do not get better until they get mad.” – Carder

 

Anger as a Sword (that we desperately need)
Tolkien understood the strategic use of anger, and when the Fellowship needed salvation, he gave it to them, in the form of a furious wizard. When faced with an ancient evil from the deepest shadows, the men, hobbits, dwarf, and elf fled for their lives. There was no escape until an old man with wisdom and anger stood firm.

The scene unfolds on a bridge under the mountains, with enemy hordes on one side, the Fellowship on the other:

“The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring [his sword] gleamed, cold and white. His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm.

You cannot pass,‘ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.

From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming.

Glamdring glittered white in answer.

There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire. The Balrog fell back and its sword flew up in molten fragments. The wizard swayed on the bridge, stepped back a pace, and then again stood still.

You cannot pass!‘ he said.

With a bound the Balrog leaped full upon the bridge. Its whip whirled and hissed.”

In the film, the emotion of the scene overwhelms. Gandalf stands between the darkness and his charges. He is fighting with all his might, not for his own honor or power or kingdom; he is fighting for his friends.

He looks back at his friends, slowly and compassionately, fully aware of what he must do. He raises his staff and sword, slams them into stone, and screams at the fiery evil, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

At that point,

“A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrog’s feet it broke, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into emptiness.”

Oh that more leaders would have the courage to stand firm, full of love and anger, willing to protect the helpless, and to speak to the Shadow!

These are the times when we need the sword of anger. What a dangerous shame to reach that point, to need the power of a bright sword, and to leave it in its scabbard. Anger is the sword that we keep sheathed because we have no idea how to wield it. We’ve only seen people hurt by it. But if we could figure out how to use it, to wield it sparingly, but well, we might realize how much good it could do.

When we lose access to flaming, holy anger, we lose access to so much. We need a revolution in how we as the Church think about, talk about, and experience anger.

“Righteous anger warns, invites change, and wounds. True anger is paradoxical in that it has the strength to inflict pain, but it burns with the desire for reconciliation. It is bold, but it is also broken.” – Allender & Longman

What if we used anger to protect, not to control? With the aim of blessing and restoring relationships, not for revenge? What if anger were an expression of solid love, not malice or contempt?

“[Righteous anger] wounds for the greater work of redemption. It is full of a strength that is neither defensive nor vindictive, and it is permeated by a sadness that is rich in desire and hope.” – Allender & Longman

 

Our Incompetence Damages People (and the Church)
We don’t know how to wield anger, and we can’t fathom that someone else might. So we run away from it, we bury it, we criticize it. But just like outlawed grief, outlawed anger is dangerous.

“Anger that is driven underground eventually bursts out in uncontrollable and destructive ways.” – Greenberg

When you cancel out anger (your own or others’), you rob yourself of vital information. Information that could help you to see a situation or respond to a situation. Instead of denying or blocking anger, we need to get curious about it. What is hurting? When did it start hurting? As Greenberg says, we “should not be too afraid of receiving its message.”

“Each time people control or cut off a significant experience of anger, they not only cut themselves off from important information from within, but they also cut themselves off from others.” – Greenberg

Failing to give space for anger is terribly invalidating, and unloving.

“Invalidation of a person’s most basic feelings is one of the most psychologically damaging things one person can do to another.” – Greenberg

What would have happened if someone in those Catholic dioceses had felt a burning against the injustice of child abuse? Imagine if some leader somewhere would have pulled a sword on those pedophiles and screamed, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

It should not have taken an investigative journalist. It should not have taken decades.

What if someone at USA Gymnastics had heard about Larry Nassar’s perverse, ongoing sexual assaults of its gymnasts and, with fire in their bones, done whatever was necessary to communicate: “NOT ON MY WATCH!”

I’m so grateful for Rachael Denhollander and her tremendous courage as a survivor, to protest and advocate. But it shouldn’t have had to be her. It should have been some adult years earlier who got angry, and in their anger, determined to protect young women instead of an organization.

Gary Thomas, theologian and author, recently penned a powerful article about the church’s complicity in domestic violence in Christian marriages. The title of his article? “Enough is Enough.” He might as well have called it, “You Shall Not Pass!”

Calling on church leaders to stand with wounded women, to stand against abusive men, Thomas writes:

“Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, ‘This is over’ and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.”

Anger is present in our churches. Anger exists in our missions. But our anger is usually aimed at the people who are upsetting the status quo, threatening the “way things are,” and calling evil things by their true name.

But what if, instead, we were energized by a blazing love to protect the vulnerable, to defend the weak and the powerless?

What would that look like?

It would look like Gandalf, fire in his eyes, standing alone and sacrificing himself to save his friends.

It would look other worldly, because it is. It would look like the Kingdom of God among us, flipping the world upside down, giving honor to the weak, protecting the throw-aways.

It would look like the Church caring about the children on the outside.

It might look like offended religious men, sitting around a table trying to figure out how to solve this “problem.”

It would look like Bonhoeffer, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Martin Luther.

It would look like Paul, defending the magisterial beauty of grace.

It would look like a pastor calling the police as soon as he hears about abuse, refusing to keep things “in house.”

It would look bright, shimmering. It would look like hope to those bound in the darkness; a glimpse of the rising sun.

But to those who thrive in the shadows (religious or otherwise), it would terrify, reminding them that their reign will end. Justice shall be King.

It would look like all these things and more, for

It would look like Jesus.

 

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Torn Asunder, David Carder

Enough is Enough, Gary Thomas

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings, Leslie Greenberg

The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions

Missionary Road Rage

By Anthony Sytsma

A couple months ago, to my wife’s dismay, I found myself rolling down the window of our vehicle and yelling at the driver of a taxi. It was during a traffic jam, and he had cut into my lane after passing vehicles on the shoulder and had then forced me into the opposite lane, in danger of oncoming traffic.

While driving here in East Africa, I sometimes struggle with road rage, and I’m sure I am not alone. For many of us, one of the hard things about living in another country is adapting to new driving conditions. For me that has meant learning to drive on the left side and learning how to dodge goats and crazy taxis. Such stresses can cause us much more road rage than we experience in our home countries.

For me, it is extremely rare for my road rage to turn into actually yelling at another driver. The more usual manifestations are anger, increased blood pressure, lots of honking, stress, and unfortunately sometimes being more snappy with others in my vehicle. Sometimes I feel guilty about this anger and sometimes I think it is right for me to be angry.

Today I’m going to discuss this issue of “righteous anger” and also talk about how I try to deal with my road rage problem. I warmly welcome comments and suggestions so that we can all help each other to manage our road rage in a healthy way.

First, let me explain what things actually make me angry while driving and what things don’t.

Inconvenient things that do not make me angry. They are just part of life in many foreign countries:

  • Potholes.
  • Dusty dirt roads.
  • Getting stuck in the mud during the rainy season.
  • Traffic jams in big cities.
  • Endless speed bumps.
  • Sharing one lane with other vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, and people walking.
  • Police checkpoints. Police often like to ask, “How’s Obama?” or “How’s Trump?”  I had one policeman actually reach in the window and stroke my beard!
  • No public rest areas.
  • Construction that takes forever to be completed.
  • Strangers asking for rides.
  • Chaotic border crossings.

Things that make me angry, especially when I experience many of them at once:

  • People leaving animals untied so they run into the road.
  • No directions through a construction area, so you just have to find your own way through without getting flattened by a construction vehicle.
  • Politicians traveling in a convoy, speeding for no reason down the middle of a highway, and running people off the road on both sides.
  • Traffic lights being totally ignored. You just have to courageously find your own way through the intersection.
  • Motorcycle drivers driving wherever they can find space, even through tiny cracks between vehicles or going against traffic in the wrong lane to take shortcuts.
  • Taxis doing whatever they want. Drivers overfill their taxis with people, skip repairs, and speed, all because they pay bribes to the police. I especially get angry when I am trying to be very patient in a traffic jam, and I get continually passed by taxis on both sides because they are willing to run other vehicles (and people) off the road into shoulders and ditches. My road rage used to result in me putting my vehicle halfway into the shoulder during a traffic jam to prevent taxis from doing this. But it does not work and is only a good way for us to lose a mirror as the taxis keep passing anyway.
  • People disobeying the speeding laws. I force myself to go the required 30 kilometers per hour when driving through towns along the highway, and it is incredibly difficult when people fly by at 80 without a thought. But what makes me really depressed is when other Christians disobey the speeding laws without a care, while God’s Word tells us clearly to obey the laws of the countries we live in.

What do you notice about the two different lists? I realized that the things that make me angry concern corruption, people breaking the law, and people endangering the lives of others. In many of the countries we all live in, these things cause regular loss of life. To put it simply, I am angry at lawlessness and injustice. Am I alone in this anger? What about you?

 

Sinful Anger versus Righteous Anger

How should we think about this anger? The Bible makes clear that anger is sinful much of the time. This is for at least two reasons.

1. Sometimes our anger is sinful because of the reason we get angry.  We get angry because of our pride and our sense of entitlement. For example, I might experience road rage in a traffic jam, thinking my time is more important than everyone else’s. Being angry at the things in the first list would be a good indication that my anger is sinful anger.

2. Sometimes our anger leads us to other sins. Our anger can lead to violence, to verbal abuse, to impatience, to hate, etc.

But the Bible is also clear that not all anger is sinful. Ephesians 4:26 says – “In your anger, do not sin.” So we know that is possible to be angry, but then not sin in that anger. We see that God gets angry yet God does not sin. If God did not get angry at sin, he would be an unjust God. His anger is righteous anger. We can see God’s wrath, or Jesus’ anger in just about every book of the Bible. It is right to get angry at sin and injustice. In fact, one could argue that if we are apathetic, if we do not get angry when we see injustice, that we are sinning.

Here are some Bible passages that I resonate with concerning righteous anger:

Psalm 119:36 – Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

Psalm 119:53 – Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.

See also Nehemiah 5:1-8, Mark 3:5, and 2 Peter 2:7-8.

 

Dealing with my Road Rage

Is my road rage sinful anger or is it righteous anger?  I think the answer is “yes” to both.  Sometimes it is righteous anger, and sometimes it is sinful anger, but it is usually a mixture of both. Sometimes I am truly angry at injustice, just as God is angry at injustice, and I want to use that passion, energy, and anger to try to make a change in the society.

However, most of the time my anger leads me to frustration, impatience, and bitterness. Sometimes it leads me to hate other drivers. Sometimes it leads me to say harsh words to others. I deeply regret those aspects of my road rage. I have been continually repenting of this sinful road rage and asking for God’s help. It is only God who can change my heart and help me to become more like Christ. But there are some steps I have taken which God has been using to help me with this problem.

Here is what I do:

First, when someone does something dangerous on the road, I honk my horn to alert them to it. Perhaps this does not accomplish that much, but I feel like it is one of the only small things I can do to try to make a difference in how others are driving. However, I have to be very careful not to use this as a way to shout my anger at another driver (for example honking repeatedly).

Second, I try to give my anger over to God each time road rage springs up in me. I think this is healthier than trying to bottle it up and healthier than giving free vent to my anger, which only makes it grow. I now pray each time it comes up and ask God to help me and take away my bitterness.

Third, when someone else on the road does something horribly obnoxious or dangerous, I consciously remind myself that God is the judge who will judge them, and I leave the judgment up to him. I try to remember my own sins and flaws in other areas of my life. I try to forgive those other drivers from my heart. And then, at the same time, I also ask God to bless that driver, to help him learn to drive more safely, and to take care of him. In a sense I feel like this is praying for my enemies. They are not my enemies in truth, but when I am full of road rage they can feel like an enemy!

Fourth, I try to periodically reflect on Bible passages about the problems of anger. For example: Proverbs 29:11 – “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” And 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

Fifth, I look for ways to use my anger for good in this world. I want my anger to drive me to positive action. So I regularly talk to people, especially Christians, about the importance of obeying the laws of the country we live in, and the importance of driving safely. I am sure I don’t always do this perfectly, and sometimes I probably come across as very critical, but I am trying to encourage my brothers and sisters to do the right thing. We should drive according to the laws and set good examples to others.

 

What other tips can you share that have helped you with your own road rage? 

Let us all continue to grow in love and patience, setting good examples both in the ways that we drive, and in how we handle our road rage.

 

Further resources:

Anger is a Calling

How can we be angry and not sin?

Anger Abroad

 

Anthony Sytsma works in Kenya and Uganda with World Renew, a Christian development organization affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA).  He is passionate about equipping local churches, and his main work is to teach and encourage church leaders. He is married to Sara who works with farmers in agricultural development and other livelihood projects.

It was an accident!

I never wanted to be a writer. Ever.

My first article for A Life Overseas was only the second article I’d ever written. Seriously.

But God retains his sense of humor, and I retain my sense of gratitude. I’m grateful for the leaders of the site who gave me the bandwidth, and I’m grateful for you, the readers, who continue to give me the brainwidth. Thank you.

There are about 9,000 more readers now than there were three years ago. So I thought I’d go retrospective with this post, collating former articles and re-presenting them to you. I’ve divided them into some rough categories:

  1. Rest & Laughter
  2. Family
  3. Missiology
  4. Grief & Loss
  5. Theology
  6. People

Feel free to browse around and see if there’s anything you missed that you want to unmiss. And if you feel like these articles could serve as a resource for someone else, we provide handy sharing links at the bottom. Merry Christmas.

 

REGARDING REST & LAUGHTER
Please Stop Running
God doesn’t give extra credit to workaholics. Jesus doesn’t call us to work in his fishers-of-men-factory until we drop dead from exhaustion. He is not like that.

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Staying alive is not about how fast or how slow you go; it’s about how much margin you have.

Laughter as an Act of Rebellion
To remember the sun’s existence on a rainy day is to remember Reality. Dancing in the downpour is a prophetic thing: It will not always storm.

No, Seriously, Laugh
“If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.”

 

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REGARDING FAMILY
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
Jesus loves Third Culture Kids. He feels their searching and longing for home, and he cares.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.

Missionary Mommy Wars
They are battle-weary and bleary-eyed, burdened by expectations that would crush the strongest.

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
Marriage is for intimacy. The sharing of souls and dreams and flesh. The first taste of summer.

Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.

 

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REGARDING MISSIOLOGY
10 Reasons You Should be a Missionary
Your bargaining skills will improve…with the police.

The Idolatry of Missions
For too long, we have idolized overseas missions. We need to stop now.

10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
The toilets are different.

Why Are We Here?
Through our actions, our preachings, our service, we announce the news that God is not absent. We show and tell the redemption of all things.

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement
We need the Psalms; not because the Psalms will teach us how to be super Christians, but because the Psalms will teach us how to be human Christians.

Misogyny in Missions
Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private.

Go to the small places
When we overdose on our own importance or the magnitude of evil in the world, the small places are the antidote. Narcan for the soul. Or at least, they can be.

It’s Not all About War: Balancing our Kingdom Rhetoric
One is all about sacrifice. The other is all about Shalom. One says, “Go and die for the King!” The other says, “Come and find rest for your soul.”

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
“Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

 

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REGARDING GRIEF & LOSS
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
How could we question the plan of God by crying?

When Grief Bleeds
Grief is a powerful thing, echoing on and on through the chambers of a heart.

Worthless
The feeling rises and crests like an impending wave barreling towards the surface of my heart. And with each wave of worthlessness comes an intense weariness of soul, a near drowning.

To the ones who think they’ve failed
So, you failed to save the world. You failed to complete the task of global evangelism. You failed to see massive geopolitical change in your region. You failed. Or at least you feel like it.

When you just want to go home
He’s longing for home too. So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Remember, the one with the most toys does not win.

The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland
Grief is a gift that the Church needs to learn to deal with.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

REGARDING THEOLOGY
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
God doesn’t always lead in straight lines.

Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
If you find yourself in the dark today, not sure of what to do or where to go, I’d like to give you three pinpoints of light. Three true stars by which to navigate the night.

My House Shall be Called
If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

A Christmas Prayer
The star challenged prejudice, inviting outsiders in. So may the Church.

Before You Cry “Demon!”
Blaming the devil shouldn’t be our default.

When God Won’t Give Me What I Want
Maybe Jesus says it’s bread, maybe he says it’s nourishing and important, but maybe it looks an awful lot like a rock. Do we throw it back in his face, screaming?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

REGARDING PEOPLE
Anger Abroad
I see a lot of missionaries wrestling with anger, but I don’t hear a lot of missionaries talking about it. I’d like to change that.

How to Communicate so People Will Care
Speak from the heart. Or be funny. Or both. But never neither.

6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
A furlough is one of the best “weight-gain” plans out there. It’s sort of like pregnancy, but with furlough, the cravings occur every-mester.

Facebook lies and other truths
Our supporters and friends probably won’t lose money by showing a picture of a vacation. We might. On the other hand, our friends won’t make money by showing a picture of a destitute child or a baptism. We might.

In 2017, Get to Know Some Dead People
Wisdom was building her house long before people started tweeting in the eaves.

Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not.
Conflict does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but you cannot have intimacy without honesty. And you cannot have honesty for very long without conflict.

 

REGARDING THE ENDING
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

And so it happened that I stepped out the door, aware that God might start sweeping me to places unknown. And he certainly did. But it was there that I met all of you, and you’ve turned out, after all, to be not so dangerous. Thank you for journeying with me. Let’s keep going…

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

The Remedy for the Pain is the Pain

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Sadness, Joy, Disgust, Fear, and Jangles the Clown

When I wake up in the morning I feel the consequence of my anger before I even swing my feet to the floor. My teeth ache from nighttime jaw clenching.

Anger is my go-to emotion of late.

Last week my children dressed up as four of the feelings/characters from the Disney movie Inside-Out.  Their choices aligned fairly well with their personalities. Note this: Nobody chose to be anger.

That is what Mom would be if she came to the costume party“, one of them joked.

It has been a week or two since I have owned and confessed to myself that anger is where I have set up camp  — and even though the campsite is hideous and barren, it seems that it is actually where I prefer to stay. I wake up here every day.

Anger is easy for me, I am the offspring of feisty people and I channel the very feistiest ones in my gene pool.

When sorrow or brokenness creeps in, I think of one of the things I am enraged about, one of the things that I do not want to forgive, and push the underlying painful things quickly away.

It has gone on long enough now that a friend and my husband (and apparently even my children) have noticed. They separately suggest there is a better plan, a better way, for me than this.

I believe them but I’m not sure I want to do the work to move to a new campsite.

After all, moving requires I tear all the stuff down piece by piece, pack it all up, move elsewhere, only to unpack it in new light and have to remember and review it all again. I know reviewing it in under new, less angry light, will bring the pain I am working so hard to avoid.

A Persian poet by the name of Rumi wrote, “The remedy for the pain is the pain.”

I read those words of Rumi quoted in Seth Haines’ memoir, Coming Clean.

With a notebook and a fine-point sharpie I list out everything that makes me angry. The list is long. It ranges from the petty and ridiculous, to the deeply disturbing and devastating. While listing it out I notice much of the anger is aimed at God and people who have disappointed me, people I do not wish to forgive.

The short and quick list includes (but is not limited to):

  • An October fourth hurricane hit the island hard, (while we all prayed it would not) people are suffering greatly. It will take years and years to recover. I am angry.
  • Yet another married couple we love has announced their split. This seems to happen every few months lately. I am angry.
  • Every appliance in my kitchen has stopped working properly. I am angry.
  • The mother of one of my best friends  has been diagnosed with a statistically improbable type of Cancer. My friend hurts. I am angry.
  • Yet another person entrusted with dollars and the confidence of many to help in Haiti has turned out to be a crook and an egomaniac. I am so angry.
  • Teams and more teams of matching t-shirts flood this place, they come and visit the ‘orphans’ for a few days. They leave. They come. They leave. Over and over. I am angry.
  • A little girl, age eight, comes to see us at our clinic. She has been sexually assaulted and her Mother doesn’t know what to do because in this place there is little that can be done. I am so angry.
  • A politician says things that are deeply offensive and his words hurt me and people I care about. I am angry.
  • A close friend is attacked viciously by her own faith community on the internet. I am angry.
  • The man in our neighborhood that abuses children continues to walk free. I am angry.

Small things. Big things. It doesn’t really matter.

I.Am.Just.So.Angry.

The anger keeps me from feeling the pain. I have decided I hate pain and my remedy for pain is staying angry.

Rumi can stick-it. I’ve found my own remedy.

~      ~          ~       ~

Over the past couple of months when, by some force greater than myself and my own stubborn rage, I begin to feel the sorrow creeping toward me, I very quickly do one of a few things. I bet you know and employ some of these tricks too.

  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with two glasses of red wine consumed in quick succession.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with sleep.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with mindless scrolling of social media on the internet.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away by cleaning and organizing and obsessing about household projects or chores.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away by shopping on-line. (I have virtual carts full of beautiful things at several websites. To the relief of our pocketbook, I am able to stop short of hitting “purchase”. The looking and not buying distracts from pain as well.)
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with work work work, and if we call it “ministry”, better yet. Just stay busy busy busy.

Mostly, it can be kept away by doing anything and everything while refusing to sit alone in quietness and begin to feel.

I have refused for a couple of months.
Anger is my go-to emotion.
I am tired of me.
I am tired of the anger.

imagesBecause of this, God feels very distant to me. Unreachable even.

~       ~          ~       ~

I am reading Seth’s book again. It says, “Remember, Jesus abides with those in pain.” I stop and write that down. I wonder if I am alienated from God due in part to my anger and my refusal to feel anything more.

Seth’s words again, “I know it’s time to begin turning in to the pain, headlong, rather than numbing it away. It’s time to go back. How? Simple practice. Begin with the last hurt and ask myself, What emotions do I feel? Are the emotions chaotic, disorganized? Are they like a tempestuous sea or a burning atmospheric reentry? Can I sit in those emotions and write them down? I’ll consider the emotions, confess them, find the truth in the moment. And then maybe I’ll move into the practice of forgiveness. Maybe. In the forgiveness, I wonder, will I find myself being made more like the Jesus I claim to follow? Is such a thing possible?”

Later, further into his memoir Seth says, “To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering — this is what it means to be like Jesus. This is what it means to yield to the mystery.”

~       ~          ~        ~

Reading these words I lament that if I choose to believe this is true and put it into practice, I have so much work to do. I have this huge campsite set up and I have gotten quite comfortable here. I am even a little smug about how well I function in my anger. Most people around me don’t even know I am this way. Only I know how bad my teeth hurt every morning. Only I know what I do to numb myself and keep from feeling pain.

I am writing this today as I consider the first steps I will choose if I want to change campsites, stop numbing and running.

If the remedy for the pain is the pain, I need to choose wisely. If Jesus abides with those in pain, I need to choose wisely.

If forgiveness and redemption are what I seek, they will also have to be what I offer.

What about you? Are you running to other things to avoid your pain? Are you stuck at some hideous campsite, your tent affixed permanently to that ground?

I leave you with a condensed and paraphrased version of one of the last chapters in Seth’s book. I leave you with this because it spoke to my anger, my refusal to allow the pain.

“We are an odd company, I don’t suppose I’m special among you, that I’m the only one who confesses the power of a risen Christ and drinks himself into the icy numbness. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who hoards hurts until well after the accusers have disappeared or passed on. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who has let the perception that God is dormant burn and burn.”

“You know this pain, yes? For some perhaps it’s the itinerant preacher, but for others, maybe it’s the runaway father, the dead mother, or the friend who’s disappeared. For some it’s a minor pain that’s allowed to fester — mine was — but for others it’s the unfathomable, unthinkable pain of abuse, rape, prejudice, or murder.”

“You feel it, don’t you? Has it upended your faith in God, in yourself? Has it driven you to self-soothing, to the icy numbness of sex or materialism or even theology? Has it created in you an agnostic heart, an agoraphobic heart, an alcoholic heart?”

“Perhaps this is all too mystical for you; perhaps you are uncomfortable with the simplicity of a Jesus who abides with the simplest faith-bearers — with the children and the forgivers. Maybe you’d rather find comfort in the cold adult numbness, the coping mechanisms: the booze, the sex, the chocolate, the systematized theologies that reduce God to a proper but cold equation. Maybe you’d rather build structures around your pain, tuck them behind protected and thorny hedgerows, hold them in a safe place of your making.”

“But I see through your drinking, your affair, your theological systems. I know all addiction is undergirded with pain, and when you strip the addiction away, all questions, doubts, and accusations are sure to come screaming to the surface.”

“Be honest: in moments of clarity, of stone-cold sobriety, do you ask how a good God could allow so much pain? Do you wonder whether Jesus is a figment of your imagination, whether God is real? Do you have fond dreams of dying — not of suicide but of dying? Do you see the prospect of death as release?”

“Perhaps you love your spouse, perhaps you don’t, but do you love yourself and do you forgive yourself the way God loves and forgives you? Do you wonder whether God will ever speak again, and whether he ever spoke in the first place? Do you wonder whether it’s just your noggin talking to you? Do you wonder whether God likes you? I know you ask these questions, that you hear these accusations and feel the pain. How do I know this? You are my brothers and sisters. We’re all human, aren’t we?”

“Perhaps many of us need to move from a place of addiction (any old addiction) to freedom. The process hurts, there is no doubt, and I know I’m not yet done. There is more pain to explore and more accusers to forgive. But if we are going to practice the forgiveness taught by Jesus, if we are going to find the freedom of reconciliation with our enemies, and in that find reconciliation with God, perhaps it’s time for a serious exploration of our pains and anxieties.”

~        ~          ~        ~

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I have five copies of Seth’s book to share.

If you are like me, stuck in a angry (or insert your word) place but feeling the nagging need to move, please email me your name and mailing address at Livesayfamily@gmail.com and we will send you a copy in the month of November.

If you miss out on one of the gift copies, you can also buy it here.

MONDAY MID- MORNING UPDATE:  ALL Five books have been snapped up, hoping for all of us to keep figuring out how to work through anger and pain.

Wounds

As a nurse I have had to care for wounds many times. There is an art to it. Because wounds, if not properly cared for, don’t heal. And that is why I love this post by Anisha Hopkins so much. Her words are honest and true; they go past pain into healing. Take a few moments of your day to read these words on wounds. You can read more about Anisha at the end of the piece.

wounds

Wounds
by Anisha Hopkinson
5 Sept 2014

In the early morning hours, stumbling and with bloodshot eyes, he returned back to our ministry base. Only I, the night duty receptionist, had seen him. The next evening I watched him leave again and shoved back down the knowing that this just wasn’t right.

The phone rang and the stern voice on the other end scolded, “You call yourselves Christians! I’ve seen one of your missionaries around town buying drugs. You should be ashamed!” I couldn’t bury the deep down knowing any longer. A few hours later bloodshot eyes returned and it was clear what needed to be done. I had to tell someone.

The days after the telling were terribly wounding. The leadership didn’t believe me because how could this possibly be true? He was a good Christian man. Sure he’d had struggles long ago, but was reformed now. This was part of his testimony. The leadership called his family back home and even they insisted on it. My 19-year-old credibility questioned. Trusted relationships broken. It wasn’t many months later that my contract finished with the ministry and although I moved countries the wounds remained.

Christian ministry, Christian relationships, are not immune from wounding. I had been young and awfully naïve to think so.

In the years since I’ve witnessed friends also wounded in ministry. For some the wounds healed into maturity, for others they left an ugly scar of bitterness.

Having been wounded and eventually mended there are five ways I’ve learned to take care of my heart in the painful place.

Let go of my offense at being wounded.
Yes it hurts, but piling offense on top of the wound does nothing towards healing. Offense masks the real issue and muddies the water in reconciliation. Instead of choosing offense I can choose to identify my real feelings. This happened and it hurts because…

Remember why I am in this relationship in the first place.
We all love to share stories of how we ended up ministering in such and such a place. We joyfully tell of when we first felt God’s leading and the many challenges miraculously overcome. These testimonies of God’s leading are no less real after the wounding. Even in pain I can honor the relationship because I remember the bigger picture.

Seek counsel.
Godly, wise counsel. Not only for the sake of guidance for my own actions, but because those that have been wounded and healed before often bring a completely new perspective. The right counselor will lift my eyes away from my own hurt to see the fuller story.

Confess.
I may be wounded, but have I sinned in my sorrow? Have I lost my temper? Spouted off regretful words? Made decisions in haste? Back up and examine my own heart. Where have I sinned?

Let go.
Ultimately, the situation may never be resolved the way I feel it should. Even though it may take time, I can choose to let go of the pain of being wronged. I can choose to let go of my desire for justification.

In the aftermath of a wounding we have a choice. Tend to our hearts or let bitterness scar us.

I still think about blood-shot eyes. Mostly I wonder if he ever found freedom from his secret chains. I will probably never know and that’s ok. Although the wound cut deeply, it healed deeply too.


Have you been wounded in ministry? How did you heal? How would you encourage others who are experiencing the pain now?

Anisha is a missionary wife and mom living life smack in the middle of culture shock. Having recently arrived to her new tropical island home of Papua, Indonesia she spends most days trying to figure out how to cook in metric, practicing new Indonesian phrases, and attempting to communicate through smiles and embarrassing hand motions when words
fail. Anisha blogs about cross-cultural living and loving Jesus on namasayamommy.blogspot.com

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/graveyard-sculpture-woman-cemetery-523110/

Anger Abroad

Two friends were planning to meet for lunch one day when one called to cancel, stating that she had a terrible headache. This wasn’t a typical headache, and it hurt badly. Her friend admitted that she too had a horrendous headache, and suggested they go to the ER together. (This is just one step beyond going to the bathroom together.)

They showed up at triage and told their stories, grimacing through the pain. They were ushered to separate rooms, placed on various monitors, and examined. The first friend was treated for mild dehydration and sleep deprivation. She was told to sleep more, drink more water and less coffee. (They told her that her symptoms were consistent with a condition called “parenthood.”) She was released the same day, terribly discouraged; she really liked coffee.

The second friend was examined and immediately transferred to the operating room for emergency brain surgery. She was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and spent the next week recovering in the critical care unit.

angerabroad2

Anger as a Symptom

Both women had hurting heads. Both wanted to find the cause, and both were helped, although the interventions were very different.

Like the headaches in the story, anger is a symptom, and we need to pay attention to it. I see a lot of missionaries wrestling with anger, but I don’t hear a lot of missionaries talking about it. I’d like to change that.

As a symptom, anger points to something. It doesn’t necessarily point to something massive or exceptionally unhealthy, but it might. Ignoring the symptom of anger is very risky, and the stakes are high. Unresolved, unaddressed anger will hurt you and those around you.

In our example above, one lady’s pain came from easily-addressed, easily-fixed factors (drink more water, sleep more, get a babysitter). For the second lady, however, treating her pain required expert care and plenty of time. Some of us may just need a holiday (preferably on a beach, with ice cream). Others may need to consult with someone who really knows what they’re doing — someone who’s skilled enough to ask the right questions, to probe, to help diagnose.

Some might say, “Wait, anger can be holy and righteous.” Yes, that’s true. But when I experience anger, either my own or another person’s, it is very seldom holy and righteous. And honestly, I think the anger exemption is usually applied too liberally. If you disagree, let’s meet for a courteous discussion in the comment section below. For now, suffice it to say that when Jesus faced the greatest injustice of all time — the most heinous crime ever committed against the most innocent of victims — he responded with love, not anger, saying “Father, please forgive them.”

 

Peaceful Missionaries?

What do you think of these statements?

“Missionaries are some of the most peaceful people I know; they really seem to have figured out how to seek peace and pursue it.”

“Overseas workers are good at letting the peace of God rule in their hearts.”

Has that been your experience? Yeah, me neither. I think we’d NEVER use the word “peaceful” to describe ourselves or our coworkers. And I think that’s really, really sad. But anger’s not the problem. Anger’s the symptom that points to the problem. So I’d like us to pause and ask, “Where is our anger coming from? What’s going on under the surface of our souls?”

Often, the ones who don’t show anger just bury it. And then, like other negative emotions we’re not too fond of, it bubbles up. Like the deepwater oil rig in the Gulf, something blows, and black tarry stuff explodes from the deep and ruins paradise (or Florida).

 

Why So Angry?

Sometimes, we’re angry at our spouses who dragged us here. We’re angry at God for calling us here. We’re angry at teammates who stay here. We’re angry at the churches who sent us here — “they’re just so mono-cultural and ethno-centric and don’t understand what it’s like here.”

We’re angry at nationals who live here because they just won’t respond to THE AMAZING GOOD NEWS THAT GOD IS LOVE!

We’re angry at organizations that issue directives from comfy offices in comfy cities that smell nice and have green space and are nothing like here. We’re angry at the traffic, the corruption, the instability, the injustice.

Maybe we’re angry at our children who don’t like it here. Or maybe we’re angry at ourselves for bringing them here.

The tricky thing is, we know we’re not supposed to feel anger at those things. And since being angry at those things is not always socially or religiously acceptable, we find a “safe” receptacle for our anger. We act on our anger in places no one sees. With people who can’t get away.

Please hear me on this. I’m not saying that being angry makes you a bad person. I am saying that if anger is part of your normal daily routine, you need to pause and assess your symptoms. What’s really going on? Where’s the anger coming from? From wounded pride? Traumatic past events that inflicted deep pain? Fear of failure?

Doctors love to ask about symptoms. Why? Because symptoms are crumbs on the trail to diagnosis.

Are you willing to follow the crumbs? The next time you feel anger rising up inside your chest? Are you willing to ask, “Where is this coming from?” Are you willing to sit down with a good listener and say, “Every time xyz happens, I get really angry.” Are you willing to give the listener freedom to ask questions?

Are you willing to look for slow-burn anger? Maybe you think, “I’m not an angry person, I never yell or throw stuff.” Slow-burn anger is a favorite among Christians because it allows us to have intense feelings of anger on the inside without showing the world (or our church) how angry we really are. We have the same feelings on the inside, but we don’t show them on the outside.

We hide the burning coals of repressed anger deep in our bosom. And it destroys us from the inside out. A house will burn down just as easily from fire on the inside as fire on the outside.

We must deal with anger. The Church must deal with anger. The cost of persistent, unaddressed anger is much higher than the cost of a few counseling appointments.

 

The Anger Alternative

It is my heart’s cry that we would be people of peace.

People who adore the King of Kings and the Prince of Wholeness.

People who know what it feels like to Rest in the presence of the Almighty.

People who believe, deep in our souls, that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

 ———————————————-

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. ~ John 14:27 (NLT)

 

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. ~ John 16:33 (MSG)

 

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

 

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 (NLT)