Jumping Off the Pedestal

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I live in fear of disappointing people. Supporters, our church, our organization, family, friends.

I know how messy my life is, I know the things I struggle with, I know where I stumble, I know how often I mess things up, and now I worry others will know too.

I have always been a pretty transparent person. I am a wholehearted believer in being who you are and being real. I have never really had an issue with pretending to be someone I am not. I usually openly admit to my mistakes and the issues I have; I am fairly aware of my poor habits and sin. I have a sweet husband who shows me areas of my life I need to work on, and he does it in a gentle way, even if I am sassy when he’s telling me.

But, I have never been put on a pedestal for being an “exceptionally good person.” Given the line of work my husband and I chose to enter about two years ago, we are now the recipients of undue praise and adoration for our “sacrifice” and “service.”

It’s a weird feeling. I don’t like it. It makes me feel like I have to pretend to be someone I am not in order to live up to their lofty idea of who I am. My default being in this position is to hide my sin, shove the issues I have aside, and not disappoint the people who now use me as a “great example” of a follower.

It started out okay. It was just at church where people would come and shake my hand and commend me for the work we are doing. Now, every single person in our lives: distant friends, former coworkers, and long-lost relatives are coming out of the woodwork to be encouraging and supportive. I love the support and encouragement, and we definitely need it. However, we now receive praise and adoration from most people in our lives. Somehow, what we chose to do makes us amazing people. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I was just willing, not exceptional. I didn’t want to go, I tried not to go, I resented going and was reluctant for a long time even after conceding.

Basically, not an awesome person at all. I would tell every single person the exact same beginning if I had the opportunity, but I don’t get the chance to tell that to everyone. So it leads to a disproportionate amount of amazement and revere for our decision. If they only knew I was on the losing end of an argument with God.  I was never going to win, because His plans will always succeed over mine, and I am grateful for that to be the case. I never want to be outside of God’s will, and that’s why we are overseas. His will was for us to be here, so here we are.

Now, back to the issue of trying not to be fake, while at the same time trying not to disappoint. I didn’t give the fear of disappointment much thought until my husband and I had a huge argument one evening. I wanted to call and chat with my close friends and family, but then I was overwhelmed with this huge sense of fear of letting them down. I want to be who they think I am, but I am not. I am stuck in this reality where everyone thinks I am someone I am not, and I am trying to play catch up to be that person. Meanwhile, I still have all the same struggles, sin issues and bad habits. God is working those things out in me, but they weren’t immediately eradicated when we boarded our plane in San Francisco.

I am not sure how common fear of disappointment is for overseas workers, but for this girl it has become quite a hurdle.

I wonder what people would think if they knew what I am really like. I wonder if they would think I am even worthy to support or send. It’s so much pressure to live up to an unrealistic ideal of who I am suppose to be. I began to wonder if that’s why people leave the field with broken marriages, torn-apart lives, and messed-up families. Is it because these people were trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of who they are? Is it because they were trying to achieve an unattainable ideal?

I totally think that the fear of disappointing supporters, sending churches, organizations, friends and family could lead to shoving issues aside and not working through things that need to be dealt with. I think the pressure of trying to live up to what others think of you and trying to be worth the investment of time and resources people have poured into you, would cause you to sweep things under the rug and hope that nobody notices.

I think that pushing problems aside, not dealing with issues as they arise, and living under unrealistic expectations could produce a catastrophic event that forces you to leave the field brokenhearted. If we don’t work through hardship and complications as they come, those issues aren’t going to go away.

Just like life back in the States, we have to deal with marital lows and hardship. We have to work through tough family obstacles at times. We have to face stress and anxiety at work and figure out healthy ways to deal with it. We have to tackle difficult relationships and resolve them. Life isn’t easy back in our home countries and it’s definitely not easy in a foreign country.

After thinking about fear of disappointment and how it’s affecting my life and decisions, I decided it was time to be real. To be honest and genuine, to be the person I am, imperfections and all. I don’t want to lead a dishonest life, I don’t want to be adored (especially for someone I am not), and I want to be free from fear.

I want to be able to say things like: I almost got hit by a taxi crossing the street two days ago and yelled a bad word at the top of my lungs while jumping out of the way. I want to be able to argue with my husband and be incredibly ticked at him and feel free to share it with people close to me who love me and can encourage us to keep working at marriage, because it’s hard. I want to be accountable for who I am and not who other people think I am.

To the best of my ability I am going to shove aside the fear of disappointment. I will address the issues, deal with the hard stuff, and be okay with the idea of being knocked of my pedestal, because I shouldn’t be up there in first place.

 

Originally published here.

Kristin and her husband are experiencing life on the other side of the world, where traffic lights are suggestions and people are the friendliest. You can usually catch her with her mouth full of food or talking away with her newest friend. She is a California girl in the heart of South Asia and people often dub her as the tallest girl they have ever seen (she’s 5’10). She never wants people to feel alone and loves sharing and hearing about the adventures of following God wholeheartedly. You can read more about her at www.soulfulshenanigans.com.

“Help! I’ve Fallen off the Pedestal and Now it’s Crushing Me!”

Pedestals. They’re built high and they fall hard. In this guest post Carole Sparks takes us into the anatomy of a fall. It’s not an easy story but the redemption is there and it is sweet. May you hear these words today and know that there is “no hierarchy in the kingdom.” You can read more about Carole at the end of the post.

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Help—I’ve fallen off my pedestal and now it’s crushing me! 

On leaving the field

We moved overseas to follow that noblest of callings.  Everyone thought we were great, amazing, uber-Christians.  Even those outside of our religious circles thought we were super-awesome to move halfway around the world with our young children on this grand adventure.  Our training did nothing to quash those ideas.  I remember phrases like “called-out ones” and “specially chosen.”  They said, “If God called you, He will equip you to learn the language.” and “God is already at work there.  You are just joining Him.”  And even though our mouths said, “Hey, we’re just normal people, taking the next step in God’s will,” our hearts just knew there was something special about us.  Otherwise, why would God have called us?

But I started building my pedestal a long time before we bought extra-large suitcases.  As a child, missionaries were my heroes.  They were mysterious—speaking a language I couldn’t understand and proficiently using chopsticks.  They were glamorous—taking the attention of the entire church, where everyone listened with rapt attention.  They were noble—sacrificing all ‘for the sake of the call.’  Oh, if only I could be one of them . . . if only I could stand in front of a church and everyone listen to ME!!

We arrived on the field full of vision and idealism.  What others had started, we would finish!  If it took two years or twenty, we were in it for the long haul, ready to plant our lives among our people group, to follow Christ’s pattern of incarnationality and Paul’s “all things to all men” philosophy.  Our exit strategy said, “When workers are no longer needed in this place, we will leave.”

We learned language . . . mostly in our own strength, supplemented by God’s response to the prayers of those who loved us and remembered us.  We learned a little about how to share Truth and a lot about how NOT to share Truth.  Somewhere along the way, we came to realize that we really weren’t anything special.  If anything, we were the weak ones, called out so that God could get even more glory.  But the people back home still thought we were a couple of levels above the norm.

Just before we returned to the US for a six-month stateside assignment, God blessed us with some encouraging stories.  So we ‘poured out our passion’ to as many groups as we could fit into our time in the US, sharing those stories and challenging people to pray—even to come and join us in the work.  We thought we were thriving.  Without a doubt, we were good at the promotional aspects of mission work.  People laughed; people cried.  They told us that we were the most interesting missionaries they had ever heard.  They gave us money.  It was everything I had dreamed of as a child.

Within two weeks of returning to our assignment, however, things began to fall apart.  A trusted friend had warned us about second-term culture shock, but it just never went away.  And we had not rested (spiritually or physically) while we were stateside.  Obstacle after obstacle pelted our family:  many small things and a few big things.  After less than a year, we fled for counseling, where we patched our spirits up, established stronger boundaries, and cried.  At least I cried . . . a lot.  But when we jumped back into culture and service, we felt restless, unsettled.  We searched our hearts for some sin to confess but found none that renewed our contentment.  We hung on, waiting out the trials because a change was coming.  That change passed.  New workers were coming.  They came.  The sense of discontent just got stronger.  Still, we held on.  We were committed to this people and this work.  Plus, people depended on us to be ‘their’ missionaries.  They prayed for us.  They gave to support us.  How could we abandon all that?

I had quietly but most assuredly fallen from my pedestal.  I was not the mysterious, glamorous, noble missionary that I had dreamed of being.  I was a broken, middle-aged woman with fragile children and few ‘success stories’ to share.  I lay there under my pedestal as it crushed my lungs and prevented me from voicing my disillusionment . . . my failure.

There are many reasons that we came ‘home’ (I use quotation marks because it still doesn’t feel like home.  People say it never will be ‘home’ again.  I’ve been ruined for ‘home’ until we get to Heaven.)  Ultimately, God either called us to come back or released us to come back.  Or both.

I share this story to let you know that the pedestal is punishing.  It holds you to standards that are not God’s, and it isolates you from those who love you.  Kick it out from under you.  Kick it far, far away.  Missionaries are no more ‘called’ than anyone else who obeys God’s direction for his or her life:  teachers, doctors, steel workers, pastors, truck drivers, baristas, lawyers.  There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom.  There are simply those who obey and those who don’t.

I have no doubt that God called us overseas and that He used us for the full six-and-a-half years we lived there, my personal motives notwithstanding.  Whatever God gives us to do next and wherever He takes us, we will be operating in our giftedness (which comes from Him), not in our sense of noble sacrifice or our desire for attention.  It’s time for us to back out of that ‘professional Christian’ status, to simply live out the Christ-life as people who love Him, each other, and those around us.  It’s time for us to focus more on His glory than ours.  Francis Chan said it well in Crazy Love (44-45):

It doesn’t really matter what place you find yourself in right now.  Your part is to bring Him glory—whether eating a sandwich on a lunch break, drinking coffee at 12:04 a.m. so you     can stay awake to study, or watching your four-month-old take a nap.

The point of your life is to point to Him.  Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His.

Have has the pedestal held you to standards that are not God’s? How has it isolated you from those who love you? 

Carole and her husband have twice found themselves “walking Jesus” in coastal African cities—the second time with two small children.  Now, in something resembling a Christian mid-life crisis, they are beginning again (hopefully with a little more wisdom) and watching God work even as they re-prepare.  Carole can be found blogging about whatever God puts into her mind at http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.