National Public Radio in the USA used to do a segment called This I Believe, featuring short pieces on people’s most passionate and strongly held beliefs. The essays that resulted from this project span topics ranging from life as an act of literary creation to being nice to the pizza delivery guy. They are united only by the clarity and conviction each writer brings to their chosen topic.
My husband and I were talking about these stories one day when we decided to flip the premise around and discuss things that we used to believe.
There were a lot of these things. Some of these changes in belief were pretty fundamental to faith and identity. And more than a few of these changes were sparked by living overseas.
You don’t need to live overseas to grow and change. Life has a way of confronting us with differences in perspective and practice, giving us opportunities to learn new things, and inviting us to grow in empathy no matter where we’re living.
Moving overseas, however, tends to accelerate this process of change. When everything around you changes it is almost impossible not to change, too. If you open yourself at all to your new culture you will gain new ideas about what’s “normal”, and new ways of understanding right and wrong, honor and shame.
This will, over time, change some of your beliefs about yourself, life, others, and God.
Sometimes our beliefs change suddenly, much the way an earthquake alters the landscape or re-routes a river in one formative instant. Traumatic events, sudden loss, and massive life changes are often the catalysts for these sorts of sudden shifts in beliefs.
More often, though, our beliefs change slowly, in the manner of a river eroding its banks or an oil tanker changing course. These sorts of changes happen so gradually that they only become clear only when you check your rearview mirror or raise your eyes to see a different vista stretching out in front of you.
Most of my own belief changes have happened like this – incrementally. Here are 10 things I used to believe, six moves, 15 years, and another lifetime ago.
- That I knew a fair few of the “right” answers to life’s big questions.
- That only people who said “The Sinners Prayer” and “accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior” would go to heaven.
- That talking people into saying The Sinners Prayer was more important than talking with them.
- That that which does not kill you makes you stronger.
- That you only really ever have one home.
- That living somewhere for three whole years would mean that you really understand a place and its people.
- That staying put in your home culture was the easier, safer (and therefore always second-best) option.
- That access to good hospitals isn’t really that important.
- That the tougher, more remote, or dangerous the place that you lived, the more cool points you earned.
- That cool points really mattered in the grand scheme of life.
What are some of your “this I used to believe” statements?
For those of you who live overseas, how has living cross-culturally changed your beliefs?
Lisa McKay – author, psychologist, sojourner in Laos