Recently I visited a number of friends who have moved to other countries within the last six months. They have relocated themselves and now live with new foods, languages, ways of relating, means of transportation, mediums of exchange, roles, and neighbors. These friends have done well, leaning into so many changes and adjustments. And yet, the more significant journey they have made has not been to obvious cultural or external realities. Rather, they are on an amazing journey within themselves.
Amazing? Yes, the journey within is amazing because a person can arrive rather quickly at who he or she is at their core and discover the weaknesses, strengths, fears, aspirations, and idiosyncrasies that reside there. While these can be easily hidden or covered in surroundings that we control, they are now in front of us, screaming at us. The disruption and shock of sickness, loss of identity, separation from family, strange customs, and new ways of relating push us beyond managing and controlling to just being. Because posturing and poising, bluffing and boasting are no longer possible, all we can do is be who we really are.
From personal experience I know this journey to self can be brutal and humiliating. Stripped of all that props us up, masks our foibles, and protects us from criticism, we stand naked, open to full inspection. While certainly difficult and possibly even destructive, this journey holds the potential to transform us not merely at the surface level but at the core of who we are. Whether it destroys or transforms depends on the manner in which we travel along its course. From what I have observed, five essentials are needed for the journey.
- The journey is to be made with hope. It is not just a matter of just ‘gutting it out’ in order to endure or get through something. Rather, the journey must be made in the belief that something beneficial, good or right is to be gained. Hope propels us beyond the twists and turns, the difficulties and pain.
- The journey is to be made with humility. Our natural reaction when pressed and pushed is to defend and push back because of the threat to our ways of coping and functioning. Our willingness to yield to the stripping and refining processes makes all the difference in the journey’s outcome.
- The journey is to be made with resolve. Rather than a sprint quickly completed, the journey is a marathon that takes time. Once begun, it moves from stage to stage. Without resolve, we will not arrive at the destination; we will stop short of transformation.
- The journey is to be made with love. In the midst of culture stress and loss, rejection of the culture and people around us as dirty, stupid or even evil is our natural reaction. However, rather than griping, belittling, and complaining, we can choose to love. Love is a conscious and continual choice. Love does not mean uncritical acceptance of everyone and everything, but it does mean that our default is to embrace all that we can.
- The journey is to be made with gratitude. When we are thankful for the opportunity to see ourselves as we really are and confront the things that are ugly and sinful, we can find joy in the life-change the journey brings. Without gratitude, we loose this perspective.
Any of us can find ourselves on this journey whether we live cross-culturally or not. As life comes undone and we are stripped of all that holds meaning, gives stability, and feeds our sense of well-being, we set off on a journey of discovery and potential that can be amazing. It can be truly life changing, if we respond in hope, humility, resolve, love, and gratitude.
It is quite easy these days to travel to amazing places and see the wonders of the world, such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome, or the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. And yet, none of these compare to the journey my friends are on. Already, they have more than pictures to post on Facebook or a tee-shirt to wear. They are more aware than ever before of who they are, what needs to be changed, and who God is. What an amazing journey!