Since my teenage years I’ve spent a lot of time reading about hard things. Books from pioneers of the faith, books about heroic work with widows and orphans, books about exotic adventure and faraway places. They were a big influence in my faith and in my decision to move overseas. I wanted the big things and the hard things. I craved life with grit and stories and meaning.
And, by golly, I’ve had big and hard and grit and stories and meaning. It’s been an abundantly eventful 6 years, a season filled with rich experiences, incredible people, beautiful and difficult places. Stretching and hurting and beautiful and good. And I’ve pressed on in it. Twice doors have closed in countries I loved, and now I’m on country number three. A place that, admittedly, has been a bit more difficult for me to love for lots of reasons.
I’ve kept at it. Kept at learning Arabic, at working with vulnerable populations, at going in and giving it my best and trusting God will use me somehow. It’s been good.
And it’s been really, really hard.
This past year and a half I haven’t been the most well. I’ve been sick a lot more than I usually am, in pain a lot more than I ever have been, and tired. I have a chronic health issue that I’m dealing with now. I’ve never felt this worn out for this long.
The organization we came to work for has changed significantly since we arrived. Big leadership changes, lots of internal changes, and a number of things that have affected the staff and the work. Some of it for good. But some of it really quite sad.
I’ve respectfully fought that which I thought I could help. I’ve stood in the gap for co-workers on a couple of occasions. I’ve worked extra hours. I’ve used money out of pocket to buy needed materials when arbitrary auditor rules made it difficult for me to access funds that were there for needed materials. I’ve watched refugees have to work twice as hard for less pay. I’ve watched myself and other people get completely bypassed in favor of local staff. I’ve tried to sustain the programs I run with little or no support, and I’ve seen my ability to stand the gap for others shrink and shrink until now, there is little I am practically able to do to stand up for the people that are being passed over.
And I am so tired.
We met with a counselor who specializes in working with expats like us a few weeks ago. She’s suggested before that I stop working for our organization. And she had some really good words for us. We talked about my reasons for staying on. Things like thinking that I’m a hypocrite if I stop, because I talk about caring for the poor but won’t be doing it vocationally any more. She helped me see that many of my defenses were actually falsehoods. Lies whispered by critics who are present only in my own head.
She said she could see that I’m super compassionate. To a fault, she said. And driven. And that can be fault too when it’s time to put on the brakes but I don’t. When I’ve driven past the good and into a place where I’m damaging myself.
We talked about how struggling for Jesus is good. But we can’t pick the struggle just to pick it. We need to watch if the struggle is actually for Jesus, or if we’re just keeping ourselves in a battle we don’t need to be in. Does it come with deep seated joy? The kind the apostles talked about when they faced persecution? Do we like the people we’re becoming in the struggle? Or is it making us jaded and fault-finding? Are we actually helping? Or are we enabling others laziness by our efforts?
And that is so hard for me. Something in my mind is wired to think that the hard thing is the right thing. If there is a choice between two things, I think to myself, I better not pick the one that’s easier because that mean’s it’s wrong. As I’ve studied the scriptures about sacrifice and loving the least I’ve been so convicted and have tried to give my life to choosing others over myself. (And I’ve certainly failed on that account innumerable times.)
But that’s not true. It’s not true that God always wants the hard thing for us. Sometimes, sure. Perhaps even often. One thing that should not mark the Christian life is comfort. But, he also want’s good for us. He’s for us really, and he uses the hard and the soft to show us his love and draw us closer to him.
As a person of faith, our health and well-being shouldn’t be our top priority…but it does need to make the list. I see a lot of people in this line of work (full time ministry/NGO/church work) who keep going and going and going and make themselves sick. They go past the point of good and hurt themselves in the name of others.
There is a very important place for self-sacrifice, absolutely. But we need to remember that, first, whatever lies at the heart of the work is ultimately God’s to bear and not on our shoulders alone. And that if there are other people around who can help, we don’t need to kill ourselves moving the rock. Sometimes we need to get out of the way so other people can step in, and, maybe even do a better job than we were doing.
Sometimes there is no one else. But that still doesn’t mean necessarily that it’s ours and only ours. If we’re seeking the Lord in prayer, getting wise counsel, and we don’t see how it will go on, we still need to follow in faith.
I’ve resigned from my role at the refugee organization. I will still be helping with some things informally, but my body is screaming at me to stop. And now, at this point, I need to choose my health and my family over a dysfunctional organization where my efforts have become more and more limited. (They are still doing a lot of good. I don’t walk away begrudging or hopeless. They are good people doing good things, however imperfectly at times.)
I’m choosing to leave the struggle. I’m not choosing the hardest thing. And right now, in my life, that is the right thing.
Like a counselor I met with said, it would be very stubbornly stupid of me to break my leg and keep walking on it when I could stop. Choosing the pain over healing, when there is a choice not to. That would be the wrong thing.
So I’m going to stop walking for awhile. To heal. I’ll still toddle around a bit. But no walking and no running and time to recoup. I’m choosing the easy thing, and while half my brain is still catching up to this…according to leadership, and basically everyone else my husband and I have talked to, I am choosing the right thing.
My pride and identity are taking a bit of a hit. I do not quit on things. I work hard. I try to meet needs when I see them. Taking a step back and away while also believing that it does not change who I am or alter my personal character is taking some convincing.
I’m stepping away from the battle because I’m hurt. And it’s not my fault. It’s a thing that happened. And I want to get back in the ring at some stage—fighting for justice, for hope, for the poor and the vulnerable. I’m withdrawing now so I can go back in strong for the things I care about, for the things that are worth fighting for, and for the things that I have sacrificed some of my good health for.
I am choosing to try and be well again and that is the right thing for me right now. For my family, for our future, for the work I hope to be a part of in the future.