Is this cultural whiplash?

The longer and farther I travel, the easier it becomes for me to mistake MY normal for what is actually normal.

Most of the world suffers hunger daily, loss frequently, and lack consistently. Yet here I am, always returning home to my well-fed family, in my cozy home, in my ultra-safe neighborhood. 

The cultural whiplash we get as people living on mission gives us an abnormal perspective on the normal world. So how do we swing from side to side on that pendulum and carry on like nothings happening? How do we go about our daily life among people who we often think lack this supposed empathy we now have towards these various segments of humanity? How do we transition between these versions of normal and ever look at the world the same?

Perhaps if you’ve not experienced these moments I’m describing, you might see why it’s easy for missionaries to become frustrated, annoyed by, or even unknowingly bitter with their “normal” friends. It’s a strange paradox so many of us can’t explain — to be living in, and/or watching others live in what we now realize is extreme comfort, with such a limited understanding of what happens when you cross unseen cultural boundaries.

I’ve been guilty of those moments for sure. Becoming overwhelmingly frustrated with people from my normal world who don’t seem to even care about the deep burden I feel they should also have for people they’ve never met in a community they’ll never lay eyes on…

Perhaps that’s a part of the Gospel being reveled though; knowing that God can bring to light in others an entirely new understanding using the feelings and perspectives of the burden He’s established in us. How astounding to think that if stewarded well, He can do this softening of his people (and the world at large) through foolish, selfish people like you and I who’ve now had those cultural perspectives enlarged. Gods work in and through us is just as much for those in our normal world as it is for those in the other/new normal we’ve been called to. But that requires a gentleness and patience on our part.

Global crisis, the depravity of humanity, and any other terrible thing with which the enemy intends to destroy us — all of these things while burdening some into response, drive others to retreat from or ignore them. Thankfully however, as small segments of the church respond to those areas they’re hearts have been burdened for, it inevitably invites others into broader understandings than they would have otherwise had! God somehow uses our small influence to shed light on the needs and people far from our home towns. That’s not something we should take lightly. Let those fierce emotions upon reentry (be it frequently or after decades away) enlarge the work of the church instead of separating you from it. No benefit comes to those you left if you come back separated from them by your own frustration at their limited understanding.

So if you’re living on mission and you struggle with those who criticize the why or how you respond, (or maybe just decide not to support the work you’re personally burdened with) realize that you get to be a part of bringing the Gospel to not only the world you now see differently, but also to those who question you most fiercely. 

If you keep your heart and your thoughts postured towards what even drove you to respond in the first place —which I’m assuming was Jesus— then you’ll be pointing your family, friends, the church, and the world at large toward a new understanding of why you live the way you do. 

So in the midst of jet-lag, culture shock, or any variation of the emotional whiplash you may experience, remember:

“the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion, that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15