How do we stay? How do we leave? Musings from the head space I’ve been in lately

Many hours of traveling later, I’m back in the states, and it all feels a little surreal, being back in San Francisco again. I knew transitioning would be difficult, I know culture shock is real, and that there’s nothing that can really prepare you for leaving one place and arriving in another.

I still don’t understand how to gracefully move from one community to another, and I’m still honestly so angry at God about the tension of having friends in so many places, stretched out across the map. But I also wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had for anything.

View from Greenwich.
View from Greenwich.

There’s so much I’m taking with me from my time in London. People and experiences I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. And I know I’ll be processing it all for a long time, and years from now new ideas will finally click into place.

But right now, in immediate retrospect, there are three main ideas that I’m holding on to:

1. Where we come from, our context, matters.

In a lot of ways, this summer was all about history and looking backwards to understand the present. Through visiting museums, reading articles and books, conversations with British locals and Bengali immigrants, attending events, and asking lots and lots of questions, I’ve begun to construct a basic framework of the major ideas that shape life in East London – from the ways that World War II both physically and socially changed the landscape, to the history of the Docklands, to immigration – first the French huguenots, then Jewish refugees during the war, and now Bengali immigrants – to so many other facets of English history. It all matters, especially as we think about meeting people where they’re at and moving forward into more abundant life with Jesus.

2. Self-care matters.

By spending time with the innerCHANGE team, I’ve learned that prioritizing our spiritual lives, as well as paying attention to our physical, mental, and emotional needs, fuels us for the daily grind. Whether you’re a full-time missionary or not, spending time with Jesus – whatever that looks like for you – is really really important, and keeps us from burning out. For me, that looks like going on a walk and being in nature, or going out to coffee with friends, or taking time to write out my thoughts. Pay attention to what fills you with life, and make sure you make time and space for it.

However, it’s also okay to wander and to feel lost and unsure. And sometimes solitude might be just what you need, but also, not being afraid to press in to community can be good, too. It’s about balance, really, and listening to yourself.

Surround yourself with people who remind you of your worth and accept you exactly where you’re at, who welcome you in and don’t ask you to change anything about yourself. Eliminating unnecessary negativity really makes all the difference.

3. Hospitality matters.

In Bangladeshi culture, it is more honored to be the host than the guest, and I think there’s a lot we can learn from this in light of American culture. I think our culture of individualism and self-sufficiency has weakened the value we place on family ties and commitment, and makes it easy to leave instead of stay, to avoid situations that are uncomfortable, and to be selfish with our time and resources.

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times both friends and strangers alike blessed me with generous hospitality – from being invited over for a cup of tea and biscuits or a homemade Asian curry meal, or being given directions or a ride somewhere, or just being blessed with a warm smile. Of course, I experienced plenty of rudeness and street harassment, too, but the amount of kindness I experience far outweighed the unkindness. Little things like slowing down enough to spend time and just be with people, to listen to them and ask thoughtful questions, really does make a difference.

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