The Missionary Woman’s “Disease”
by Lou Ann Keiser
I am sitting in my living room with the door open. The birds are singing, and it’s a gorgeous day. My husband is thumping around upstairs, taking something from his office to our bedroom.
I am alone.
Our children are grown and gone. (I mean really gone. The closest lives just over four thousand miles away.) They are married and the parents of the cutest grandsons on the planet. (Don’t let me get started!) When our youngest left the nest, the silence was deafening. Except for my husband’s goings and comings, it was like a tomb around here–too quiet!
I know some of you live in places where the noise deafens. Some of you have children running around the house–and hollering and getting into things–and you can’t even imagine the scene I painted for you. You’d like to hear silence, experience quiet.
You’ll agree, though. We all have a “disease” in common: loneliness.
You might work with a missionary team, or not. You might have lots of friends, or not. You might have the aforementioned children and a husband, or not. It doesn’t matter. You’re lonely.
Why is it that, in this day of connectedness–think social media, Skype, FaceTime, and secret groups. Did I tell you how thankful I am for you?–missionary women feel more lonely than ever in the history of missions? I believe it’s true, and I may understand some of the reasons why. Let me share a few thoughts.
We came to the mission field with illusions. We thought we’d adapt easier. We thought the people would love us. We had the idea that the natives were just waiting to hear the gospel–fields white unto harvest–and it turns out they couldn’t care less. We thought that it would be an adventure, and we found out it was hard, slogging work. We thought our teen kids would love it, but they resent the field–and us. We thought . . . . False expectations. Missionary work is no piece of cake. We thought too much.
We came seeking new friends. We severely limited our sphere of friends when we left our sending friends behind, moved across a border, and arrived at this place: our mission field. We looked for new friendships, and, thank the Lord, we’ve made some. Our soul sisters, those few-in-life kindred-spirit friends got left behind. We didn’t understand what that would mean. We’ve gone on, and so have they. After a few years, our life experiences are poles apart. They will always be our friends, but we (and they) have changed.
We became overwhelmed–or underwhelmed. We either jumped into the work feet first and got super busy, always seeing needs, always saying yes, that, along with preparing meals, cleaning house, mothering, wife-ing, and all the rest, we are exhausted. Every. Single. Day. Or . . . we have a hard time fitting in. Our team leader won’t let us do all we want to do, so we have too much time on our hands, and we feel frustrated, undervalued, and resentful.
We came to the field conscious of the airplanes out of here. Many years ago, missionaries went to the field with the understanding that they would live and die there. Many of those missionaries lived and died without ever seeing their families and home countries again. Their families couldn’t visit, either (or Skype or e-mail). I believe that, since we know we can “escape” or connect if necessary, it colors our emotions. We didn’t have to completely cut with the past when we came to the field, thank the Lord. We know we can be with our loved ones in a matter of two days or less, if need be. They can visit us, too. We have a foot here, and a foot back home. (I’m not recommending otherwise, you understand. Just talking!)
So, we’re lonely. We look inside our emotions and see a black hole that doesn’t fill up.
Sometimes, we lock our teeth, smile, and get on with life. Other times, we stream big ole tears.
How can a missionary woman deal with loneliness? Here are eight constructive ideas:
1. The Lord promises to meet all your needs. Make Him foremost. He will truly fill up your black hole with light. People don’t satisfy. God does. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
2. Invest your emotional energies (love) in the people closest to you. I’m talking about your husband and children. For singles, pray that God would give you a girlfriend where you are. She might be an older woman or someone closer to your age. Ask God to show you someone. If you don’t find a kindred spirit where you live, accept it as God’s will. Rely on Him. He will be your Best Friend. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart (Psalm 37:4).
3. Avoid dwelling on what you don’t have, and give thanks. Suppress those negative, pity-party thoughts. Especially during the holidays, it’s normal to miss friends and family. When loneliness begins, change the self-conversation and give thanks to the Lord. A heart of praise cures attitudes and emotions. (Colossians 3:17, Ephesians 5:4)
4. Find joy in ministry. Love is, after all, giving. Give yourself to your family, your church ministry, and to meeting others’ needs. Enjoy your church people. Laugh and love.
5. Get out of the house! This is so basic, but there’s nothing like getting out of the house, taking a walk in a park, the countryside, or along the beach or lake. (It’s okay if you take the family.) There’s something about being outside in nature that refreshes the spirit. Don’t let yourself be hemmed in by walls. (Shopping malls don’t count!) Get out and find something God made. Breathe. Thank God for beauty. Who can utter the mighty acts of the LORD? who can shew forth all his praise? (Psalm 106:2)
6. Read. Ask friends for recommendations. If you work with a group of missionaries, swap books. Be open to different genres and new authors. I recommend reading missionary biographies from time to time. They’ll put your own struggles into perspective. Of course, read your Bible first, but if you need some unwinding time at night, a good book is much better than a movie.
7. Get a hobby. “Hobby? Surely you jest. I’m just trying to keep my head above water!” Here are some ideas: Do cross-stitch, crocheting, or knitting while the kids are playing. Learn how to cook like a native chef while visiting with the ladies in your church. Become a photographer. (You need the pictures for your ministry reports, anyway.) Sew. Cut hair. Play the violin. Plant and tend flowers or a vegetable garden. Write. Make crafts–again learning from the native women. A hobby helps you feel fulfilled because it’s something you enjoy and it’s productive. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it (Psalm 90:17).
8. Remember that loneliness is a perception, a state of mind. Oh yes, it’s real, too! When you’re lonely, read the Psalms. Let their beauty and trust wash over your soul. Let God speak to you, renew your mind, and mend your heart.
God bless you!