Today please welcome a special guest post from a dear friend, Cheryl, who served for over 11 years in Eastern Europe and Russia and recently transitioned to a new ministry role State-side. She originally posted this here on her blog, and I am grateful for her willingness to let me share this post with you!
Today I am about 17 days away from my next visit to my native land. There is a baseline anxiety that has already become a part of daily my subconscious processes. Part of it comes from a normal, physiological reaction to transition. I am gearing up for a 22 hour journey, the duration of which my mind will be filled with details that must be processed and prioritized in order to navigate my way home. This anxiety is compounded by the fact that I travel the whole way on standby. It is a privilege I am grateful for, but it does add to my stress level.
The main source of my anxiety comes from the reality of my “normal life” there, though. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE going back home. The biggest reason is that I get to spend a lot of time with my family. It is hard to be away from them! We are close (relationally as well as geographically – apart from me, that is), we spend lots of time together, and we are fun… at least we think we are fun! I also look forward to time with my friends and ministry partners. It is great to catch up on life, hear the latest, and share what is going on with me. And then, of course, there is Mexican food, Target, Starbucks, Bahama Bucks, Red Raider Football, The State Fair of Texas, The Dallas Cowboys, The Texas Rangers, movies, non-stop television coverage of news, sports, ….. The list goes on and on. The root of my anxiety – distraction. White noise. The bombardment of things that keep me from focusing. The fact that these are pleasures and treats that I don’t have access to most of the time makes it even harder to resist.
Don’t get me wrong! I battle distractions living in Russia, too. Here’s an example…
I wake up this morning after collapsing exhausted in my bed last night. I was anxious to spend some quality time in stillness and quiet – time with my First Love. But… I had a pounding headache. To be able to focus, I decided to take some pain killers. That meant I needed to eat something. Coffee couldn’t hurt either. I stumble to the kitchen. While the coffee is brewing, I might as well put the clean dishes away. By the time the last glass is in its proper place, the coffee is ready. Coffee and cereal in hand, I go back to my room/living room and decide to catch up on the news while I eat, drink, and wait for the medicine to take effect on my head. I barely notice the fading headache as I take my dirty dishes to the sink. Wanting to keep the kitchen clean, I turn on the hot water, wash the dishes and think, “The floor sure is dirty. While the hot water is on, I might as well mop the floor.” Mopping the kitchen led to mopping the rest of the house. In “cleaning mode”, I also start some laundry. How many hours have gone by and I have yet to stop and enjoy that stillness that I longed for as I awoke? Frustrating, but remediable. I finally stopped everything and sat down in silence. Enjoying the peace and the reminders that without Him I can do nothing, He doesn’t want my good works or activity, He wants my heart….. The stress evaporates in gratitude.
So this was how my battle with distraction looked here. As I already mentioned, in the States, it is much harder to put aside those rare pleasures and stop the inundation of noise and activity. If my life is sprinkled with distraction in Russia, it is immersed in distraction in America.
If I am bombarded with distraction, convenience and entertainment in America, you could say that I am bombarded with darkness and reality of suffering in Russia. In Russia, my daily routine involves walking miles to and from work, the store, friends houses, all the while experiencing the “scent of homelessness” and the harsh reality of survival. Both have the potential to draw my heart and focus away from things that are most important. However, I find that the potential distractions in Russia can also serve to drive me back to my purpose and meaning in life – my inability to make a difference without the power of God, my desperate need for Him – and the desperate need of those around me. In the US, the distractions – even the news – seems to lull me into forgetting the pain and suffering of a world so desperately in need of hope and life. I rarely think of the Cora people in Ethiopia whose lives are sustained by a landfill of putrescence. I forget about the dilemma faced by a mother in Pakistan – deciding whether to give her children dangerously dirty water to drink or to let their life-endangering, energy-draining thirst continue to go unquenched for yet another day… It seems like the few voices that remind me of these realities during my short stay in America are hard to hear. The signal to that transmission is weak. And, if the issues were really that serious, Fox News would break in with a special report, right?!?!
No, reality is hard to come by in America. Reality is hard to deal with in Russia. I need grace wherever I am. I need constant reminders that there is more to life than what I see, smell, taste and hear. That perspective only comes with stillness and abiding.
So, what is your numbing “drug of choice” when it comes to reality? How do you fight distraction and focus on what is most important?
(Post by: Cheryl)