A few weeks ago, I went to the Optometrist for an eye exam. As the assistant did the preliminary tests, she asked me some questions. I answered them quickly and efficiently, until the last question. She asked, “What are your hobbies?” I paused, stuttered, mumbled...and finally muttered out, “Hiking…I guess.” And instantly, I began to shake my head. Hiking? I don’t like hiking. Why would I answer that way? I believe the answer is rooted in my life as a missionary.
I became a full time missionary at the age of 19. I moved home (permanently for now) at the age of 30. I became an adult on the mission field, and I threw everything within me to the task I was given. You see, I am a doer, a perfectionist, a go-getter, a people pleaser, a “don’t tell me what I can’t do, because I’ll just prove you wrong” person. And at a young age, I became a missionary. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the title and role of missionary became my identity. People back home knew me as a missionary. The people I grew up with labeled me as missionary. Churches knew me as the young girl who became a missionary. And I LOVED it. It was who I was. Being a missionary gave me purpose. I had vision. I had crazy, ridiculous, lofty dreams of how I would change the world. But what began as innocent excitement and drive and fulfillment sneakily formed into nasty pride. And pride has a way of distorting truth, taking things out of proper alignment, and causing discord. For me, this happened internally over time, and went unchecked for many years.
Now, I live in Canada. I am a wife, a mom, a pastor, and a teacher. I try to put my all into everything I do, just as I did when I was a missionary. But at the end of each day, I feel as though it wasn’t enough. There’s always more that could be done. More ministry, more phone calls to friends in need, more snuggles and conversations with my kids, more support for my husband. And I wonder:
Where did I lose myself along the way? When did I allow what I do to become who I am?
Sadly, I don’t believe I have the answer entirely. However, what I have learned is that re-entry (leaving the mission field to come ‘home’) is a hard, long, and unpredictable process. I lost the identity of missionary when I came home. And I unknowingly grasped at anything and everything that I could find purpose in. How can I be needed again? Who can I help? What can I do?
I say to people all the time that a part of me was left on the mission field. I now believe it is what I thought was my identity. But it’s not. My life as missionary was a calling, not my identity. My life as wife and mom is a calling. My life as pastor and teacher is a calling. My life as friend is a calling.
I’m ready to take off the labels, strip away the pride, discover who I am, and say:
“I am Elizabeth. Lover of Jesus. Lover of my family. Lover of…
Maybe one day it will be hiking. But I don’t think I’m quite there yet.