Throughout most of my college years all I really wanted to do someday was live aboard, learn a new language, and experience a different culture. When my wife and I got married, we intentionally put down shallow roots and worked entry level jobs because we knew we were going to pick up and leave as soon as we found the right opportunity.
We ended up moving to Da Nang, Vietnam to teach English. While there, we met the founders of a non-profit named Orphan Voice who invited us to stay for a second year. They were planning to open a new orphanage in the city and wanted our help teaching English, spending time with the children, and facilitating events and activities. There are many stories from those two years, but I want to fast forward to the day that we returned to the U.S.
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We arrived at the airport very early in the morning and were surprised to be met there by all of the children from Promise House (the orphanage we worked with). Some of the children were crying as we said our goodbyes. Another friend of ours was there. She worked for the cleaning company that cleaned the school where Kristen and I taught. We started inviting her and her girls over to our house to learn English and share meals. We had become good friends despite a strong language barrier—she too was crying. It was such a heavy moment! I thought I would read on our 1-hour flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Min City, but all I could do was stare out the window with a giant lump in my throat.
For 5-6 years, this was what I dreamt of and now I was watching the mountains, rivers, ocean, and city—my home for the last two years—disappear beneath the clouds below. Was I doing the right thing? The children at the orphanage were in good hands but how could I just leave? I felt like I at least had a sense of solidarity with the poor by living in a developing country, now I was returning back to the affluent USA. I felt like it was unfair that I could just leave. I felt like I was being inauthentic. I think I even felt ashamed. It was probably one of the most emotional hours of my life.
Reverse culture-shock was a big part of returning to the U.S. (and a big part of my emotions on the plane) but I was also wrestling with a new existential crisis. My life had been oriented toward this dream of moving abroad, but I never really thought about what I wanted to do afterward. My identity for so many years had been wrapped up in this goal, this calling, that I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted anymore.
Overtime, what I realized is that for many years I was failing to find my identity and purpose in Christ alone. Instead I was manifesting my identity and purpose in things, places, and ways of living. One of the key signs that we are not finding our identity in Christ alone is that our emotions and level of fulfillment are primarily dictated by our circumstances. That doesn’t mean that we can’t experience the depths of joy or sadness in the wake of certain events, but if our identity is in Christ we should be able to return to that center and experience the peace, presence, and fullness of God wherever we are. On that flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh city, I couldn’t find the Kingdom of God within me, I didn’t sense the Holy Spirit, I couldn’t realize the sacrament of the present moment—I just felt empty.
It has taken time to heal and grow in finding my identity in Christ (perhaps it will take a lifetime!) but my inaugural post “Acknowledging This Is Your Life” is really the manifestation of the healing that’s been taking place over the past three years.
There are a lot of ways this post could go from here, but I want to conclude with just a few simple thoughts.
1. Your calling in life isn’t one special job, place, or idea—it is simply to be present and attentive to God each day. From that attentiveness will rise fulfillment, discernment, and guidance as to what you should spend your time doing.
2. God’s will for your life isn’t one special job, place, or idea—it is simply to love Him and love others. There is a line from a Kari Jobe song that goes, “The more I seek you. The more I find you. The more I find you. The more I love you.” God’s will for your life is more about a different way of being in the world than it is a certain set of circumstances and accomplishments.
3. If you’re at a major crossroads and are trying to figure out what’s next. The answer isn’t initially found in discipline, organization, self-improvement, marketing yourself, or working harder. Those things can help, but the answer is to become more present and attentive to God’s presence in your life. From there, everything else will be added to you.1 This isn’t the popular “law of attraction” touted by new thought movements nor is it magical thinking. Our source of abundant life comes from being rooted in the vine.2 The more in touch we are with the Holy Spirit, the more discerning we’ll be. As we grow in discernment, we’ll be able to make better choices. The more attentive we are to God’s voice, the more we’ll be able to follow his prompts and guidance. It’s a relationship. We speak, we listen, we communicate.
Fellow pilgrims: May your emotions and fulfillment in life not be so dependent on your circumstances. May you find your identity and fulfillment in Christ alone. May you take time to be attentive to the Spirit of God that lives within you. That will be your key to navigating those times of change and redirection.
Photo credit: Lance Baker [Loc.] Da Nang, Vietnam