We recently learned ways to avoid becoming miserable as a missionary wife and, in turn, making your family miserable on the mission field. There is one thing, however, that cannot be avoided on the mission field: loneliness. There is comfort in having a close-knit spiritual family with which nothing else can compare. Leaving that security net to start anew in a foreign land is indescribable, and beginning without teammates close-by and apart from an established body of believers is especially isolating.
To the dear sister struggling with loneliness, please believe that brighter days will come. One day, you will feel more at home in this strange land than you do anywhere else in the world! You will learn to embrace its customs (most of them anyways) and develop friendships that feel more like family ties. You may find you prefer to spend holidays on the mission field and that, perhaps, you even fit in better with the people you serve than you ever fit in with those “back home.” In the meantime, however, it may feel like you are on the “outside looking in.” And that, dear friend, can be exceptionally difficult. How can you combat these overwhelming feelings of isolation?
• Look at your loneliness as a blessing. Use it as a motivator to drive you out into the neighborhood, talk to strangers, and seek out those deep friendships we women need so desperately. Soon after moving to a new city, I heard our neighbor ladies laughing together as I sat alone in my house just on the other side of their wall. How I wished to be a part of something like that! I would love to be able to say that I have always been super spiritual and sought out people just because of my overwhelming burden to see them saved; however, at times, it has stemmed more from a sheer desire to talk to someone. Though this desire has always afforded me opportunities to share Christ!
• Spend extra time in prayer and in the Word. We fail to realize that we have needs deep inside that only Christ can meet. Surprisingly, many of us base our spirituality solely on what we receive at church. While we certainly should be encouraged, uplifted and fed spiritually at our church, we need to also take the responsibility to feed ourselves. This is like pigging out all day long at the Sunday buffet and fasting the other six days! At first, you may not understand church on the field or you and your husband may be doing all the “feeding.” Where will you get your strength?
• Don’t let books, movies, and social media replace your need for genuine friendship. Go out and find real friends. Perhaps God gave us the overwhelming desire to connect with others and to TALK as a way to push us. It is easy to ignore others because the heroes in our books are so perfect or we can’t tear ourselves away from the fantasy of television series and airbrushed social media accounts. When I first came to the field, it was expensive to call home, and we didn’t have internet or cable TV. Sheer boredom and loneliness drove me out of my house to meet others. In today’s world, it is easy to neglect the people right in front of us for facebook friendships. Don’t forget the old friends. Don’t quit praying for co-laborers all over the world, but don’t sit at home and pout because you are missing in the family’s picture at your nephew’s ballgame.
• Don’t expect your husband to meet every emotional need. Missionary couples especially get to spend countless hours traveling the roads, visiting churches, and raising support together. When we hit the field, and the husband’s responsibilities take him from us, we can turn into, spoiled, whiny babies. It is certainly a wonderful thing to serve together, but when circumstances draw us apart at times, we need to channel our energy into useful pursuits. Many women suggest developing a new skill or working at a useful hobby. Others may find they have extra free time to invest in others through personal visits or having friends into the home at that time. If you have little stair-step children, however, you are probably not going to need to look for an activity to fill your time! When my husband IS around, I shouldn’t constantly remind him how lonely I am or how hard my life is. At those times when I am feeling sorry for myself, I can give him a really rough time. If he doesn’t answer, he isn’t listening. If he does listen, he respond in the right way. Face it women: we are hard to live with when we feel down. Many say that the husband and wife “complete” each other, but only GOD can complete me. Spouses can merely complement one another. My husband is a wonderful, caring listener. When we got married, I was blessed with his unconditional love and support, and to this day he accepts me as I am. However, he cannot fix EVERYTHING that’s wrong IN me; only the One who knit me in my mother’s womb can!
• Resist the urge to blame your loneliness on the field. “If only I lived closer to my mom.” “If only I could go shopping with my friend.” “If only I HAD a nice shopping center to go to.” Avoid the “Life is so miserable here; everything is better at home” mentality. Realize that women everywhere struggle with loneliness and depression, and we all have to learn to deal with it and move on. When we went home on our first furlough, I discovered that being home with my small children while everyone else went about their day felt exactly the SAME in the good ‘ole USA as it did on the field. I wanted an adult to talk to, to understand me, and to help me feel not so LONELY. The problem was the heart of the person and NOT the place.
• Reach out to others. An excellent solution to feeling down in the dumps is to pour your life into someone else’s life! Make yourself leave your house even when you are grouchy, and trust that you will come home feeling better as I do every time! Even when you no longer feel like the outsider, reach out. When you see someone who doesn’t seem to fit in, remember what it felt like for you, and include them. In this way, your loneliness becomes a gift from God, a way to mold you into a caring individual that is sensitive to others who are hurting.
•Think of the ONE who suffered more rejection at the hands of mankind than we could ever imagine. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2). And all this for crimes He didn’t commit! I know the physical pain was indescribable, but I can’t fathom the spiritual and emotional anguish as He felt totally alienated by the Heavenly Father.
The true follower of Christ will never totally fit in here on earth. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15: 18,19). As a body of believers, we are commanded to love and respect one another, but that is not going to be the case with those that are in the world.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness will come. At some point in time, we all feel like we don’t fit in somewhere. We can fall deeper and deeper into the “depths of despair” (thank you, Anne Shirley) or we can choose to see our loneliness as the blessing it is. Pull yourself out of the pit, and into the Light! You will be glad you did!