"Rachel, you've been here almost two years now. How can you still be struggling with that? Aren’t you past that by now?"
Several weeks ago I was hit with waves, one after another, of homesickness, discouragement, frustration over my language ability, and more. It was a perfect storm of circumstances and I started reacting emotionally to things that don’t usually get to me:
- Tears sprang to my eyes during a scene in a movie where best friends were reunited.
- I realized that my second Thanksgiving and Christmas away from family were my new normal.
- I was out with friends and felt excluded from the group as they all sang French songs from their childhood.
- Another time, my friends cracked rapid-fire jokes with their cool slang and witty expressions, while I wanted to scream Hey, I have jokes too! I'm a funny person...just...uh…not in your language.
- I was in a deep conversation with several people and by the time I fully formulated my own super profound contribution, they already moved on to the next topic.
- I was in a weird funk and needed to verbally process all my emotions, but found it too difficult to do in French.
Finally, one weekend it all came to a head. I called a friend back in the US and let it all out. It's hard to feel like I should already be past these barriers. It's hard to realize that no matter how much progress I make, this will never be my culture or language. It's hard to feel like I can't even show my true personality to these people—I'm just a shadow of myself. It's hard to still feel like a child in this culture when I know that in my culture I am intelligent, capable, witty, deep, outgoing, sociable.
But I am no longer in my culture.
In French, to say that you are a foreigner, to say that you are not French, you say you are an étranger, which is similar to the adjective for "strange" (étrange). In the Bible, we children of God are often described as aliens and strangers, and I have never understood that more than since living in another country.
Living in our home culture makes it easy to forget that we are called to live as foreigners in this world. Because we feel at home, we are comfortable in our environment, and we know how to navigate everything pretty well, it's hard to remember that this world is not, in fact, our home.
Yet for me, this experience of longing for my culture where I belong has deepened my understanding of my true home—with Christ in heaven. I must ask myself, Do I long for that as much as I long to talk to my best friend in English and laugh ‘til my sides hurt? Do I long for that as much as I long to get lost in a great book in my mother tongue? Do I long for that as much as I long to have deep spiritual conversations and be able to explain my ideas with precision?
In coming to France I had to willingly give up my rights: my rights of being seen as competent, intelligent, humorous, clever (I am those things, right? Please don't tell me if I'm not). Not an easy thing.
Yet giving up these rights allows me to grasp just a tiny bit more the humility that Christ exhibited in giving up his rights in heaven to become a man (Philippians 2:5-8). He was the ultimate missionary, leaving his homeland where he was rightfully acknowledged as who He is, fully recognized and worshiped as God, to become like us. He had his ultimate goal in mind, and—from his view—what He did on the cross was worth giving up his rights.
And that is why it's worth it for me too, I tell myself.
Yes, it's hard and extremely uncomfortable and humbling. But I believe that the message of the cross is that important. I endure to spread the most important message: Christ came to save people from all over the world.
And on top of that privilege, I get the joy of experiencing more of Christ, in sharing in his sufferings, in knowing Him more deeply.
So yes, being an alien is worth it.