Changing the way I think
I am a feeler, through and through. Justin and I took the Strengths Finder test as part of our missionary orientation, and it became obvious on paper what we already knew: the analytic married the one who wears her heart on her sleeve. In 11 years of marriage, what we’ve discovered is that we have the capacity to complement each other well, but we also have the tendency to be like oil and water if we’re not careful.
So, after a tough month back in PNG after vacation, I was struck hard when I read the paraphrase of the verse above: Romans 12:2 says, “Let God transform you by changing the way you think.” But what about how I feel? Nope. The original says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your MIND.” I’m learning to own the feeler/relator that I am, but sometimes, I know that my feelings betray me. How? Feelings do not always equal truth. Just because I feel something in a moment, whether it is frustration, happiness, sadness, disappointment, or any other of a plethora of emotions, does NOT mean that feeling is based in truth. It doesn't negate the value of emotions--but using the heart without the involvement of the head is like the lack of seasons: one needs the other for balance. It's easy to forget what the other is like when you spend all your time in another.
Spending most of my time in emotion-land, I've often felt that I needed a project. It’s either been me, my husband, our marriage, my daughter, or some other aspect of my life that I feel is not enough, out of control, falling apart, or broken. I remember, even in college, not being able to study or start on a paper until my room was tidy. I had to make the bed, clean up the floor and the desk, and then I could begin. And, Lord help me, this has seemed to carry over into my adult life. It’s this ‘waiting to begin’ until after THE THING is fixed. And THE THING could be whatever I’ve focused in on that week. And there’s more. Usually, it’s been me that’s the root of whatever problem needs fixing. I’m not being an attentive enough wife, not a nurturing or creative enough mom, not a clever enough scholar, not an often enough writer, and not a together enough woman to be admired.
The trouble is, I wouldn’t know if I was enough. The only standard for these things is in my own head (and totally unattainable for ANYONE), yet I continued to pursue a plan for fixing all the things about me and my life that were unacceptable. And this was a cycle for many, many years. And here we are, six months in Papua New Guinea, and God has plopped me down in this tropical island country and has said, “It’s time to listen. It’s time to transform.” Justin and I both agree that life is hard here, but it’s also simple. We walk everywhere. We go to town only once a month. The excitement of a week is getting off station to maybe go to one of the only two nearby restaurants. We fix breakfast, we go to school/work, we come home and fix dinner, baths and bed. We sit on the porch swing, engage our neighbors in conversation, and hang laundry on the line. We wash SO many dishes. All day, every day. And in the afternoons on Saturday, we look forward to a cup of decaf.
So what am I learning? Slowly, deliberately, I’m learning that TRUTH will set me free. Free from the cycle of never having everything fixed, free from perfectionism, and free to live in the stability of the promises of God. This place has served to remove a lot of distraction and is forcing my reliance on God, probably for the first time in my life. As Jacob said, “The Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.” –Genesis 28:16. I’m also learning (anew) that Jesus said He is the truth. So all that I’ve believed about myself, my family, and the things that need to fixed before life can really start…all that un-truth…is not of Him.
This transformation so far looks a lot like nothing. I've never been quite sure what self care looks like for me because when I have 'free time,' I fill it: with chores, food, mindless chatter, but rarely real connection with myself or God or anyone. God has invited me into stillness lately. Being. No projects or people to fix. Just the simplicity of this place drawing me to meet with the One who created me and loves me exactly as I am. I am anticipating transformation, but not because of what I feel is not right about me, but because of God changing the way I think...about everything.
I’ve also been privileged to work with a coach we have here on our field staff. She’s not making it easy on me! This week, she said, “Stephanie, can you come up with some things about you that you don’t think God wants to change?” Wow. That was tough. I have such a yucky opinion of myself sometimes that there wasn’t much that I don’t think needs changing or fixing. But, many of those beliefs are based on my feelings…it’s in my wiring. My goal is to LET GOD transform me by changing the way I THINK. Whatever needs transforming or fixing or changing…that’s going to be based on the truth of who I am and not what I think I should be.
WHEW. I’m especially grateful at this time to be reading Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Honestly, living fully in PNG is a tall order to fill. But in this place, there’s solitude and there’s time to work through some of the big life questions. What’s my purpose? What can I contribute? What legacy will I leave? What can I give? And as I approach 45, truly mid-life, I want to accept the challenge from Elisabeth Eliot: “Wherever you are, be all there.”
I’ve had the opportunity to work in the hospital with the chaplains a couple of afternoons a week recently and just being able to be on the wards and witness the new life in holding tiny babies, to praying with those about to take their last breath has been so rewarding. We have made some PNG friends, and we're so very grateful for our missionary family. I have no doubt we would not have made it this long if not for them and their support. I’m in awe that we’re even here, getting to do what we’re doing.
The bottom line is that this is the hardest thing we've ever done. I also know that God is at work, even now, behind the scenes, beyond what we feel, changing our assumptions, our biases, our thinking. May we have the grace to pay attention.