Keys to a Healthy Soul - Clear the Weeds of Malice / Bullying
“I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts
which wage war against the soul.”
1 Peter 2:11 (NASB)
"Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit,
hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind."
1 Peter 2:1 (NIV)
Square Dancing Revealed Malice
In fourth grade many years ago, some educator or school committee thought dance classes a great addition to the Physical Education curriculum. So, there we were in that old little gym at Lowell Elementary School in North Minneapolis circa 1968.
Before us stood our heavy-set aging fifth grade teacher Mrs. M instructing us on the art and value of square dancing. This in Minneapolis mind you. Not somewhere out in West Kansas. Adding to our embarrassment and discomfort was Mrs. M’s attempt to demonstrate some square-dancing moves with the unfortunate boy that day in gym. Poor Calvin! After the dance moves, I knew I’d need psychiatric care the rest of my life. Still see portly Mrs. M. in that bright yellow dress with blue sun bursts calling out dosidos. It looked a little more like a WWE Match than any dancing I’d ever seen.
Doris the Undesirable
Then she divided the children into two groups. The boys in one line facing stood facing the girls in another line ten feet apart. Here’s where my prayer life discovered fervency. In the girl’s line stood Doris. No one liked nor wanted to dance with her. Doris was the most undesirable girl in the whole school. Why, I don’t know. There was nothing wrong with Doris. She wasn’t a horrible little person. Her only short coming was in her appearance.
Coming from a very poor home, she dressed unacceptably. Her clothes appeared tattered and ragged. Often her hair was unkempt. Usually, she arrived at school with her face unwashed. Added to this, was her sullen dejected look encompassed by a rather homely looking demeanor. Doris was our undesirable. She existed at the bottom of our pecking order. And, peck we did. Malice and bullying presented itself even in those early years in that fourth-grade dance class among those thirty-twelve-year old’s.
Wounding of Doris' Soul
As our teacher began to pair up each boy and girl, boys began to comment, “I hope I don’t get ugly Doris. Some of the girls called out, “Who’s going to get ugly Doris?” Those malicious comments hit their mark recurrently as Doris evidenced emotional pain grimacing and wincing with each comment. Her pain showed in her wounded eyes. A look she directed at me as the number of possible partners diminished.
Prayer of Malice
I prayed in my heart, “God, please, please, please, PLEASE not Doris, please not Doris God, God, please, please, please . . .” Then experiencing the disappointment of unanswered prayer, the teacher called out, “Don and Doris!” The reaction of my face communicated my message, “Doris, I don’t want you, I don’t want this. You’re not wanted or desired. Ugh, no, not YOU! Doris!” Added to both our embarrassment was a barrage of ugly little comments coming from the already paired couples, “Don got ugly Doris.” It was ugly alright, but the hideousness of that morning laid not to with Doris, but with us.
Malice wounded a lot of souls that day; ours, mine, and especially Doris’. I’ve often thought about Doris over the years. One might say, “Well, you were only children. It wasn’t that big a deal. You committed only a venial sin.” Hum, or was it a mortal sin? I wonder? How might Doris respond? Sure, we were kids. We were young. No one got hurt; maybe, honestly, not really. Self-inflicted harm fell upon us all that morning. Ill will, vindictiveness, and maleficence began in small kindling hearts.
Malice - Legal Sense
In a court of law, malice is often examined to discover “wrongful intention” and determine the level of guilt of a specific crime against a person.
Black’s Law Dictionary provides helpful understanding of the depth and intent of “malice.”
In its legal sense, this word does not simply mean ill will against a person, but signifies a wrongful act done intentionally, without just cause or excuse. A conscious violation of the law (or the prompting of the mind to commit it) which operates to the prejudice of another person. About as clear, comprehensive, and correct a definition is that "malice is a condition of the mind which shows a heart regardless of social duty and fatally bent on mischief, the existence of which is inferred from acts committed or words spoken. "Malice," in its common acceptation, means ill will towards some person.[ii] (Bold Face Mine)
Many lawsuits are won or lost based on whether malicious intent is proven. If a prosecutor can prove intent to do harm, a claim of innocence is in great doubt. Malice or lack thereof can determine the fate of the defendant.
Hurting another person is often well bedded in thought and action by age twelve. The average age to join a gang in the United States is between 14-16 years of age. It is during adolescence kids belonging to gangs maliciously injure communities throughout the United States.[iii] Malice begins small and metastasizes into ominous effect.
Bullying in Personal Sense
I wish perhaps to meet Doris again. I’ve often thought about her over the years. Wonder if she went to college, married, had kids, and enjoyed some sense of happiness in life. I’ve thought of what words I might use to reassure Doris of her value to God and me. How a request for forgiveness might be attempted. Not just for myself, but for the entire fourth grade class that day in gym. That old school and neighborhood are gone now, but Doris still lives on in my mind.
Our Culture of Malice
Watching the news outlets and medias also draws conclusions about intent. It appears the News isn’t so much about reporting news any longer. News reporting seeks more to discredit than report. Least that’s the way it looks to me.
Politicians join these ranks too. No longer is debate about policy and issues. It seeks to paint the bleakest picture of the other candidate’s character, integrity, and person. Politics is no longer about America. It’s about malice, inflicting the highest damage on the opponent’s character to win elections. Malice. Our country is rife with it from the highest level down to our streets.
Trickle down maleficence affects us. It’s our nature. To hurt one another. We do it often, we do it well, and we are lethal. It kills our souls, wounds our persons, and lessons us as a people.
Bullying's Malice - the Savaging of Our Souls
Maleficence chokes our soul’s goodness. Malice is an enemy destroying the good stuff in our soul’s garden. Left unattended, these invaders take over the soul. The bitter nasty crud crowds out love, goodness, and joy. Our souls become beds of thorns and briers. Painful to touch or draw close to. A lethal toxin.
Just My Thoughts,
Excerpt from Son Risings - Discovering and Caring for the Real You by Don Mingo
Photo by Chris Thompson
“The weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
“I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying,
I will not forgive.”
Henry Ward Beecher
Upon arriving in South Africa years ago, Simon Dube, a Zulu man, taught me much about forgiveness. Simon was good at forgiving. As a black man living under Apartheid in South Africa, he claimed,
"Forgiving is the only way I can survive."
Whenever personally struggling to forgive someone for whatever perceived offense, I remember Simon Dube. His personal example of forgiving was the noblest self-sacrificing example ever personally witnessed.
The White Apartheid government in South Africa forced rural Zulu communities off their traditional lands during the 60's and 70's. Simon grew up in his traditional family homestead in Roosboam. He played in view of the “big trees” where underneath four generations of family members were buried. That all changed when the government forcibly removed the entire population of several thousand, relocating them into small concrete block shanties in Ezakheni. The name “Ezakheni” meant, “We build together.” Its name hid a dark history. Simon often mentioned the town name really meant, “We suffer together.”
The small, thin, ageing Zulu man near 70 years old, agreed to teach me his language. Lessons began as a lifelong friendship ensued. Three months after our first lesson, Simon invited me to his home just outside Ladysmith.
During our visit, Simon shared their story. Several times he interjected in his soft-spoken English, “We are all suffering here.” Simon detailed the extent of his suffering, and that of his family, under the government. His single goal was, “To return to my family’s place in Roosboom.” With ten people crammed into a four room 600 sq. ft. house in that crowded shanty town, who could blame him.
Simon taught me the intricate Zulu language of clicks. It took years. As I learned to converse in his mother tongue, I began to see and understand his heart. As the missionary coming from America to teach the truths of Jesus, I think Simon taught me more about Christ than did I. The missionary became the student never able bestow as much in return.
Simon’s immense capacity for forgiveness overwhelmed me at times. To Simon, the government was an oppressor. Simon “prayed for their leaders every day.” He added, “I forgive them (then inflecting his voice upwards) for what they are doing to us.” Listening to Simon pricked my heart in my own struggles to forgive a wayward father’s many offenses. Simon added one of his many personalized Zulu proverbs,
“Unless one prays, one stays suffering in their heart.”
As a theologically trained ordained religious leader, Simon drilled into my own angry deep cavern. Once I inquired, “Simon, but how can one forgive when deeply hurt by another?” Baba looked at me answering my question;
“Only in forgiving can an injured soul find rest.”
Simon living under immense conditions knew more about a restful soul than any 1st World American I ever knew. That included myself.
Perhaps, just perhaps, lack of forgiveness is a major reason for the restlessness existing in so many of our souls today? Forgiving the one, or one's who've offended or wounded us may be a good place to finding rest in our restless world.
Just my Thoughts,
Excerpt taken from:
Son Risings - Discovering and Caring for the Real You - by Don Mingo
Available on in Paperback and Kindle on Amazon
During a recent CNN interview, Ohio Governor John Kasich was asked, "What are some of the surprising things you've discovered out on the campaign trail?" Governor Kasich talked about a number of issues, but ended, for me, with an amazing compassionate discovery. He said, "There are a lot of people out there who are lonely, and they're looking for a place to tell people about their issues. I mean, could you believe that -- that young man?" He referred to a young man's conversation in a Town Hall Meeting.
Our time has been called "The Age of Loneliness." It's estimated by a number of studies that as many as 1 in 5 Americans suffer from persistent loneliness. Twenty-five percent claim that outside of family there is no one to share challenges and triumph with. If family is removed from the equation, the number of lonely people skyrockets to fifty percent.
Once during my many years in South Africa, a young Indian South African asked, "Is everyone happy in America?" My reply, "No, I don't think so. There seems to be a lot of unhappy, lonely people in America." His face showed astonishment. He replied, "That is very surprising. Americans have it all. I mean, opportunities, money, jobs, health care, recreation, and entertainment. There is so much for everyone in America. How can people be lonely?" I then asked him, "Are you happy?" He shot back, "Yes! Absolutely." Intrigued I continued my inquiry, "What makes your life happy?' His answers from a 3rd world perspective were intriguing.
Family Highest Priority
In the traditional South African Indian family, members live in community. It's not uncommon for four generations to live in the same home. When asked about the key to success of so many family members living under the same roof he smiled, "Because all of us is more important than one of us." In his South African Indian accent, it sounded astute and distinguished. Accomplishments by one were shared by all. Success belonged to the family, not the individual. Shame as well, reflected upon the entire family unit. Ultra-individualism found in much of the American culture fell far down his list of his priorities.
Less is More
Another mark of this family, and many others, was the family as a whole tended towards minimalism. Yes, they possessed cars, a house, technology, and other marks of wealth. However, the property belonged to the family, not the individual. In his family of 14 members living under one roof, they shared a community kitchen, each couple enjoyed a small bedroom, three cars, and shared everything else.
Relationship Highly Valued
Invited to a Hindu home in Ladysmith, South Africa for the Festival of Diwali, an Indian family received us warmly. Diwali, it was explained to me by the host family is, "Sort of like Christian's Christmas." The festival signifies for Hindus the victory of light over darkness in the world. For this reason, Diwali is often referred to as "Festival of Lights." The oldest son, sitting between his father and son in a crowded home of family and friends explained, "This is much better than running around looking for entertainment all over the show."
Whether among Zulu, Indian, Coloured, English, or Afrikaner in South Africa, family and relationship trumped other considerations most of the time! Life's highest priority was embedded in others.
Family Extended Beyond Nuclear
Extended family is a custom prevalent in most of Africa and Asia. Once a Zulu church member asked for prayer. Her father passed away the night before. Six months later she made the same request. My thinking, "Paternal and Maternal - father and father in law." Yet, three months later that same lady made another similar prayer request. Afterwards, one of our young Zulu pastors explained, "In Zulu culture all uncles are fathers. I have six uncles, a father, and my mother's father. I have eight fathers."
Whenever a tragedy occurred, the entire family unit pulled together and supported one another. Quite a contrast to a funeral I conducted while pastoring in the United States. An offended adult daughter refused to speak to her mother and father the last years of their lives. Refusing to attend her step-father's funeral, she appeared late for her mother's funeral just three weeks later. She left early complaining "the funeral was a dud."
While performing literally hundreds of funerals in South Africa among numerous people groups, never once did I witness an ugly scene, or caustic event. Yet, during my ten years of pastoring in Minnesota, fighting between family members proved a painful occurrence for which I was not prepared. Unkind words, hateful speech, irreverence, power jockeying, screaming, yelling, name calling, prohibiting attendance of some family members, and the list can go on, and on, and ........................ on. Obviously, not all funerals, but enough. More than enough. Believe me.
Detachment Rather than Attachment
In our age of Social Media, it becomes increasingly apparent that people don't verbally converse with each other as much. Don't get me wrong. I love social media! In fact, recently a young pastor told me, "You're pretty cool for an old guy!" lol Check my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Weebly, and others almost every day.
During our many conversations with family and friends, church and secular, pastors and missionaries, the phenomenon of people fixated to their smart phones is incredible. I've often noticed families in public settings glued to their smart phones sitting in silence with each other. Six young ladies sitting at the other table, right over there, no conversation, just six people conversing with unpeople in the cyber world.
Loss of Conversational Skills
Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York who is also a linguist says, "More students don't look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation — habits that, she says, will not serve them well as they enter a world where many of their elders still expect an in-person conversation, or at the very least a phone call."
Employers complain that when hiring, eye contact is rare. Of more concern is the text messaging language used in verbal conversations. The caustic text expressions on social media, are showing up more and more in verbal exchanges. The present Republic Debates sadly reinforce this. The debate platform for several candidates mirror their Twitter comments.
Stuff over Substance
Joshua Becker in his blogsite becoming a minimalist, makes several assertions in his blog 21 Surprising Statistics that Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own. Just a few:
Busyness over Margin
Coaching conversations with many, reveal an incredible lack of margin in most people's lives. High debt reduces financial margin and options. Social Media addiction reduces familial margin. Overly busy lifestyles effect many margins of life. One woman shared, "I'm so busy, there is no margin for anything or anyone in my life. Period!"
Crossway's infogram of Americans Busyness Epidemic illustrates the over-busyness of Americans. Yet, many Americans maintain their busyness offers fulfillment, significance, and helps them feel about themselves.
It makes sense that busyness reduces significant margin for relationships. There just isn't time for friendship investing. And, relationships is the point.
Loneliness - The Slide to Disengagement
Loneliness owes its existence in large part to lack of investment. Malls, money, stuff, social media, and the other things mentioned above provide no remedy for loneliness. The more we seem to possess as Americans, the lonelier we appear to become. Years ago in South Africa, a successful wealthy business man shared, "I am successful, but lonely." Working his way to the top cost him three marriages, and estrangement from family members. He took his own life. "Here's Johnny!" The successful late night entertainer and host of the Tonight Show enjoyed great success, wealth, and popularity. He left a Massive fortune to charity. Yet, he was a lonely man.
In our social media connected world, we are sliding towards disengagement and disconnectiveness. Social Media is not bringing us together. That is not Social Media's fault. It's our fault. Loneliness results from lack of social connection. In our fragmenting over busy over worked society, there is little time for the only remedy; relationship.
Social Connectivity is a Key to Healthier Happier People
There is now a clear consensus among medical researchers that social connection has powerful effects on health. Socially connected people live longer, respond better to stress, have more robust immune systems, and do better at fighting a variety of specific illnesses. Health and happiness, the two things we all say matter most, are certifiably linked to our social connectedness.
I like the old translation of Proverbs 18:24 in the Bible, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." Simply stated, "A person with a friend is a person who is a friend." Perhaps the reason loneliness has reached epidemic proportions in America society is due to our own friendlessness. And perhaps, just perhaps, friendlessness is a byproduct of not investing one's self as a friend to others. If you want a friend, be a friend.
If you want to leave personal loneliness in your rear view mirror, put down the smart phone, turn off the iPad, make some time, and invest friendship into people around you. Friendship investing is fraught with challenges, disappointments, and challenges too. But, friendship and relationship is worth the investment. For therein lies, health, happiness, and purpose.
Are you lonely? Go out and make a friend . . . go ahead. Try it. Invest into people. Spend some time with your Papa and Nana. Ask them about their stories of life.
Visit your parents. They are lonely in their old age because most of their friends are gone now.
Ask your children about their day, and then listen. Treat someone to a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop. Invest, invest, invest.
Spend time with a foster child, or special child, or an autistic child. Go ahead . . . you hold the cure for your loneliness. Look for individuals over large gatherings. Some of the loneliest sit among throngs of people. Find a person. Become a friend. Be a friend. And, hopefully you will make a friend as your loneliness vanishes away.
Just My Thoughts,
Recently, I asked a very successful missionary friend the key to his success. Without hesitation he responded,
“Don, “You’ve got to let the ‘anything’ go in your life that weighs you down. It’s the 'anything’ that causes people to overthink, hold grudges, encourage conflict, erect mental barriers, withdraw from relationships, and waste time and energy. Anything, let it go.”
Starring directly into my eyes, he deliberately let an uncomfortable pause settle his words. Perplexed I sheepishly replied, “Let go of what?” Leaping at an obvious opportunity he shot back in enthusiasm,
“Ah, now that is not for me to answer! You must identify your ‘anything.’ That thing standing between you and that which moves you forward. The betrayal, lie, or offense, you know, the person, people, or organization you believed wronged you. The ANYTHING that cause conflict between missionaries, and pastors too. That‘anything’ – you must loose and let go. Otherwise, in the end, it destroys all the creative good stuff you intend to do.”
One personal observation of my highly motivated successful friend is that he hangs onto few negatives. I needed not probe my inner-self long for a few “anything” to surface:
Having served twenty-two years as a missionary in South Africa, nine years as a pastor in Northern Minnesota, and now a missionary again, I know this to be true, “Conflict between missionaries is rife.” Pastors don’t get along well with in each too.
ANTHING of Betrayal
Looking into one’s self, identifying a friend, colleague, or organization’s betrayal is not difficult to find. Betrayals exist for all of us. The question is, “What do you do with that betrayal?”
A missionary shared that during his first full year long furlough in the United States, another missionary hired his best pastors away from him. Promising a better wage and accommodations, the “other missionary” moved his national pastors gutting his work; ANYTHING.
Another missionary upon arrival for service in Africa was treated so poorly by older long established missionaries, he resigned within two years and returned to the States. The older missionaries replied, “We knew they wouldn’t make it.”
On his 20th anniversary during the Sunday morning worship service, an associate pastor stood up and demanded the resignation of a pastor friend of mine. Upon refusing to resign, the associate and 105 adults walked out of the church. Happy anniversary; ANYTHING.
A missionary couple returned to the Kentucky to pastor. Nothing worked out like they thought; nothing. He bitterly shared, “The church promised to call me as their next pastor only to not do so after we resigned and returned. What do we do now?”ANYTHING
A hurting missionary friend of mine wanted nothing more than to be part of a Senior Team at a huge Megachurch in the Midwest. To be sure, in my opinion, he far out talented any member of that team including the Senior Pastor. Perhaps his abilities and talents threatened the members of that staff. The Napoleonic senior pastor tended to hire only staff of far lesser ability than himself. Twenty years later he still yearns to be on a staff that doesn’t want him; ANYTHING.
The new pastor of the church you’ve been a member of for twenty years, your Home Church, shows little interest in your family, ministry, or self; ANYTHING.
I once shared with a pastor friend traumatic experiences I struggled with in South Africa. It marked, I think, the beginning of my PTSD. His reply, “Suck it up, I don’t have time for wimps.” ANYTHING
Being forced to “retire” in your fifties from the only thing you’ve ever done or loved because giving dried up in your denomination; ANYTHING.
By the way, the fat guys on top didn’t retire, they forced you to retire while they still draw full wages and benefits;ANYTHING.
Watching the 501c3 you started to help care for orphan children in Africa be skillfully stolen from you by the person you trusted most; ANYTHING.
Arriving from the Airport after five years of serving in a third world country, only to be surrounded by American church people to busy to even say, “Hi.” ANYTHING
ANYTHING of Collusion
A very close missionary friend built a very impressive medical complex in a 3rd world country. Passion for the people’s health and well-being oozed out of him. Devastating news arrived upon learning that an associate secured a contract against his life. Paying a full fee to assassins, he was forced to flee the country for his life. He ceded his life’s work into the hands of others. The very group he served colluded to rid his presence of the very thing he championed; ANYTHING.
A pastor friend of mine openingly wept. As tears literally streamed down his face, he cried, “Don, I don’t know why they don’t like me. They’ve had meetings in their homes talking about me. What did I do?” That pastor just didn’t show up to church one Sunday suffering a total breakdown. Believing he wasn’t good enough, he simply stopped going to church vowing never to go back; ANYTHING.
ANYTHING of Offense
This anything is the anything most anythings are made of. You know, that person who does or says a thing that just offends you. Those words, actions, attitudes, or things that make you angry. The exchange you take home with you. The words you rehearse repeatedly. The irk robbing you of sleep. The inconsideration so inconsiderable that to you, it seems almost unconscionable. Unkind words. Untrue statements. A condescending look. A belittling gesture. A passed over promotion. Abandoned friendships; ANYTHING.
Once while golfing in South Africa with a couple of missionary friends, I missed a three foot birdie putt. Birdies are very rare for me, and I guess the apprehension on perhaps not making the putt played with my mind. My friend sank his eight foot putt for birdie. Smiling, I said to him, “I wish I could golf like you.” He responded, “I wish I could build churches like you.” Double ANYTHING
Recently, a missionary friend shared disappointment with her Home Church. Suffering no less than five deaths in her family the past year, she felt the church failed to respond to any her needs, pain, and heartaches; ANYTHING.
ANYTHING always presents itself. It’s always there.
A missionary appearing far more successful than you; ANYTHING
A policy change in your missionary organization; ANYTHING
Being forgotten shortly after coming off the field; ANYTHING
Disrespected by younger missionaries; ANYTHING
Ignored by older missionaries; ANYTHING
That one person on the team you just can’t stand; ANYTHING
The missionary that stole “your people” – ANYTHING
The missionary group you don’t quite fit into no matter what you do; ANYTHING
The lack of notoriety of your ministry that so many others receive; ANYTHING
Your ANYTHING – Fill in the blank _________________________
When it comes to the “ANYTHING” in my life, I think Jesus offers the best solution. He said long ago:
“If you hold ANYTHING against anyone, forgive them . . .”
Jesus knew that ANYTHING holds great power over us. It hampers self, thinking, relationships, and happiness. ANYTHING conjures up all manner of thought, emotion, and reaction. In the entirety of the verse Jesus pointed out that ANYTHING affects one huge dynamic in our lives:
Forgiving People Experience Forgiveness
Jesus said, “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you . . .”
Forgive-less people experience little forgiveness. Letting ANYTHING go encourages others to let their ANYTHING go towards me.
Loosing ANYTHING allows God’s loosing of ANYTHING towards you.
Let it go. It’s really not worth holding onto. Loose it. Release it. It has only power to destroy. Loose your ANYTHING, before you lose you.
Just My Thoughts
Loneliness. Just this week while meeting with several wonderful young missionaries, the troubling word "loneliness" surfaced. Having left her friends and family in the Midwest to live and serve in Africa, she begged the question, "What do I do my loneliness?" Now that is quite a question; isn't it?
Missionary loneliness is listed by many missionaries speaking with me as the number one reason for returning "coming of the field." As one missionary put it, "Truth is, I'm just so lonely I could cry." Hank Williams Sr. hit song came to mind.
What is exactly do missionaries do with this nebulous personal empty feeling of inner remote isolation? I offered a consideration, "What are the benefits of your loneliness?" Facial responses showed puzzlement. "Really," one responded, "Really, benefits?" A wonderful conversation ensued.
Identity with Christ. Once, I asked a lonely young missionary, "Who do you suppose was the loneliest person who ever lived?" Her answer resonated with the entire group, "Well, I suppose Jesus, but that doesn't help me much." We focused on Isaiah 53, "He was despised and rejected--a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care."
In loneliness, comes great identification with Jesus Christ. Identifying with Jesus, is one of God's great goals for each and everyone of us. Perhaps, this is more true for the missionary than anyone else. Paul in the midst of his loneliness, sufferings, travels, and deprivations formed his mission statement. He declared, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." (Phil 3:10)
Loneliness is a great schoolmaster bringing us closer to Christ.
Value for Closer. Another young missionary blurted out, "Well, this loneliness sure reminds me that even though I am lonely, there are people in my life who care for me." His lovely young wife sitting next to him squeezed his hand gazing intently into his eyes. While the couple felt pain of Midwest friendships drifting away due to three years of living in Africa, they valued fewer yet closer relationships.
We are rarely as alone as we think. Perception rarely dwells in the realms of reality when it comes to loneliness. For most missionaries, there exists a host of friendships around the world. I enjoy friendships in Africa, Central America, and the United States. Now, often when I feel lonely, it is not for lack of friends, but rather the absence of close proximity to my friends.
Empathy for Lonelier. Simon & Garfunkel released their smash hit song I Am an Island in 1966. The words at the end of the song offer rational for loneliness, "And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries." Once while visiting an old dying Zulu man in an African hospital in South Africa I asked, "How can I pray for you?" His reply in Zulu deafened me, "There is no one but me. I lay here on this bed alone by myself."
Before that old dying Zulu man stood a young missionary, me, who entered that 100 bed ward lonely and empty. Five years serving in South Africa drained me. In the midst of ministry and throngs of people, loneliness stalked. Yet, before me lay a hopeless, empty dying old Zulu man reaching out for succor.
Appreciation for Inestimable. "May I sing for you?" I asked the old Zulu man. His cloudy eyes smiled as I began to sing an old Zulu hymn, "Ngingenwe eMoyeni Wam." As I sang, that old man breathed his last breath right there in front of me. I left the hospital those many years ago appreciative for my Kathy, my sons, and my few inestimable friends. Friends I seemed to often overlook. For many, God surrounds us with friends. Often, we just fail to see them in our own busied pursuits.
Thankfulness for Awareness. Those young missionaries missed terribly their families, friends, and loved ones. In their pain, a new awareness sprang up. Surrounding them in that room were loving caring people. Outside that building, others existed in their friendship-realms too. And, now, relationships overseas in a new country among a diversely different people germinated. Blessed . . .
Loneliness produces benefits. It perhaps requires during life's journey that one stops and looks behind their loneliness-rock. A huge obstruction occluding friends in close unseen proximity. Behind that rock often springs forth what was always present; friends.
Just My Thoughts,
For other missionary helps visit www.M2MCare.org
While speaking with a missionary not long ago, he shared his particular "issue." During a pause I asked, "Have you asked anyone to pray for you or with you about this issue?" He immediately responded, "Oh! how could I ever do that?" A momentary pause ensued, and then he continued, "If they knew about my issue, they'd probably drop my support, or worse."
Twenty-two years of missionary service and nine years in the American pastorate, points to at least 5 critical prayer-needs of missionaries.
1. Their Relationship with God
Many, if not most missionaries, at one time or another struggle in their walk with God. Cross-cultural workers tend to find themselves overwhelmed. With the needs of people they serve, demands of ministry, and challenges of living in another culture their pragmatic unspoken mission statement is: go, go, go!
Consistently while probing missionaries about their spiritual disciples and time with God, the answer is predictable, "I just don't ever get around to spending much time in prayer, Scripture reading, and other spiritual stuff." In going all the time, God somehow gets lost in OUR priorities. Simply stated Jesus said, "Your number one consideration is to love God with everything you are, have, and do." It's in the doing; both positive and negative, missionaries can lose their God-focus.
2. Their Physical and Emotional Condition
Missionaries gain weight, get sick, struggle with both physical and emotional ills. The high rate of "burnout" and attrition among missionaries and missionary organizations is alarming. Many suffer unspeakable traumas. A close friend shared after a missionary visited their church, "That missionary was a bit strange . . ." Having served as a missionary for many years my thoughts hovered around, "Wounds, burnout, trauma, soul-sorrow . . ."
While pastoring in Minnesota, a missionary the church supported called me. "Pastor Don," he began, "Some really bad things happened to us in _____________. My wife has been unable to leave the house for five years now. She is agoraphobic."
As I inquired to his condition and care, he made a startling statement, "I asked my pastor and church for help, he told me, 'The ministry is a tough place for everyone. I don't have time for whiners.'" He continued, "My mission's agency just fired me. They don't have time for missionaries like us now. We're broken." That missionary struggled with church, ministry, God, and life." No small wonder!
A wonderful pastor so concerned about four of his missionary couples, flew them back to the Midwest from Africa for care. Kathy and I spent a few days with the missionaries helping them work through their woundedness. We were just one prong of a multifaceted plan to help those struggling missionaries. Now, that's a great pastor! That's a great church!
3. Dealing with Loneliness
Recently, a young missionary asked me, "What do I do with my loneliness?" I asked, "Who do you suppose was the loneliest person ever?" In Isaiah 53, we looked at the Son of Man who was "despised and rejected" by all. Jesus was lonely too. From the cross he cried, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Missionaries can feel this way too, and often do.
Loneliness is listed as one of the major hardships of many missionaries. Thousands of miles away from home, family, and friends present huge challenges. Yet, Loneliness carries benefits too. Great spiritual progress can be made identifying with Christ, and releasing our loneliness to God.
4. Managing Stress
Studies show that missionaries suffer some of the highest stress levels in the world. Many missionaries taking the Holms-Rahe stress test show shocking results. A score of 200 on the Holms-Rahe scale indicates a level of stress leading to serious long term physical or emotional health problems within two years.
Many first term missionaries score 900 on the Holms-Rahe test! The average veteran missionary serving outside the US lives year after year at the 600 level of stress. It's no wonder we missionaries seem so weird! :-) Most are stressed beyond their limits most of the time. And, it's no wonder missionaries suffer from so many many ailments.
While serving in South Africa, my Holms-Rahe test scored me at 800. The test did not take into consideration the events of that year in our lives. Three murders, many dying African children, two burglaries, mass shooting of 45 people in our town, all three of our sons returning to the US for college, and my yet to be discovered P.T.S.D. Missionaries are stressed.
5. Dealing with Conflict
Family, Missionary, and Team conflict are listed as one of the top struggles of most missionaries, and their organizations.
Historically, missionaries struggle in close environments to work harmoniously. Many missionaries are strong passionate type A personalities born to lead. Put five visionary missionary leaders together on the same team and, well . . . one sees the probabilities. Missions Agencies share that conflict is in the top three reasons missionaries leave the field and return home.
Did you hear the one about the missionary dispute over peanut butter? It's a perfect example of veteran seasoned missionaries colliding with newer younger missionaries arriving on the field. A young missionary couple arriving on the field brought an ample supply of peanut butter. The young missionary couple loved peanut butter! Veteran missionaries from their organization believing since God called them to a place without peanut butter that the young missionaries must give up the tasty pasty spread. No one else enjoyed peanut butter. Why should they?
Over a period of time, the peanut butter issue intensified to such a degree that the younger family resigned returning to the United States. Older and younger missionaries collide all the time. Every missionary team we minister to sees this challenge.
The Apostle Paul wrote for one's whole spirit, soul, and body to be complete and blameless. Pray that it may be so with each and every one of us; especially our missionaries.
Just My Thoughts,
As a young teenage boy, a highlight of my summer occurred at great-grandma's cabin. We called it such because great-grandpa long ago passed away, and only great-grandma was left. Going to great-grandma's cabin was commonly referred to as "going up North." Up North existed a plethora of lakes offering endless activities for summer fun. "Our lake" existed where the family cabin sat on the channel waterway connecting Lake Lawrence and Roosevelt Lake. It was in that cabin we "stayed." Whenever telling of my anticipated summer event to a school friend the inevitable question came, "Where you going to stay?"
Anxiety seems a little like that to me. "Where are you staying?" That little apprehensive unease of certain outcomes you're not quite sure about. Where are you staying? Sometimes those little uncertainties grow into suffocating feelings of helplessness. A "What's going to happen now?" develops into sure inexplicable panic.
Concern grows into apprehension, apprehension into worry, worry into fear, fear somehow morphs into trepidation, and trepidation explodes into peacelessness. That kind of anxiety. If that kind of anxiety visits you, Where are you staying upon it's arrival?
Once I asked a homeless person, "Where do you stay?" He restlessly answered, "I stay nowhere, I stay everywhere." Anxiety seems to bare similarities with that homeless gentleman's experience; at least to me.
Where Do You Stay?
When anxiety reaches unhealthy levels I like to ask myself, "Don, where are you staying right now at this very moment of this experience?" It's a good question to ponder.
In Isaiah 26:3 exists a very helpful Bible verse:
"You will keep in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You,
The word "stayed" is very interesting. Isaiah, the prophet who wrote these words lived in a corrupt cultural decaying period of his nation's history. He faced severe economic and security uncertainties throughout his entire life. "Stayed" in the language Isaiah wrote the above phrase is from the Hebrew word סָמַך (Samak). It is used in a variety of ways. It means to, "to lean, lay, rest, support, put, uphold, and lean upon, sustain, or refresh."
It asks questions, "Where is your leaning?" - "Where is your resting?" - "Where is your refreshing?" - "Where is your supporting?" Or, back to great grandma's cabin, "Where is your staying?"
A good diagnostic question asked when confronting anxiety is, "At this very moment, right now in the height of anxiety, where am I staying?" In other words, "Your anxieties about this or that leans towards, or is supported by what assumptions, thoughts, apprehensions, fears, and trepidation?" Where are you staying; right now?
Here's the truth about great-grandma's cabin. That fond place way up in Northern, Minnesota belonged to my great-grandma. She stayed there; not me. While a place of my staying from time to time, growth, maturation, and health required moving onward. My stayed staying placed existed in another place; my place, not great-grandma's. A place of my own yet to discover.
Finding a secured peaceful stayed staying place in this chaotic crazy world is best captured in the "You" of Isaiah 26:3. At least is seems that way to me.
In "You" is my stayed stay staying place.
Just My Thoughts,
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