The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Reentry after a trip like my last is always an interesting if not difficult process. You simply can’t un-see things…the unjust realities of poverty are hard to understate once intimately experienced and they are nearly impossible to reconcile with “first world” life.
Worse yet it can be demoralizing to think about how little is actually impacted in a week-long effort. What really changed? Not much. Certainly not as much as you would like.
I think a lot of people come back and talk about the impact made…the lives they changed in the place they visited or they talk about how their lives were forever changed. So many return raw, emotional and overwhelmed. I get it-I’ve been there myself. But lately Ive come to the conclusion that most of us simply romanticize the experience.
Yes it is sad to witness poverty and certainly any person with an ounce of compassion would feel something after a trip to a place like Korah but in the end most people don’t rearrange their lives, make real and substantial changes in the way they live after a trip like this.
For the vast majority of people (like me) their lives return to a pre trip rhythm rather quickly.
I struggle with that bit of reality. I wish it was different for me. I wish I could find the strength to throw out my first world existence in exchange for a life that amounted to meaningful change for the poor and orphaned. People who have chosen this path inspire me.
But in the end like most others returning from service I too will return to my comfortable life. I will bitch about the food at a 5 star restaurant because it’s not quite hot enough, even though I’ve seen people eat from a trash dump. I will buy shoes, one in every color, even though I’ve washed the feet of those who have none. I will complain about waiting in a doctor’s office, even though I’ve seen mothers with children tied to their backs walk for miles to see us.
I am not proud of this…I’m just trying to keep it real. As much as I care and have a desire to do more, I know in my heart I will only sacrifice within limits.
Some people will use this to criticize. Some will negate my small effort because in their judgement I have not sacrificed enough. Some will begrudge my return to my comfortable life. It bothers me …partly because it pokes at the guilt I already feel ….and partly because it is so outrageously hypocritical of them to require more of me than they give themselves.
At the beginning of this trip I took some grief from a few who took exception to me referring to myself as a “Princess Missionary”. They suggested that “PM” demeaned the effort and took away from the seriousness of our work. Maybe they are right. I don’t claim to be perfect.
But when I refer to myself as a Princess Missionary I am intending to be self-effacing and ironic. I don’t pretend to be one of the saintly few who really do reorganize their lives to serve others. I am fully appreciative of the fact that I will return to my comfortable “princess” life at the end of each trip. And frankly that’s true for most everyone who serves on short-term missions. They may not call themselves “Princess” but they do almost invariably return to the relative luxury of their first world lives.
At the end of the day I have to get good with my own conscience and ignore those who would condemn due to ignorance, self-righteousness, envy or spite. I have to accept that my normal life and my service life are riddled with incongruity and work though the guilt that comes with that. And I have to fight the demoralizing sense of futility I feel as I leave a place not much different from before I came.
Because I believe we have to do something…I have to try…even if all I can offer is an imperfect effort.