It occurred to me in the last few days that there is a comparable situation between two unlikely events, that can end up producing similar outcomes.
At the turn of the millennium, I was a YWAM missionary, first training in the UK then in the Middle East. Part of my own research and study involved coming to factual terms with what is termed “culture shock,” which is a very real, dynamic and potentially dangerous event.
Different cultures operate in different ways. Hot climate cultures differ from cold climate cultures. Even one hot climate culture may differ quite dramatically from another hot climate culture, to lesser or greater degrees. Most people who go abroad will know in tiny part what I mean. We go for a week or two, enjoy the experience, soak up the atmosphere, enjoy ourselves. Laugh or frown at the driving, customs, language or principle mood of the place, but in the end, the return ticket is in our pocket. We’re going home, and we know it. Imagine going to a place so alien in language and custom, not to mention temperature and (from a Western perspective), hygiene – with a single ticket. You’re there for the long-haul and you’ve got to deal with what comes your way. And anyone who thinks or assumes this is easy has not experienced what I am attempting to articulate.
After the delights and excitement of the honeymoon phase, reality kicks in, and it kicks hard! For the next weeks and months, as language lessons become more complex, the sun more relentless and the people more demanding, you press on in hope that something gives (and mostly what you hope gives is not you but someone else)!!
You hit a wall. Maybe it’s time to go home. Or rather, maybe it’s time to kick the wall down! Why should you do this? Culture shock presents itself in waves. And when a big barrier comes, when everything is just getting too much and there’s no way out apart from literally getting out, it can be utterly overwhelming. As you kick and punch against the wall, it is as if your own personality is changed. Buttons within your personality that were quite safe and tucked away back home, are suddenly exposed and with it come all the attendant insecurities and confusions: i.e. what we call ‘Culture Shock’.
What will you do? The missionary pushes through the wall and begins to function a little more aware; a little smarter; a little more settled. Keep going, pressing on, doing the work you do, until the next and slightly bigger wall comes up, and you know you can’t ignore it. You’ve got to get through the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Each one coming at various stages of your journey, each one bigger and more brutal than the one before, but get through, smash through them you must.
Otherwise you live with insufficient skills to cope with the alien culture; you continue to ignore the buttons that are being pushed within your own personality. This will be the way you not only begin to function within an alien society, but also how God uses the strange circumstances to address you with you!
In a similar fashion, the honeymoon period of lock-down with Covid-19 is now exhibiting signs that the honeymoon phase of lock-down is over, and with it comes a restlessness of insecure uncertainty; a questioning of decisions and routines. It is like a wall. And as with culture shock in a foreign culture, the shifting situation of C-19 is going to force people to confront aspects of their own character and personality, their assumptions and preferences, their preconceived ideas and their hopes and dreams for the future. As with a long-term missionary, everything is up for grabs, and this can be very disorientating, disabling and…. a great opportunity if faced head on, with boldness and more strength than the Wall that is in front of you.
What is the Wall calling out from you? What buttons are being pushed in you? What is God saying as you squirm and squeal in the face of your own helplessness and lack of control?
C. S. Lewis said God uses pain as a megaphone to rouse a deaf world, so when you’ve smashed the Wall with your fists and gone eye-to-eye with your demons that rise up in protest, what will you hear God whisper to you in your pain? Whatever you hear, will lead to more freedom and joy, the Gospel promises you that!