In my missionary training, an instructor told us entering a new culture was like walking across a field full of rakes. Every once in a while, I’d step on one wrong and it would smack me in the face.
I remember laughing about that image.
But I was not laughing when I mixed up the word bottle and underwear (chupa vs. chupi). Or got lost in the city. I wasn’t laughing when I had my phone stolen. Or taught the wrong material. Or felt so lonely I was desperate to go home.
Those were the moments when crossing cultures was painful and hard, and I needed to know that God saw me and loved me just as I was.
I wanted to hear,
I see you.
You’re struggling with hard things.
I see you doing the best you can.
You are seen.
Sometimes Being a Guest Stinks
Another part of my missionary training was a focus on being a guest in the host country.
Taking the posture of a guest includes being humble and accepting things as they are and realizing that you are dependent on them. I love that lesson and it is one that I returned to again and again during my time overseas.
However, sometimes I got really darn tired of being a guest.
I wanted some ownership. I wanted some control. And I wanted to bend my surroundings to meet my needs.
Then I felt terribly guilty for all those entitled feelings. Those moments made being a guest feel like a curse.
I needed to know that God saw me and loved me just as I am.
Where’d They Go?
One thing they should’ve covered in missionary training is how quickly your family and friends’ initial excitement for your journey will wear off.
I had such a wellspring of support when I left, but then it seemed like I was out of sight and out of mind.
Newsletters went unanswered, blog posts had no views, and I was lonely.
Those were the moments when moving away felt like disappearing, and I needed to know that God saw and loved me just as I am.
I See You
The need to feel seen is not a modern phenomenon. In Genesis 16, God appears to Hagar as she is running away from a terrible situation. She is abused, abandoned, and alone.
God meets her in that place of pain and speaks words of hope over her life.
Hagar “gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).
God’s presence doesn’t miraculously change Hagar’s circumstances, but it does give her the courage to face them. Knowing that God sees her and loves her transforms her life and changes her story.
What Hits Me in the Forehead
And so it was with me: Knowing God was with me and for me gave me the courage to do big, scary, hard things.
And when I inevitably failed or faltered, His loving presence saved me from giving up.
See, rakes are useful for more than forehead-smacking. They’re great for cultivation, too.
God’s loving presence gave me the strength to endure stepping on rakes, humbling myself as a guest, and feeling forgotten.
Like Hagar, no matter what you are going through right now, I want to remind you:
God sees you.
He sees you struggling with hard things.
God sees you doing the best you can.
You are seen, known, and loved more than you can imagine.
Alyson Rockhold has served as a medical missionary in Haiti, Tanzania, and Zambia. Check out her free 7-day devotional about learning to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10)!