Why to Consider Counseling Before You Head Overseas

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Did you know Amazon sold 300,000 InstaPots on Prime Day this year?

True story. Maybe it feels like everyone you know has one.

If you don’t have one, maybe you wonder what the big deal is. Well, pressure cookers 101 will tell you that under high pressure, things cook a lot faster. Flavors within intensify.

Lest you wonder where I’m going with this: Consider this a bit of a metaphor for going overseas.

Welcome to the pressure cooker.

What Comes Out

Friends and I sat around a meal of stuffed peppers the other night, reminiscing on our time overseas–theirs in North Africa, ours in East Africa. “Being a missionary is just hard,” my friend remarked. “And it’s hard on your marriage.” 

And someone else last week actually remarked to me that they thought they knew more unhealthy missionaries than healthy ones (ouch).

It’s good, see, if the flavors in the dish of your life are just the spices you want, in just the right amounts. But if there are unresolved issues in your past or your heart, the bitter or acidic flavors make themselves known, too. That abuse, that destructive relationship with a relative, that tendency to ignore, deny, and avoid? Any one of those can lead to replicating, corrosive patterns in the constant low-level thrum of stress overseas.

What we were once able to conceal or deal with, within the context of modern-day conveniences and cultures we understood and justice systems we trusted? They can tend to reveal themselves as they are when we’re dealing with the battles of daily life there.

Whether it’s anxiety or control issues, unaddressed abuse, a fractured marriage, a mild depression: Living cross-culturally, you’re now more often in the stressed version of yourself (see this post for more ideas of what the stressed version of yourself might look like==including these on the stressed version of your marriage and the stressed version of your parenting). Many sending agencies now require mental health evaluations before you head overseas for these very reasons, and several more.

What We Sign Up For

A friend of mine and her husband once traveled to Africa to finalize the adoption of their little girl, and at last bring her home. It should last three months, tops, they thought.

It stretched out to nearly a year.

My friends felt convicted that paying bribes contributed to corruption, and corruption was taking Africa under, furthering poverty. (I have to agree with them on that one.) Plus, they decided to expose a corrupt children’s home–which had been funneling money from well-meaning patrons in the U.S. So the director phoned in a few favors in order to make their adoption process a living you-know-what.

I saw her in a craft market one Friday morning. As I sympathized with her, she shrugged. This was what the poor dealt with all the time–and they had no inimitable blue passport, shielding them from some of the more grim realities.

I tell you this because for those of you going to developed countries, the closer you are to the poor, the more you experience their hardship and heartache. Your probability of trauma skyrockets; a healthy percentage of the global workers I’d encountered had been broken into, and we soon joined their ranks.

Though we are undoubtedly safest in the center of God’s will (with a morphing definition of safety!)–we’re simply more likely to experience stressful events overseas. (Don’t miss Rachel Pieh Jones’ brilliant thoughts here in I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger),

Make no mistake: God will triumph through your darkest days overseas. But starting from a place of health, with a number of robust coping mechanisms in place, means you can stay longer and stronger overseas, without the wave of trauma capitulating you as easily.

What we Reproduce

But wait, there’s more!

Remember that when you’re sharing the gospel or even performing tasks of social justice, you’re reproducing your faith DNA. You’re saying in essence what Paul did: Follow me as I follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

It would be stellar if we were all “making disciples” only of the purest version of Jesus Christ. But–similar to the discipleship of parenting–we’re Xeroxing not only our spiritual strengths, but also our weaknesses. Our priorities (or lack thereof) become theirs. Our undetected but errant theology reproduces itself.

No, I’m not saying a church is only as strong as its pastor. The Holy Spirit is so much stronger than our weaknesses, where we know his power is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)! Remember: God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).

But this is yet another reason to forego operating in a silo or as a lone ranger, but instead, to link arms with other global workers, functioning as a community, a Body: “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:19).

What You Could Be

If you’ve managed to hang in here through all the bad news–I want to extend you a happy reason to pursue healing (possibly with a counselor) before, during, and after you go overseas.

I can’t count those around me who’ve chosen to participate in counseling–some who I’d never thought would go for it. (And if you fear finding the right one, think of counseling a little like dating: It’s okay to shop around a bit so you can find a good “click”–the right fit.) Here’s the awesome benefit: All of their relationships benefit from their emotional health. 

So then the answer becomes…why not? (If finances are an issue or you’re longing for care specific to global workers, don’t miss this list.)

Sin is blinding. (Okay, I lied. That was one more piece of bad news.) It’s unquestionably helpful to have someone understand how it’s infiltrated our souls–or how others‘ sin has weaseled its way in there, too. (If you’re wondering whether and/or when to see a counselor, this post from A Life Overseas may help you.)

Emotional health is one way to conquer its death, this grave within us, and say that it stops here–from the most intimate parts of our soul outward. As Peter Scazzero relates in his (highly-recommended!) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, it’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.

The great news? Pressure cookers make some of the most nuanced food with complex flavors. God uses stress–aka trials, suffering–to develop endurance, character, hope that never puts us to shame (Romans 5:1-5). So take the time now to invest in your emotional heath, so that any stress you encounter contributes to the beauty of Christ in you.

What new life could be waiting for you on the other side? 


Editor’s Note: A few helpful posts for those interested:

A Life Overseas: Ask A Counselor: A Personal Emotional Development Library and Three Dysfunctional Missionary Marriage Patterns

Like this post? You might like

8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas!

Help Your Marriage Thrive Overseas! Part I, Part II, and Part III

Different Strokes? Marital Differences as You Look Overseas, Part I and Part II

He Said/She Said. You Say? “What do you wish you’d known before you went?” Part I and Part II






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