Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? (D Martin Lloyd-Jones' Introduction to Spiritual Depression)
My wife Jenn was feeling a little down so I asked. She felt the weight of expectations. From herself. From others - neighbors, new believers, co-workers - perhaps real, perhaps projected. We prayed and talked through it. So much of what we do in our cross-cultural ministry so often just feels...heavy. Like we can never do it all, get it right, polish it up, feel in the zone, or get to the "top-of-our-game". It's easy to get down on ourselves. To be self-critical. And to sense criticism or unrealistic expectations (often irrationally) from others. And then we risk existing in what feels like just a shadow of our true calling and spiritual identity.
Life and ministry are hard enough in a new language. We often feel we are crawling uphill, or just trying to come up for air. But to wake up every morning to suffocating self-talk like, "You're just not good enough," or "You don't get it yet," or "You are so unproductive" can literally crush us. These are lies and they will sink us.
I recently read a liberating little book called, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Tim Keller, 2019, 10publishing) in which Keller talks about the idea of "gospel humility." Gospel humility has to do with self-forgetfulness. This is a godly way to live (see 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7). And it is so important for us as cross-cultural workers to get our heads and hearts around! Listen as Keller unpacks it:
The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.
It is an end to thoughts such as, "I'm in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?"
True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up, but filled-up.
Our own self-awareness can become so magnified through the lens of our new language and culture - How do I sound? Am I correct? What if I'm wrong? What do they think of me? As we listen to these lies we risk spiraling into self-absorbed doubt and pity. And this can literally sidetrack us from our calling.
I have felt the sting of criticism and self-doubt in my cross-cultural ministry. I've lost sleep over it. Anguish. Doubt. Sometimes for extended periods of time. God lifts me from this. How? By abiding in his Word. By being filled with the Spirit, and comforted by his Spirit. And by living in the overflow of God's goodness in my life before my church and before my neighbors.
My cup overflows. Ps 23:5
As this happens my perspective shifts from myself to God. From "here I am" to "there you are." From "What do they think about me?" to "What does God think about them?" From "What is going on here?" to "What is God doing here?" From doubting direction and purpose (sometimes irrationally) to seeking, seeing, and speaking the truth of the gospel in all conversations.
Because when my focus, direction, purpose, and perspective shift from myself toward the gospel, then I begin to see everything differently: my life, those around me, and what God is doing. And that's gospel humility.