Sunday, December 05, 2010

Keith reflecting on Japan grief

There have been many times in my life when I suffered grief. Most of those times were in high school and were compounded by the problem that I seemed to lack a reason for my grief. I later found out that it was my detachment from God that was the root of my problem. So I know what grief feels like. When it hits me more intensely, it affects me physically. I kneel down and stare at a spot on the ground. Somewhere in my chest cavity there are muscle contractions that force me to double over slightly. I studied some human anatomy, but I can't seem to place what exactly is contracting, maybe my intercostals because I also draw in a slow breath that I never fully exhale until the intensity passes. To an extent, this physical pain reflects the mental pain of my grief. 

I write this because I along with my wife have been feeling grief over Japan. I first misinterpreted it as reverse culture shock, which we did have, but the lingering sadness over the months did not abate like the culture shock did. It was only recently at a conference about communication, when we were discussing the various symptoms of grief, that we noticed we had those symptoms of shock (which we attributed to culture shock), sadness, wrestling with pain, and attempting to come to terms with reality. Celia and I have attempted to short-cut the process by claiming God's promises that He will bring us back to Japan and that right now He has called us to Seattle for a reason. I am, however, still at the stage of wrestling with the pain of having a calling to Japan and acknowledging the reality that I do not live in Japan. I am grieving the loss of relationships that we were fostering in Japan, of seeing all the children growing up at Satsunae Lighthouse Church, of explaining the gospel to college students in simple English, and of working with our mentors and co-workers. 

My favorite picture of Satsunae Lighthouse Church in Sapporo, Japan

For each of these areas and others I have given myself excuses like, “I can be with people here now,” and “There's no reason why I should miss my Japanese friends more than I missed my family when I lived there.” I have downplayed this grief, and compounded it like I did in high school. The difference is that I do not feel distanced from God, and to some extent, that is part of the reality that I grapple with. The reality that God gives me a passion for Japan, does not (nor do I want Him to) take my passion away, yet settles me here in Seattle which is not Japan. I am aware that there are a number of reasons why God gives me the desire to go to Japan but keeps me in Seattle for this time (plenty of reasons like: I can be a living testimony to American people that Japanese people need Jesus, or the obvious reason is that I need prayer and financial support that I otherwise would not get if I were in Japan or that I would not want to get if I were not passionate to go, or another reason is that I can partner with others who are passionate about helping the Japanese but unable to go themselves), but one thing about grief: it does not listen to reason. When I think about what I did when I missed my family while living in Japan, I realize I did very few of those things upon coming back here. When I went to Japan, I knew I would miss big events, like the births and baptisms of nieces and nephews. I addressed the problems specifically and prayed about it. I dealt with it instead of trying to cheer myself up. I did not say, “God has led me to Japan for this time, so I should make the most of my time while I'm here and stop 'living' back at home.” Maybe there is a time to say that, but it was not when my brother was in a burn care clinic in Minnesota and I was in Japan.
My brother (born with spina bifida, hence the wheelchair) was flown by helicopter to Minneapolis to treat his leg burns, which happened shortly after Celia and I had arrived in Japan in 2009.
So even in the last week or two, I have noticed that I perceive this grief differently. It is no longer negative feelings to be discouraged but acceptable feelings that show the burden of love (pardon the Christianese) that God has placed on me. I love the Japanese there, and I love my family here. Both types of love are God given, and I must deal with the consequences of this love. “To arrive means to have left,” which is something I will have to deal with over and over again especially as a missionary.

1 comment:

M.J. said...

Keith - thanks for sharing. I've dealt with a similar grief lately, only it's more financially related. Well, maybe it's not so different after all. If we had the funds, not only could we rid of that ugly undergrad debt but I could take more classes and wouldn't have to worry about trying to find a job. Why would God give us these desires only to delay them for so long, or in your case to tear you away from the country you love? I don't know the answer, but perhaps it's to make the journey that much sweeter and to make sure we learn the lessons well.

I'll be praying that you can go back to Japan soon.