When someone experiences a death in their family, there is an expectation in this day and age that others will step up.
Your close friends might offer to make you meals. Your neighbors might offer to watch the kids, walk the dog, or run errands. Your small group at church might ask how you are handling the loss on a heart level.
But, eventually, it stops.
It might last a couple of weeks. Maybe even a month. Yet, slowly but surely, the meals stop coming, the routine duties pick back up, and the questions about how you are doing trickle into obscurity.
Though the extra generosity and kindness stops, the grieving often doesn’t.
I spent a year on The Sowers Project, just returning to America about four months ago.
For one year of my life, I lived in East Asia, doing campus ministry among unreached people, and serving on a church planting team.
This wasn’t just any old missions trip. It was normal life.
As I adjusted to life back in the States this summer, I was warmly welcomed. People constantly wanted to grab coffee, hear stories from my adventure, and listen to how God was working in East Asia.
Soon, however, the conversations dwindled, my stories became less and less intriguing, and interest in God’s work overseas seemed to halt.
But my grieving didn’t.
I don’t think the people in my life did anything wrong, nor do I blame them for losing interest. But I was left feeling insecure and confused.
Am I wrong for still missing my life in East Asia?
Am I annoying people with all of these stories?
Does anyone even care anymore?
I needed to grieve, but felt pressure to get over it faster. I needed a listening ear, but felt like no one had interest. I needed someone who understood, but they didn’t exist.
For me, the hardest part about returning to America has been the loneliness. It is not a physical loneliness – there are way more people here to talk to! But there is no one who can fully empathize with me.
No matter how much I try, and no matter how much my friends seek to listen, they will never truly know what that year of my life was like.
The truth about reverse culture shock is that it is a grieving process.
It might be too dramatic for me to compare it to death, but the similarities hit so close to home. I have lost a huge part of me. I have been shaped in ways that people can only understand intellectually. I made relationships with people that will never be the same.
But there is hope.
So many of my insecurities are lies. Though the questions about my year have stopped, it doesn’t mean my grieving has to. It doesn’t mean my friends don’t want to listen. It doesn’t mean I am actually alone.
Even more, when my friends fail, I can trust and rely in a Savior who never will. I find so much comfort in worshipping a High Priest who is able to empathize with every single one of my weaknesses.
Jesus experienced the ultimate culture shock, departing his throne in Heaven to enter a broken world where no one fully understood him, his teachings, nor where he came from.
I have a Savior who grieves alongside me.
When people ask me if there has been any reverse culture shock during my return to America, I usually go with a pretty superficial answer – mainly because that is all I ever thought culture shock was for a long time:
I never realized how big Americans are!
Traffic here is so much smoother!
It is so overwhelming to understand all of the conversations around you!
But now I know reverse culture shock runs so much deeper, and I want a new answer:
My life has been flipped upside down in so many ways. I miss people, rhythms of life, ministry, and food. And I think it’s going to take a while to adjust.