Last week while hiking, my husband and I saw a man in black speedo-like underwear and a straw hat walking through a cactus field, tapping with a slender stick the almost ripe napoles, three scraggly dogs marching in a line behind him. We hardly blinked.
This morning I passed a stately white horse–the tallest horse I have ever seen– riding on the side of the road, cantering along carrying a man who held in one arm what seemed to be a six-month old baby boy. That’s right, a baby. I nodded as they passed and drove on, over yet another steep tope.
I stopped at my favorite little juice stand to get fresh jugo de zanahoria. The young woman promised me she would make it right up and that yes, they indeed had zanahorias this morning. They did not and she brought me jugo de betebel with a smile. I took it with a gracious and handed her my 10 pesos. Here, it was not a lie she told, it was a kindness she extended not to trouble my mind over what was not and then quickly replace it with something else.
This afternoon I biked next to a truck that had randomly stopped on a local street and proceeded to shovel out mounds of debris and garbage into the ditch and drive off. I crinkled my nose to avoid the smell and rode on to get my daughter from pre-school. A motorcycle holding an entire family, complete with another infant passed me, a herd of goats wandering around bleated and a man on a bike–with tires on his neck, arms and legs–struggled to get to the nearby auto mechanic to make a delivery.
I didn’t even smile. The sights and smells have become normal.
Evidently, I am proceeding right along on the trail of culture shock. Coming into the realm of acceptance and negotiation and all that jazz. However, an important stop I’ve made along the way is the little rest area marked with a hazy sign that reads, “disillusionment”. I’ve unintentionally camped out there for the last couple of months; it has caused me to be rather frozen and unsure, both slow and wild in my thinking at the same time. But soon I think, I’ll be on my way again. On my way, but not without being undone. Yet again.
Disillusionment: Untrue ideas and beliefs one has acquired along the way; a false way of seeing things.
Disillusionment is an important work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It wakes us up to see things as they really are and to recognize more clearly how to take a humble role in the midst. All the great thinkers I have read who have wanted more of God in their lives recognize this and with it, cooperate fully. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when we live with illusions we come to whatever it is God has brought us to as consumers and demanders (ouch!), often not noticing our posture. CS Lewis said it drives us to deeper reliance on God for it makes us painfully aware that all, including ourselves, is not as it should be and we are at the mercy of a merciful and forgiving Savior. St. John of the Cross wrote something to the effect of that when we draw nearer to God, we pull closer to His truth about all things, not ours. Disillusionment is a hard acceptance of sorts, a relinquishment, an understanding.
So, disillusionment in culture shock, what role does it play?
I have found that when recognized it opens up space for grieving. Grieving all the things, the places and the people you said farewell to when you yielded to a particular call in a particular place. Grieving that all is not what you couldn’t help but envision from scraps of your memories and research, tidbits of hearsay and others experiences, understandings of what it would really look like, on a daily basis. Yes, those dreams that kept you up at night while you planned the details in your mind all nice and tidy with a certain excited anticipation. It’s almost like falling in love and then encountering the un-beautiful parts of a committed marriage. But the unavoidable grief– it is a holy and slow lament, often hard to even articulate, especially when one knows the deep joy in being right where they are to be–for me, here in Mexico.
Leaning into disillusionment also gives opportunity as you live day in and day out to see afresh that even here, things are not as they should be and not as you had hoped. The world is cracked everywhere, with as much severity, and aching for the day when all will be made right.
You knew that, of course your logical head knew that, but it hurts the heart to learn it again in another time and another place. It makes your soul sigh and dig in for the long, long haul. It can’t help but make your shoulders sag from time to time with the understanding again that we Christ-followers can be something else, even those here…perhaps, especially those here:)
Not only does it give the tickets to grief and the revelation to truly see things, it asks some hard and often plain annoying questions: Are you willing to still be teachable? Are you willing to keep observing? Are you willing to speak when you know it is the zeal of the Spirit and not your own passion? Are you willing to walk so in step with the Spirit that you know when to just accept that is how things work in this culture or say “no” and rise up in holy and defiant prayer and action? Are you willing to keep on with trying to decipher another language, even when it seems futile and though your ear is advancing your response is often tongue-tied? Are you willing to submit to the snail pace, it seems, of vision and communication? Are you willing to give, to love, to rest when you need to and to keep on and keep on even with no “quantitative results”? And the questions really, they just keep continuing. Thankfully, Jesus showed the answer to every single one of them.
Normal? What’s your daily normal?
Here in this place, mine is becoming more and more the truth of the Gospel. The story that haunts me and never can seem to get enough of me nor I it: I am more needy, more desperate, more sinful that I can fathom yet more loved, delighted in, more filled and sustained that I can imagine.
Thank God for the gift of disillusionment.
*If you happen to read Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” turn to the entry for July 30th.