I hopped off the blog train a while back, mainly because I was in a season where I felt that what I had to say wasn’t that monumental or profound, but lately I’ve felt compelled to share about my experience with being out of my comfort zone. I’m currently spending a month in France to brush up on the language before I begin my French-teaching career this fall. Even though I haven’t been immersed in a French-speaking environment for a long time, my thought going into this experience was c’est pas grave! (It’s no big deal) I’ve got this, I can get by! I am a relational person who loves to converse, and it is extremely difficult to be put in a situation where you are unable to form exactly what you want to say. Even though I’m in a great situation, with a fun and outgoing family, it did not take too long for me to experience the feelings of dépaysement.
This is one of those words that doesn’t directly translate into English, and the definition shown above even falls short. I also saw it defined as “the disorientation one experiences when away from one’s home country.” Merriam-Webster says it’s “being out of one’s element.” Even though this is my 5th time in France, and I consider myself a francophile (lover of all things French), I found myself periodically feeling lost.
I hesitated in writing this, because I’m currently sitting outside my host family’s home in the beautiful Loire region of France with a cup of tea overlooking an immense garden, and I really should have no worries. I’ve visited beautiful châteaux, I eat the best cheese and bread in the world daily, and my host family is incredibly generous and patient with me as I’ve struggled to get back into the habit of speaking and understanding French. It seems selfish to miss home, right? It’s ungrateful to long for the comfort of what’s known, right?
But I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.
I’ve come a long way since junior high church camp (where I hid away on the verge of tears the whole week, missing my parents), so I hope this provides some encouragement for those of you who wrestle with this fear and longing for home.
If you asked one of my friends or family members to describe me in 5 words, I have a feeling that “traveler” or “adventurer” would be on that list. The people in my life know that I’m passionate about exploring new places, embracing the culture and the people, and stepping out of my comfort zone. We live in a digital age, and if you’re like me, every time you get on Instagram you are flooded with the physical evidence that people are really cool, and this world we live in is absolutely stunning. That’s my first reaction. But it’s usually followed by this response:
Wow, those people are brave.
I wonder if people think that about me.
I’m putting on a good show.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I’ve been given, and that I’ve worked for. But here’s the confession: no matter where I go, who I meet, what I eat, or what I see, I always long for home. I’ve been feeling guilty about this the last few weeks that I’ve been abroad, but I’m beginning to realize that we are actually wired this way, and it’s a beautiful thing.
I think C.S. Lewis said it best: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Yesterday I visited the beautiful Châteaux de Chenonceau, and as I wandered through the numerous rooms, hallways, staircases, and gardens, I found myself longing for the people I call home. I wanted to bring everyone I share life with to this glorious home, and share it with them. I wanted to meld my two worlds and hear my French mother say “à table” (“come to the table”) like she does for every meal, and see my niece Josephine come running. At first this experience made me quite emotional, and I began to feel those familiar feelings of homesickness creep up, but the more I think about it, the more it reminds me that when we live our lives for Christ and not ourselves, that’s ultimately the picture we have. Everyone is welcome to gather at the table, and we are all trying to get home and into the loving arms of our Father.
This time last year I was at Young Life camp in Colorado, and just the sound of those two words stirs my soul with longing and love. My heart says: Young Life is home for me, Colorado is home for me, Kansas is home for me. At Frontier Ranch, towards the end of camp, there is a dinner outside at the LONGEST TABLE EVER. Seriously, it’s like a quarter-mile. It’s such a beautiful picture of what it means to gather. There’s room for everyone, so you better come hungry!
The paradox I live in is being a homebody who fears complacency, and therefore must go. There’s a NEEDTOBREATHE song that says, “if you never leave home, never let go, you’ll never make it to the great unknown.” That resonates deeply with me, because here’s the truth folks…
I am not brave on my own.
More often than not, I seek comfort more than adventure.
I am in a constant tug-of-war between the stay and go, and know there are times for both.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I have found that home is not really a place, but an atmosphere. It’s the feeling I get when I walk into my church community. It’s the love that seeps from the walls of my parents’ home. It’s the sacred space of our cabin in the mountains of Colorado. It’s the joy that invades my soul every Thursday night when we have Young Life. It’s the awareness of my fiancé’s hand in mine. It’s the sight of my beloved niece frolicking around her farm. It’s the pride that swells within my spirit when watching my love play soccer with the most beautiful Haitians. And I know, with every fiber within me, that this is all rooted in The Creator God. Which means, that while I walk through this brief sojourn in France, I have the opportunity to bring home to my French family, and to share theirs.
So here are a few tips for those of you who currently find yourself out of your comfort zone; whether it’s in a foreign country, in a new work environment, or some form of “newness” that feels unfamiliar, scary, and uncomfortable:
- Live in the moment. I’m not trying to sound like a Top 20 Hits pop-song here. It’s vital to fully engage in the present moment. The last few weeks in France there have been moments where I find myself counting down the days until I’m home, but it does nothing for me.
- Show yourself grace. I’m an introvert, so there have been moments when I’ve been overwhelmed by feeling like I need to try and converse all the time while I’m here. So lately I’ve been allowing myself to go for a walk, go hide away for a short increment, and just decompress a little bit. Do the same! Don’t beat yourself up if you feel frustrated or sad sometimes. It’s all about how you choose to respond to these emotions.
- Be open. This can take several forms, but it’s being willing to look foolish, learn something new, or change. Ask yourself, what might God want to teach me in this season of life? How can I turn my discomfort or fear into something positive?
- Choose courage. Fear doesn’t have the final say in your life. You have the power to tell fear to shut up, pretty much. Fear has been my greatest struggle, and is still a battle in many ways, but I have to choose to not let fear control me. There’s so much reward in trusting God and walking in freedom in this regard!
- One step at a time. You don’t train for a marathon in a week, and you don’t become comfortable in newness overnight. Perhaps there are those who are far more gifted in the art of adaptation than I am, but most people I come across seek comfort of some form. My advice would be to embrace the situation you are in, or allow yourself to be in a situation where you are out of your comfort zone. Go on an adventure, take a class, talk to a stranger (or better yet, invite them to church or dinner!), or switch up your routine in some way that purposely makes you a bit uncomfortable.