Have you ever experienced disorientation? The sense of being completely turned around externally creates an internal confusion. It is an abrupt realization that our assumptions have lead us astray, or are about to do as much, and that our internal compass needs to be re-calibrated.
Disorientation can occur in new spaces, but is often warded off by the expectation of not knowing where we are or where we are going. Disorientation is most acute when it occurs in spaces we thought we knew. And when it happens, we feel like we don't know where we are or how to get to where we were going.
As I have returned to England after over a decade in Idaho, I've experienced disorientation on several levels.
I'm British by birth, but having done a lot of living in America, I'm returning to find a pretty changed country. Infrastructure, systems, culture - it carried on without me and didn't send me memos along the way. Things I used to know are irrelevant. Things I need to know are mysteries to me. I wonder if this is a tiny taste of what people awakening from comas experience?
I'm a disciple of Jesus, coming from one cultural expression of his church into a different cultural expression. The global church is one family, but we say and do things differently.
Thirdly, I left England as a pretty young Christian. Most of my experience was with non-Christians. Conversely, most of my time in Idaho has been within the community of the church. I know how to hang out with Christians. I used to know how to hang out with non-Christians much better. Now I'm back in my former space but with a very different perspective and the specific desire to spend the majority of my time with people who do not yet know Jesus. And I don't always feel like I know how to communicate and behave.
This disorientation is not to be balked at. It is a gift to be received. In embracing the confusion and bewilderment, I'm learning some important things. Here are three of them, and I hope they would be of some use to you as you venture further into your own mission field.
Ask More Questions
When you're lost you can either attempt self-sufficient deliverance or you can be humble and ask a lot of questions. The first track leads to chaos and destruction, like a motorist navigating Central London with no map, no GPS, and their eyes closed.
Instead, when we become disorientated, we should seize the moment and ask questions. When you realize you have no idea how the people around you think, it is not the time to hypothesize and pontificate. It's time to turn every sentence into a question and listen well. It's how we learn and start to answer the question, "Where am I?" If you want to understand the culture, you have to know the people who make up that culture.
See with Fresh Eyes
Part of the gift of disorientation is getting a new perspective. When a familiar place suddenly becomes a topsy-turvy version of what you thought you knew, you get to see it afresh. The alternative is trying to make it look like what you expected, which is likely to cause nothing more than mental motion-sickness.
From asking questions and embracing your disorientation, you will likely find yourself saying, "I've never seen it that way." And from there you may actually stumble across new ways the Holy Spirit wants to share the gospel with people. The fresh vision of culture and community opens the way for the precise means of delivering the unchanging message.
Speak Without Code
When it is finally time to do some talking in the midst of this new landscape, watch your words. The normal shorthand forms of expression within our old community have suddenly lost their implicit meaning. We are walking with people who do not know what it means to follow Jesus.
I've found myself saying things that the person I'm talking to has no way of comprehending. I have to relearn language (a great irony considering I'm operating in a country where I shouldn't need to do so) and speak without the code of the church-insider. Grace, atonement, redemption - these terms were well known culturally in the original language of the Scripture. We must find the new common language to faithfully transmit the gospel.
In closing, it is also vital to remember that even when we experience these kinds of experiential shifts in our lives, we have a sure and firm foundation in Christ. He is unchanging. Our anchor is secure.
What do you see as the challenges and opportunities of disorientation?