Culture Shock and Compassion

A Moment of Self Reflection

It’s a Thursday I’ve been looking forward to. The end of a short week because tomorrow, early in the morning, I will depart for the Fulbright Spring Conference on Jeju Island. However, this morning I am not thinking of the joy I will experience when I see friends and colleagues whom I haven’t talked to since Thanksgiving. Nor am I contemplating the wonder of hiking Halla Mountain and checking off a long-time Korea bucket list item.
Instead, I am considering my heart and actions over the past month with constricted throat, drooping shoulders, and moist eyelashes.

How Does God See Me?

I felt inspired to begin reading the Gospels for the first time recently,  and this morning I started Matthew. I read through the genealogy of Jesus, quickly absorbing the familiar stories of his birth and the earliest days of his ministry, but my pace slowed some as I reached the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. I was struck by the unequivocal nature of some of the commands regarding murder, divorce and swearing. Then, I read verse 46 and came to a complete stop.

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even non-believers do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:46-48 (NIV)

My mind snapped back quickly over the past month…

A Low Point

The cultural adjustment roller coaster has taken a nose dive through the month of March. My resolve to stay in Korea another year, even to the point of staying at my school that I have come to love/hate, was strong at the beginning of the new semester. Then the limits of my budding teaching skill again encroached on my confidence as I faced another after school group that was totally out of control, caught a cold on the turn of the season from winter to spring, coped with personal demons and hormonal imbalances, and made a somewhat hectic transition from living in a homestay with my Korean family to living alone in a tiny one room apartment. Two weeks into the semester I found myself again needing to go home so bad that even my teeth ached with the sensation. A week of depression stretched into two, then four, and I found myself caring less and less about my students, my classes, my school, studying the Korean language, and sinking into the apathy that accompanies the end of things. It’s a familiar feeling that used to attach itself to me during the last month or so of each semester in college. The approach of July and the tantalizing prospect of going HOME…quickly eroded what life and contentment I have painstakingly constructed here in Korea. This could be seen as excusable, natural even.

Personal Weakness

IF I was able to keep it from bleeding into my interactions with my co-workers, my students, and any other perfect stranger who happens to cross my path and rub me the wrong way. One of my major personal weakness is that my internal state IS my external state. I do not have the niceness filter that most people seem to be able to maintain so effortlessly, that gets them through days of spiritual scarcity without hurting others, disintegrating into a heap of pointless tears at the slightest difficulty, or failing to perform their jobs effectively.

A Contrite Heart

So, as I sat reading Matthew 5 and contemplating a loving Savior’s perfect life and the standards he laid out for his followers, my hard heart broke and with inexpressible remorse I realized how wrong I have been about things. I profess the transforming power of Love while I allow darkness to totally possess me in my interactions with people around me and excuse it to myself using the idea of “culture shock,” which is a real and serious struggle, but not a pass to be lax in the constant battle between love and “not-love.” As if to drive the point home with a nail, my Yogi Tea inspiration for the day is…

“If you do anything out of sheer compassion, you will never be wrong.”

Which, ironically, is what I was just telling my friend a few days ago, as I described the way I know which paths to choose in my spiritual journey. There are many spirits affecting us, interacting with our spirit, and speaking to us at all times, but many are not from God, so in order to determine which voices to listen to I put them to the test of Love. I ask myself, which choice is in the true spirit of Unconditional Love, and I make that choice. Or I wish that was the case. At this moment I just bow my head and ask forgiveness for my pride and for choosing not-love in my weak, human form.

When My Best is Not Good Enough

Some may say, like I have, “well there will be good days and bad days. Just do your best and that’s enough even if it’s not always great,” but I know that my best is not good enough. I was doing my best this past month. Defeat, guilt and despair, however, have no place in the plan of Love, so how can I obtain victory over something widely accepted as “just how it is when you live in a foreign country?” It all too often seems impossible. The answer for me, when I find myself back to the wall of my own humanity, is pray. Someone died to give me the victory. I can pray before every class, before every meeting. I can pray on the bus. I can pray and surrender my hard heart into hands expert at tending the seeds of love in the stony soil of so many hearts. “Please, Savior, give me a heart transplant so I will effortlessly live every moment in Grace, in Passion, in Compassion.”