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Stranger Things

by JANEL BREITENSTEIN KNOWN Feeling known & understood Overwhelmed Grief, loss, & depression Spiritual wellness Lack of “home” Isolation & loneliness
Stranger Things
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“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

To live overseas is to live the life of a stranger.

In Africa, I wore foreignness as skin. Peculiar languages burbled around me, within clothes I didn’t understand, body chemistry smelling different than mine. 

Even when I learned words like “parable” or “eggplant” in Luganda or wrapped my hair above earrings the size of golf balls, I’d never be on the inner circle.

My friendships would be deep. But we’d never completely understand one another. As a global worker, typically cast as the giver, I struggled for symmetrical relationships. 

Yet, somehow, I felt even more alien on my first “home” assignment. I’d longed for someone who’d understand the rabbit hole I’d emerged from, who comprehended what it was like to be a too-large, bumbling Alice in Wonderland. 

Instead, friends didn’t know what to say, what to ask, or how to relate. Worse, I didn’t either. I couldn’t articulate (who I was becoming, what I’d seen) to myself, let alone to well-meaning, polite smiles.

Back overseas, trauma mounted—malaria, robbery, fatal collision. So did my inability to articulate the depth of loss and complexity. And with it, I lost my sense of connection.

It even showed up in my relationship with God, where I felt more confident as “great team player, trustworthy staff member, one You can count on,” and less confident as daughter. (The prodigal son’s older brother would understand my point of view.) 

But the Great Pursuer wasn’t settling for me holding him apart as stranger. He kept tugging me into an embrace and opening my eyes to all the little reminders: Your name is written on the palms of my hands.

And he asked me to respond: Search me. Know my heart.

Theologian Brian Rosner asserts that in profoundly low moments of Israel’s history, God comforts his people by reminding them He knows them. Sees them. Slaves, wanderers, exiles: You’re not utilitarian or lost or foreign to me. 

I know you better than you know yourself.

God doesn’t need a better accent, mascara, or a shorter answer. In a foreign land, He marked me as known. As belonging.

Closing Prayer
Father, You’re the good shepherd. You know your own (John 10:14). Help me to love being known by you even more than I fear being known in my shame, in my desire to work myself into your love. Know me, Lord. And help me understand what you see. Amen.
Podcast: Illustrating the Gospel by Timothy Keller This podcast series is a beautiful reminder of God’s desire to draw us close.
Question for Reflection

What has helped you feel known–by God or by others–while living in a place you don’t naturally belong?

Janel Breitenstein
October 15, 2020

I really have to push myself toward vulnerability in relationships. In America, culture more naturally isolates us. But on the field, with fewer resources and higher stress, I’d be picked off like those who leave the herd. It helps me to ask for what I need–for someone to ask me questions when I’ve been through something hard, or to initiate coffee with someone.

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