Culture fatigue is inescapable. Any transition we undergo opens us to stress, which can eventually lead to the symptoms and stages mentioned in the last two posts. Loss and change are a part of this life. We need to get good with that. But because of sin, this world is foreign to the way we were designed and visa versa. Transition, then, becomes a means of opening us to the deeper work of the Spirit within us.
As we cycle through the stages of culture fatigue we must realize we are also cycling through the stages of grief at the same time. “I’m sorting through loss and I’m learning to embrace something new. No wonder I’m stressed out!” Summarising the many observations of the grief cycle, I’m identifying three stages or shifts, if you will. Because the process is just that, a process, stage theory only helps identify progress or regression. It is not meant to urge someone to get on with their grieving to the next level or stage.
Whether the experienced loss is a death or simply a transition to a new phase of life, there is a sense of shock or numbed disbelief at varying degrees. The change is too much to take in all at once so something inside us reduces the effect of the trauma. How long this stage lasts is largely dependant upon the person and the level of loss.
Stage 2 – Sorrow
As shock wears off, a person begins to feel the pain of their loss. Expect them (or yourself) to feel sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, restlessness and agitation. Understand that a person will undergo rapid mood swings for no apparent reason. This is the place where family and friends are vital. Mostly what’s needed here is for someone to listen. It is not helpful to urge them to ‘get over it’.
As long as a person’s emotions are moving and changing, unpredictable, and almost fluid, they are on track with their grief cycle. Sorrow is active and could last for months (and in the case of death, even years).
Stage 3 – Acceptance
Acceptance does not happen over night. Nor does acceptance mean the pain of loss is gone. Rather, this stage represents one’s ability to function and re-engage their life productively in the moment.
So what do we do about it? If the cycles of culture fatigue and grief are inevitable, what can we do to smooth the way?
The first question we must ask ourselves is, “How do I groan?” What do I do with sorrow and loss? How do you engage the process of transition? That we transition is less important than how we transition. We may do the right and necessary things to aid in our transitions, however, we will most likely come face to face with our flesh in the process–it is inevitable. So, what to do?
- Admit it. When you begin to experience symptoms of culture fatigue or loss, acknowledge it. Nothing is to be gained by ignoring or denying what’s going on inside you.
- Get physical. Do not ignore your health. Eat right. Exercise. Get appropriate amounts of sleep.
- Expect emotions. Don’t be alarmed by the emotional shifts you undergo. Expect them and accept them. Tears clean the windows of our soul. Explore creative ways of expressing your emotion – art, dance, poetry, and journaling.
- Be personal. Build a bit more margin into your life. Give yourself room to process, take up a hobby, pamper yourself a bit or just be quiet.
- Connect socially. Get out of the house. Attend the rituals and traditions of your new life (weddings, birthday parties, etc). Find a friend who will listen attentively without critique. Also, mind your manners! The last thing you want to do is alienate yourself from your host culture or new group of friends. Guard your tongue and behaviors as best you can.
- Find God. How we groan becomes most evident in the way we pray. When faced with the paradox of pain and faith, we become more aware of the tension in our hearts between first and second things.
A few thoughts on finding God: In looking for God, consider your ‘red dot’. (You know, the red dot that tells you “you are here” on maps in most malls, subway systems, etc.) Ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What might be triggering me? When did I first feel the sadness, anger or frustration?” Ask yourself, “What do I want in this moment I’m not receiving?” Begin to put words to the clash these events expose in you.
As you put words to what’s going on inside, begin pondering how this sheds light on your view of God. What do you expect from him right now? In what ways are you praying that express more concern for lesser things than relating to him? Are you more interested in a resolution to the struggle or in finding God in the midst of the shock? It’s not wrong to want the struggle to end but if that becomes the primary goal it may be exposing an idol in your soul.
When we pray in the midst of struggle, how do we view God? What do you want from Him in the moment? What do you expect from Him?
Here are a few common images of God. See if there are any that describe your view of Him on occasion:
- Smiling Buddy – just a good friend who likes hangin’ with his friends, not really transcendent and holy
- Backroom Watchmaker – Creator, but disengaged
- Preoccupied King – God’s list of important things does not include your small needs
- Vending Machine – (Apparently my favourite) No real relationship is required, just do right, pray right and things happen
- Stern Patriarch – God is to be obeyed but not enjoyed. God is above us but not really with us
- Kind Grandfather – We treat God as though he exists to comfort and spoil us by responding to our every whim
- Impersonal Force – No real person just an uncontrollable power that acts more on it’s own whim than in relationship with me
- Cruel Tyrant – It sometimes takes real effort to call God good when confronted with so many experiences contrary to any notion of goodness
- Moral Crusader – God hates visible sin. His highest priority is to turn nations to moral purity
- Romantic Lover – God loves us as individuals. Thus experiencing God is defined as a mountain top experience. Anything else is not true worship or connection with Him.
By opening ourselves to God, telling Him everything going on inside us, we are able to discern the ways in which we distort who we are and who we think we are talking to. As we acknowledge how we really view God in the moment a few things begin to happen: 1. We will want to be closer to God, 2. We will realize how stubbornly and foolishly we resist getting close to God, 3. We will feel impotent and humbled by our inability to change it.
In our humility and brokenness, purging begins to take place. We will begin to sort through what is our sin against God and others over against the normal struggles of loss and change. This is important because as we offer up our hearts to the Lord, it’s helpful to identify where we are truly sad over loss and where we are requiring God to fix our problems.
Only as we engage this process are we able to discern ways we have elevated lesser things above God in our hearts. And it is through this process that we begin to see culture fatigue for what it is and what it can be.
As I see it, culture fatigue is built up stress God uses to expose our attachment to things not Him. Culture fatigue then becomes a means by which God opens us to deeper humility and holiness in ways we could never have imagined.