5 months ago, I burnt out of my job and moved to Afghanistan of my own free will. I’m attempting to reach over and punch the reset button on my life. Up until I boarded a plane to Dubai, my life had become crowded and full of distractions. Relationships were imploding around me and I felt this need, this compulsion (spiritual people would call it a “calling”) to get out of here.
All the things I depended on for my comfort and confidence were stripped away and shredded. My educational background—nobody cared about my Masters. My history? I didn’t have one here. My influence that I’d built up in the US—gone. I was in a foreign land, filled with war, without any of the tools I gripped onto. In other words, my idols were smashed and the temple I’d dedicated to myself had burnt down.
My depression for the first month can only be described as monumental. People asked me what the culture shock was like. It was like licking jumper cables connected to a 18-wheeler. I didn’t know military culture or Middle Eastern culture (which is a misnomer—the culture here is different from what you would find in Pakistan or Israel. It’s like saying American culture. Really? Which part? But
I digress.) I felt lost. I felt alone. And now when I utter the word “desolation”, I completely understand its meaning.
But this is exactly what happens when you reset your life. I’ve wiped the slate clean and now I’m forced to stare at the blankness. And I’m trying my best to handle the marker over to God instead of filling it up again with clutter and ego.
So how have I experienced God here, in this war zone?
I’ve been writing the Psalms out when I can. I keep a journal. One side, the psalm and I write a reflection on the other side. Right now I’m up to Psalm 58. The constant theme I’ve found so far is that God is a fortress. And I’ve seen my fortress that I’ve constructed—it’s a refrigerator box with a crayon scrawling that says “Ryan’s FOURTRESS. KEEP OUT!” It’s rain soaked and has burn marks on it. I’m reminded that I need to dwell in God’s fortress so when I pray I imagine it like I’m wandering around Minas Tirith seeing my friends and occasionally standing on the wall to see my tiny fortress, discarded.
I connected with the chaplain on my base and led worship with soldiers in the audience. I needed some place to serve and worship—and quick. But my joy has come from not having those idols bogging me down, not living every moment to impress someone, hoping they think I’m witty and hilarious.
Now, I don’t recommend you do what I did, head to war-torn country to find God. But I’d encourage you to find someone you love and trust and talk about the idols in your life. What do you lean on? What can you NOT do with out? Have that discussion and see what happens.
[Ryan McRae currently works in Afghanistan. He has written a book: A Quick and Easy Parent’s Guide to College that you can find here. Also, if you donate to his charity:water campaign, he will send you a haiku. Details are found here!]