Relinquishing Burnout; also, Living Abroad Is Hard

The honeymoon is over. I missed the bus to my new volunteer job this morning. My computer screen is filled with squiggly, wiggly lines and I have to readjust the screen every five seconds just to see what I’ve typed. The internet is down at my house. 
Oh, and did I mention I’m lonely?

I have an overwhelming sense that all of my friends in San Diego have adjusted to life without me. I can picture them all having family dinners and frequenting hipster bars with microbrews and having beach days and laughing so hard they snort and cry while generally enjoying the richness of life together.
All while I stutter through superficial conversations in painstaking Spanish and get my hopes dashed yet again when I find out my new friend will only be in Antigua for two weeks for Spanish school and I will forced to start the befriending all over again.
Pity party of one, please. 
Yes, I’m still enamored with the salsa dancing and rolling r’s and Spanish archways and volcanoes. I still love walking through the park and living within walking distance of the world’s cutest restaurants. I still believe I’m here for a reason. 
But I’m lonely. I’m struggling here.
The last week I’ve been reluctant to blog. Yes, because of the frustration of a faulty computer screen, but also because I haven’t wanted to admit that things aren’t going as I planned.
I’m lonely. I feel purposeless. I feel distant from friends and family, from myself, from God. You would think I would use this free time I have to write, to pray, to be engaged in life, to do all the things I wanted to do but didn’t have time for in San Diego. But now I don’t want to do them anymore.
I’ve been avoiding my sadness. Numbing with salsa dancing and flirting and brushing up on Guatemalan slang and watching a lot of shows on Netflix.
I pictured Guatemala as a springboard for new life, renewed vision and purpose and energy after burnout. But I’m just as tired. Just as resistant to work. Just as lost as to what I should be doing with my life.
And I picture everyone else back in the States with their jobs, their friends, their passions, and their lives, and I start to feel sorry for myself. I know I shouldn’t compare. I know it doesn’t do any good. I know it just breeds more discontent. I know I should practice gratitude instead.  But loneliness and discontent creeps in and I just get caught in the cycle.
I recently committed to volunteering with an organization called Camino Seguro or Safe Passage (which I blogged about here). Camino Seguro is a beacon of hope in the middle of a super rough neighborhood in Guatemala City. For the next couple of months, I’ll be teaching mothers how to read and write and do basic math, so that they can get better jobs, help their kids with their homework, be less vulnerable to being cheated in the market, on the streets, by their neighbors.
In theory, I’m excited about this. Working in women’s literacy in a Spanish speaking country has been my dream for years. And yet, I don’t actually FEEL excited. In the same way that working at Plant With Purpose was meaningful in a way I couldn’t explain, I now feel a sense of meaninglessness that I can’t explain.
I’m still going. I’m still committed. I’m still going to show up (on days that I don’t miss the bus).  But I deeply desire a sense of meaning and purpose. I ache for joy. I ache to know I’m doing something redemptive with my time. And yet it still feels empty.
Am I supposed to wait till those feelings stir or just dive in anyway? What if I never feel passionate again? 
These last couple days, I’ve been stuck feeling sorry for myself. But today, I chose to lean in. To look in. To ask myself what’s missing. Where am I clinging too tightly? Where DO I see God moving?
And today, this morning, after missing the bus and having a cry fest at the central park, I heard from God. I haven’t been hearing from him very much lately, mostly on account of not listening very well lately.
But today I heard:
Allow ME to FILL you.

Do I even believe he can do this anymore?
Do I even think he’ll show up?
How quickly I forget. He’s asked me to relinquish things before. To let go of my false identity. And he showed up.
A few years back, God asked me to relinquish my anger, to shed my identification with the bitterness boiling inside of me. And he MOVED.  He filled me with a gratitude and joy beyond anything my angry heart could have hoped for.
Another time he told me to relinquish cynicism and he MOVED again. He brought peace and hope and understanding to a situation I had given up on.
How easily I forget.
I’ve come to see burnout as the progression from “I can/I get to” to “I have to” to, eventually after long hours and unrealistic expectations, to a surrender of “I can’t.” And on the heels of “I can’t,” rides “God can’t.” This hopelessness. This despair, has taken root in me, infected my hopes and dreams. My prayer life.
You would think getting me to Guatemala would be enough to renew my faith and hope. But I have a thick, obstinate skull and how quickly I forget. Repetition of “I can’t” drives the darkness down deep. It takes a conscious effort to give Him space, to allow myself to hope, to believe that he can fill me, renew me, heal me. Turn my identity of burnout, of “I can’t” to a testimony of what he CAN do.
I don’t quite know how, but today I will try to take the first baby steps of relinquishing burnout. I will give him space to move. I will say, even if I don’t yet believe it,
Aly, you are not your failure. You are not your loneliness. You are loved. You have gifts and talents that can serve the world. You are creative. You are compassionate. You are learning and growing and living.
And I am comforted because I know God is in those words. His spirit is recreating my heart, renewing purpose, rebuilding faith. He is moving in the very syllables and letters of the love notes I type. He is the Word and the words of love I whisper beneath my breath, write over and over in my journal, carry close to my heart.
Today I may not feel full or passionate, but I can choose to shape my thoughts with love, with grace, with compassion. And maybe that is the first step to relinquishing burnout and making life in another country a little less hard. 


6 thoughts on “Relinquishing Burnout; also, Living Abroad Is Hard

  1. Lauren says:

    Aly, I completely understand what you are feeling. My fist year in Mexico was one of the hardest. I remember crying often with an aching heart for the people I missed in San Diego. The good news? Eventually it gets better as you start to form a home and as you start to feel more at home your purpose also becomes more evident. I still miss those people (you are one of then); I don't think that ever goes away, but it does get better. Love you friend and I will be praying for you and this journey.

  2. Aly Lewis says:

    Hi Lo, I've been thinking about you a lot these last couple of months. It's so hard to leave the wonderful community we had in San Diego.Thanks for your encouragement and I'm glad to hear it gets better and that you're doing better. I'm so proud of you and your sweet family. I miss you and love you, friend.

  3. Inkblot says:

    Aly,Today I told the girl at Starbucks that my sister is in Guatemala, and that is why I wanted to try the Guatemala Antigua coffee, as I'm taking steps to learning to enjoy coffee for the first time in my life. Even though they didn't have any open, and I still haven't gotten to try it and had to go with the (ugh, strong) Pike's Place medium, every time I tell someone that my sister is in Guatemala, I say it with pride.That's not to say that that means that its because its Guatemala. No matter which country you live in, or where you go, I will tell someone that my sister is there, and be proud of you. I don't think I could ever fully adjust (or want to adjust) to you not being around. Sure, I go on, even if I don't see or talk to you, but I think about you every day. And that will never change. Be strong, no matter how weak you feel.Love, Kerri

  4. Aly Lewis says:

    Kerri,I'm so glad you're beginning to enjoy coffee. I am so proud of you and think about you every day as well. I love you so much,Aly

  5. Margaret says:

    Aly, you can be assured that Coast Vineyard is not the same without you. You bring vulnerability and honesty to any group you're in, even a group of 100 people on a Sunday morning. Also, as an encouragement, in the Gospel of John it says that apart from Christ we can do nothing. It's true. Personally, I find a lot of freedom in that. It makes it ok to fail, to be weak, to have absolutely no idea what you are doing. In fact, moments of failure and weakness are good because they remind you of what is true: that you are completely dependent on God. I do hope you feel settled soon though.

  6. Aly Lewis says:

    Thank you so much, Margaret. I miss Coast so much!

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