I looked out the airplane window as the ground came closer and closer, faster and faster. An enormous wave of emotions swept over me – apprehension, relief, fear, excitement – seemingly trying to drown me.
It had been 3 years, 10 months, and 16 days since I last set foot in Japan – the one place on earth that felt closest to something I could call “home.”
Surely it should be home. It’s my passport country; I was born here, and I lived here for 20 years before moving to Thailand. Yet, it never did feel like home. I was always different. I never fit in. Now, after nearly four years of living in Thailand, I have become “more Thai than Japanese” – according to my family and friends. Most of my family is no longer here either. Japan feels less like “home” than ever.
I walked off the airplane, into the airport, down the hallway … All I could hear was Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, with an occasional English sentence here and there. “I need to speak Japanese,” I kept telling myself. “I need to speak Japanese…”
My mind raced, half terrified, as I tried to find my way out of the airport, buy train tickets, transfer trains, and somehow reach Sendai, all the while attempting to ignore the stares of the airport staff who looked at me, then my passport, then me again with all-too-apparent confusion. A huge wave of relief washed over me when I finally walked out of Sendai station and found my brother and sister waiting for me.
But my problems weren’t over. I moved in with my sister and started job hunting as I strove to readjust to life in Japan. Living in Japan was supposed to be easier than living in Thailand. But it wasn’t.
A Fish out of Water
In Thailand, I could do everything myself. I could go places on my own, make phone calls, do paperwork, shop at the wet market, bargain prices, weave through Bangkok traffic on a motorcycle – nearly everything. Here, back in Japan, my “home,” I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even make a proper phone call to inquire about a job opening. The first time I went to the supermarket alone, I was shaking so badly by the time I finished that I could barely walk home.
Completely dependent on my sister, I felt useless and burdensome, frustrated with myself and terrified.
I spent many days crying and praying, “God, why isn’t there anything I can do to serve, to be useful, to not be a burden?” I wondered if I had made a mistake moving back to Japan. I cried every time my sister or church friends said things like, “I’m so happy you’re here,” “Thank you for coming,” “We appreciate you,” “You’re not a burden,” “You’re a blessing.”
It didn’t make sense at all. I couldn’t believe that it was true. “Surely they don’t really mean it; they’re just trying to make me feel better,” I thought. And it’s still hard to believe it, even if I now know that it’s true.
Changing My Perspective
One day, as I was crying and praying, “Why, God, why? Why isn’t there anything I can do?” I realized that by saying so, I was accusing God of not doing a good job of creating me. Worse, I was blaming God for how I felt.
The real problem was that I was looking for purpose and worth in myself and what I could do. I was comparing myself to other people, instead of finding worth, purpose, and joy in my Creator, who created me in Christ Jesus for good works which He already prepared beforehand for me to walk in (Eph. 2:10).
Although God does continue to refine us into who He wants us to become, He has already given us everything we need in order to do what He has planned for us. Our ultimate purpose in living and being is to glorify our Creator. Complaining that there isn’t anything useful for me to do certainly is not glorifying God. My prayer changed from, “Why isn’t there anything that I can do?” to, “What is there for me to do today? How can I glorify You today?”
Soon, I started to see how God was using me to bless others, even though I did not realize it at the time.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Even though my perspective changed, I still continued to struggle with difficult emotions. Some days I would feel joyful and energetic. Other days, I felt sad, discouraged, and unwanted. On those days, I would read my Bible, pray, and remind myself that God loves me and that I need to trust Him, yet still my emotions remained unchanged.
At first, I was frustrated. “Is there something wrong with me or my faith?” I wondered. I couldn’t make myself feel any better. I felt guilty for not feeling better, which only made things worse. All I could do was ask God to help me believe with my heart what I knew in my mind to be true.
It’s true that time with God is crucial, and having the right mindset towards God and yourself is vital. Reading the Bible and praying may, at times, uplift your heart and result in your singing and praising God, but that isn’t always the case. If it isn’t, don’t feel like you’re a “bad Christian.”
My friend, remember that it’s okay to feel your emotions. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to ask for (and accept) help. It’s okay to cry if you feel like crying. Sob if you feel like sobbing. Get some alone time if you need it. Treat yourself to coffee if you want. Say “no” to invitations if you can’t handle meeting people. Find people to hang out with if you need company.
A good thing to keep in mind is that emotions come and go, even – especially – when you’re down. Although they sometimes overwhelm us like a storm, they are a passing storm – not permanent – and they do not change the reality that we are loved by God and precious to Him.
Even though I don’t always feel Him close, and how I’m feeling may not change instantly, He has never failed me, and I know that He never will.
It’s Good to Get Help
Moving, especially moving to another country, is hard. There’s no way around it. Having lived most of my life being the one who everyone depended on, who had to always be strong and take care of everyone else, I tend to try to do everything on my own. When I first came back to Japan, I didn’t want to be dependent on others or admit that I needed help.
I still don’t want to be dependent on others, but I’ve been learning to admit that I need help. We were not meant to do life on our own. We all need help and support.
But help is not always easy to accept, and it’s even harder to ask for. It takes humility to accept help because accepting help is acknowledging that we aren’t strong enough and that we aren’t able to do it on our own. It also takes trust to accept help because accepting help is opening the door for potentially insincere “helpers” to hurt us. It’s putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. Asking for and accepting help is a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking if taken carefully.
Even though I was initially hesitant to get help, the love, warmth, and help extended to me by my new friends and church family melted all the resistance I had. I learned that my reasons for not getting help were poor reasons, no matter how valid they seemed at the time. I learned that accepting help is far better than trying to do it all on my own.
Our God is a God of Comfort
This difficult season of my life has not only helped me to grow as a person and in my relationship with God, but it has also allowed me to experience comfort from God in a way that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. I still haven’t reached the end of this difficult time, and I am still struggling, but even from where I am now, I can already see how He is turning something difficult and painful into something beautiful.
God created this world perfectly – beautiful and free of suffering – but as a result of sin, it is now broken and full of sorrow and pain. God doesn’t cause suffering, but He allows it for our good, using it to refine us and make us into who He wants us to be. And He is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4 ESV).
As long as we are in this world, we will struggle. We will experience pain, heartache, and suffering. But remember, my friend, this isn’t the end. We have a Friend who understands, who truly cares, and who promises to never leave or forsake us. He loved us to the extent of leaving His glorious home in heaven to come and suffer, be mocked, shamed, tortured, and killed, all to save us and make us His own. Why would He desert us now?
We don’t have to struggle through it on our own. We can get help. And, when we get to heaven, where there is no more pain, suffering, tears, trials, or struggles, we will look back and know that it was all worth it.
TCKs for Christ: Administrator
is an ATCK with Japanese-American citizenship who grew up in Japan, and has never been to the USA. She is currently an English teacher in Japan, and also loves to bake, cook, read, play the piano, and spend time in nature. Hannah wishes to share the love and truth of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible as she adjusts to married life and prepares to move (again!). Connect with her on Instagram @Hannah_Po.