Back in September, I wrote on five self-care practices for those involved in welcoming ministry. Think of this post as Part 2. Lately, I’ve been talking to friends who are welcomers who are feeling somewhat burned out in their current crosscultural friendships. Maybe you’re feeling the same? Goodness knows I’ve been there, too.
Feelings of burnout are so normal and also so potentially dangerous—because if not addressed in healthy ways, burnout leads either to withdrawal (cutting off crosscultural friendships) OR feelings of resentment that wither crosscultural friendships by poisoning them with a subtle negativity.
So why do we get burned out and what can we do about it?
Here are some reasons for welcomer burnout and some ideas for refreshment and renewal which will ultimately lead to healthier crosscultural friendships for the long haul:
- We sometimes have a “project mentality,” rather than a “people mentality.”
This is so easy to do. There’s a problem to fix—internationals need help adjusting to a new culture. We can help fix it! There’s an English class that needs teaching—we can teach it! A recently arrived family needs a couch delivered—we have access to a pick-up truck!
These projects are necessary and good, but the problem comes when we transfer a project mentality onto our relationships with the actual people who are facing the problems addressed by our projects. They themselves are not projects. They are multifaceted, fascinating, quirky people—just like we are!
Though it feels like stating the obvious to write the above paragraph, I know how necessary it is to discuss this because I have OFTEN gotten into a project mentality while welcoming.
And you know what this project mentality has inevitably led to? Frustration with the immigrants I was helping or getting to know. Why? Because people (immigrants and locals) cannot be checked off a list! They resist categorization! They just are never fixed! They are just so complicated.
But complexity is good when it comes to friendship. There’s always something more to discover. There’s always more of the journey to walk together.
Let’s ask God to give us eyes to see our crosscultural friends as the complex image-bearers that they are, and enter into friendships with no other goal than authentic connection. This people mentality will help us to breathe a sigh of relief—we’re not primarily fixers, we’re friends.
- We sometimes get connected to a person/family/situation which needs more help than we can personally give.
When immigrants first arrive, there are many needs that need to be addressed quickly. If we get connected with new arrivals and don’t have enough help from other welcomers, we can quickly burn out because one person can’t possible field all the questions and requests.
Even when immigrants have lived in a new host culture for awhile, there are still many intense struggles that they may experience, and it can be draining to feel like the only local who is trying to help.
It’s helpful to always think of ourselves as both welcomers and also networkers. When getting to know a immigrant family or individual, especially those who are struggling with adjustment or facing difficulties, let’s consider how we can expand their network of support.
Remember also that more established immigrant friends are wonderful people to connect with those who are newly arrived—they have firsthand knowledge of how hard it is to adjust, and will have real-world advice that we ourselves just don’t know.
Instead of pushing ourselves into burnout when immigrant friends need more than we can give, let’s use the energy we have left to expand their network of support with local and immigrant friends. This will lighten the load and benefit all involved.
- Sometimes we’re facing challenges in our own lives that make it hard to focus on others for a time.
Sickness happens. So do family problems, intense work deadlines, and any number of other challenges. We’re not just a welcomers—we’re people too, and people experience problems. And that’s the benefit of true friendship (crosscultural or otherwise) rather than a project mentality—true friendship is a two way street.
When you’re facing challenges of your own, be honest and open with your immigrant friends that you’re struggling. Allow them to love and serve you. Be glad that the friendship is equalizing, rather than being one-sided in terms of giving.
The friends who we allow to help us through hard times will be the friends who we’ll have for life. Let’s not shortchange our crosscultural friends (or ourselves) by refusing to acknowlege our own humanity and refusing to receive from others.
Taking a break from always being the giver will help relieve burnout, and trials faced together will bond us together across cultural boundaries.
How do you address feelings of welcomer burnout in your own ministry?