When Good Feels Unpleasant

“I feel like I’ve failed.”

That’s what I said to my sister when we skyped last night. I tell people that moving to Costa Rica for a year of language training with my teammates while doing grad school online has been the hardest thing I’ve done in my adult life. When I say that I can’t help but laugh, because it’s the first thing I’ve done as an adult. Reality is, even if I had stayed in the U.S. and decided to do grad school in person I would still be having a hard time. Transitions are typically difficult.

My sister asked me last night why I felt like my time in Costa Rica has been a failure. After trying and failing to answer, she instead asked me what I would be able to say I learned through my time here. After thinking about it for a few moments, I was surprised at what I found.

  • Language school: while I’m not taking Spanish classes at the institute anymore, it’s undeniable that my Spanish improved a great deal last semester. It’s also undeniable that Spanish will always be a second language for me and I will always have more to learn.
  • Team training: while we trained together as a team for a whole year before moving to Costa Rica, we were living in different states and at one point different countries. Living in the same area and having team meetings face-to-face has been incredible. We’ve been experiencing and growing together. We’ve been learning how to understand and serve one another. We’ve been learning how to go to God together. The way we are forming as a community together is priceless.
  • Ministry: I didn’t expect to gain experience in ministry while here. We came to learn and observe. Getting to lead a women’s bible study for the maids employed by the institute with a few other ILE students has been an incredible experience. From choosing the book to study, to working with new people, to studying and explaining the Word and the heart in Spanish – it’s all very informative.
  • Grad school: the whole reason I decided to pursue a Master of Divinity is because I wanted to be able to think theologically about my context. Having answers is great and everything, but I think it’s more important to have questions. What good is it to have an answer if you don’t know the question it belongs to? Before starting grad school in August, I didn’t even know the questions to ask. Now it seems all I have are questions without answers, haha. But at least now I’m asking and seeking.
  • Adulting: being an adult is hard work. Most the time I feel like I have no idea what I am doing. However, I do know that I’m learning how to be an adult much faster here than in the states. I’m sure my future self will be grateful for this.

There are smaller things I’m learning through this experience, many of which I’m sure I won’t realize until 10 years down the road, but these are the big ones. The only reason I came to Costa Rica in the first place was to learn more Spanish and continue team training. Since those things are clearly happening, why do I feel like I’ve failed? Thanks to my sister, I finally figured it out.

It doesn’t feel like I thought it would.

All of this growth and improvement and adventure that I’ve been praying for for literally years doesn’t feel how I expected it to. A year before I hopped on the plane I was speaking to a seasoned missionary, and he told me that his time on the field was “the best of times and the worst of times.” I knew there would be hard times and I knew that I would struggle, but I always imagined it through the lens of excitement and expectation. I didn’t ever imagine how it would feel once the excitement went away and it became my new normal.

You see, rather than my normal feeling exciting, it often feels lonely with a little dash of inadequacy – and my goodness is it messy. I’ve spent the last however many months believing my time here has been wasted because I was experiencing unpleasant emotions. North American culture teaches us that if we feel any unpleasant emotion, it’s because there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. I equated feeling lonely and inadequate to failure. This is so far from the truth. Some things just feel unpleasant – even if they’re good.

Now, before you comment or email me telling me how loved I am and how I’m never alone, I want you to know that I do indeed know that. I’m not depressed. I’m a part of wonderful community here in Costa Rica and still feel connected with family and friends in the states. I experience little joys every day and have fun. I never feel alone, but I do feel loneliness. After seeking out different missionaries the past few months and hearing their stories, I’ve come to realize that it’s just part of the territory.

I think it’s hilarious that I’m going through this season right now. Two months ago I led a team workshop on emotionally healthy spirituality that was based off of the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ by Peter Scazzero. This week I’m writing a research paper on how St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul encourages teaches missionaries how to have an emotionally healthy spirituality while on the field. If there is anything their wisdom has taught me, it’s that what I’m going through is 100% normal – which leads me to the most important thing I’ve been learning while being in Costa Rica: pressing in.

I can look back over the past 5 years and see different seasons where I was intentionally pressing into God, but this time is different. This time it’s deeper. I’m learning how to press in when it hurts; how to press in when I don’t feel like it; how to press in when there is no immediate reward.

Having said all of that, I don’t feel like my time in Costa Rica is a waste. I don’t feel like I’ve failed.


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