By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun
You’ve probably heard that colloquial definition of insanity that’s floated around the Internet for a while now, the one about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. No one really knows who said it and psychologists take issue with it, but the concept has stuck in our collective conscious nonetheless.
These days I keep thinking about that definition, wondering if it describes me. This year, I’m about to do something again. And — perhaps a little insanely — I can’t help hoping that things will turn out differently this time.
Back in 2008, I moved to China with my husband to work for his startup. At the time I was certain that God had called us there and we would have a wonderful experience. Challenging, perhaps, but still wonderful.
Instead I left China two years later as only a shell of myself, my heart and mind overtaken by depression and anxiety. I was confused and deeply hurt by how much this God-given calling had broken me.
But one thing I was clear on: I was never going to live overseas again.
Now, five years after leaving China, I’m going abroad yet again. In some ways, the experience will be anything but the same. This time we’re relocating to Kenya, not China; we’ll stay for only four months, not two years. And this time, my focus will be our three-year-old son and my own writing, not my husband’s company.
But the same factors that led to my emotional meltdown in China will likely exist in Kenya as well: cross-cultural challenges, isolation, stress, and more. I’m already losing sleep over our upcoming move, my heart racing at all hours of the night as I ponder what awaits me there. I find myself mentally charting out plans and contingencies to protect our family from every worst-case scenario I can think of.
As confident as I am that God is calling us to a new country again, and as much as I am sure I’ve learned a thing or two in the intervening years, I’m scared that my experience abroad will be similar. The threat of succumbing to depression and anxiety is very real for me. I wrestled with both after the birth of my son. I proactively keep both at bay on an ongoing basis through the many trials of my husband’s company and my own career.
In my darker moments I wonder if I am simply fated to be the kind of person who can’t handle hardship or can’t survive in a foreign environment. I’m too emotional, too weak, too sheltered, and too dependent on others. In short, I’m probably the last person who should be moving abroad.
And yet some small, irrational hope persists. I desperately want to believe the result doesn’t have to be the same for me. But I’m also scared to believe that a different outcome could be possible.
The author of Lamentations reminds us that God’s compassions never fail us; they are new every morning. No matter what we do or don’t do, whether it’s the same thing or not, God can do something new. He is not limited by our weaknesses, our histories, or our expectations. And he’s certainly not limited by viral definitions of insanity.
This God of new daily mercies is the same God that, even now, tugs my heart toward Kenya. I feel his gentle urging to release my fear-based expectations — to release any sense of expectation at all. This is God’s adventure to define, not mine.
When my time in China became a living hell, I couldn’t stop thinking about the great chasm between reality and what I had expected. I kept wondering why God had let this happen, why he hadn’t provided me with the wonderful experience I had anticipated. And, in the process, I closed my eyes to any new and unexpected things that God might have been doing around me.
Our time in Kenya might be amazing, it might be awful, or it might be some of both. Truthfully, I just don’t know how it’s going to turn out—and that’s a pretty terrifying thought. But by releasing expectations, I’m learning to practice faithfulness and obedience without strings attached. I’m training myself to create space for God to do far greater works than my limited mind could ever imagine.
Even when I do the same thing over and over again, God can still do something new and different in my life. I just need to open my eyes to the possibility.
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, and editor who has found healing and hope through words. She is a regular contributor to Her.meneutics and The Well, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Christianity Today, BlogHer, and more than a dozen other publications. Previously she worked as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional in the U.S. and Asia. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. Find her online at www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter @dorcas_ct.