In 2010, Sara Jarman decided to give voluntary and charitable service for her Church in Vladivostok, Russia. For a year and a half, she was isolated from family, friends, and her previous life – for the good cause of serving others. In Sara’s religious community, serving a mission is an honorable act. However, even the best of our intentions do not guarantee the bliss we might have imagined.
On the first day of her arrival to Vladivostok, Sara found herself being yelled at by strangers, accused of being a CIA agent, and mockingly called a “Yankee.” Day after day she was scorned and belittled by the very people she was trying to serve. “While I met people who did love me, the majority of the people were very harsh towards me,”—says Sara reminiscing on her challenge at that time.
Not long after her arrival, Sara began to rapidly lose weight. Over the course of a few days, it became increasingly difficult for her to continue her service with the same pace she initially had. Nevertheless, Sara continued to maintain hope and believed that things would get better. There are moments in life when it’s worth trying to change your circumstances for the better and persist; however, in some situations there comes a point when the best thing to do is to simply accept the things the way they are and move on.
Sara’s hope in rapid healing did not bring an immediate result. She plunged deeper into sickness:
At one point I became bound to my bed because my stomach hurt so much. Not only was it physically wearing, but I also was extraordinarily distraught and worn out emotionally. When I was told that I needed to go home to the U.S for medical help, I felt like a failure for not finishing what I hoped and dreamt of. I felt like people in my community would think I was a wimp for “giving up,” even though circumstances were out of my control. I knew that no matter what I would say, people would develop their own opinion on my situation and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt judged.
Coming back without finishing what she and others looked forward to resulted in harsh judgments, rumors, and hurtful comments towards Sara. This was no longer just an issue of physical health; there was now deep emotional trauma.
It has been over two years since Sara was in the Far East of Russia, but she still continues to struggle with repercussions of her experience there. She still gets sick regularly from the bacterial infection that she developed in Russia. She still feels a latent sadness from the thought of not becoming a finisher. In her own words, Sara describes her feeling this way: “I feel like I missed opportunities and experiences that would have changed my perspective on Russia for the better. I have regrets in this regard, in that I feel like my mission was never really complete. And at times I still feel like a failure, because I did not finish my mission like my other peers.”
Years passed, the sadness still knocks on the door of her heart, yet Sara chooses to not let it in.
Day by day Sara chooses to move forward. She chooses to not let her past experience determine her life; she chooses to not let anyone or anything ruin her day without her permission:
Moving forward for me turned out to be a longer journey than I had expected. Moving forward for me means taking every day as it comes, and not looking too far into the future. While daily planning is essential, I also recognize the need to be okay with whatever unforeseen circumstances arise. When we accept that we might not be able to change our immediate circumstances, (especially when they are out of our control) we can at least try and be at peace with who we are. When we focus on who we are, rather than what others think about us, our external circumstances will often take care of themselves. People will always have an opinion about us – whether good or bad. I have learned that in order to be truly happy, I have to push judgmental opinions of others aside and move on in my life.
There are times in life when we have to do what others might see as “giving up.” Yet, this “giving up” is a character-building victory over the struggles of immediate failure. As a famous Russian novelist, Anton Chekhov, put it: “Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day by day living that wears you out.” It’s day by day moving forward that determines your victory, regardless of how others see it.