Despite all the upheaval and change that have characterized our life for the past 13 months, my husband George has been thriving. After he managed to get out of Ukraine in the wee hours of day 3 of the war and reunite with the kids and me, he went to bed, utterly exhausted. But he only slept for a few hours, and when he woke up, he immediately found himself surrounded by amazing opportunities to do enormous good. Without pausing to catch his breath or even missing a beat, he jumped into a swirl of activities and new partnerships that resulted in hundreds of evacuations in the critical early weeks of the war, millions of dollars of aid to the people of Ukraine, and ongoing care for the long-term needs of refugees in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
I have rarely seen him more alive.
On one of our recent nighttime walks with our dog, I found myself wrestling with the disparity between our separate experiences of being “refugees.” While I spent months unable even to pronounce the sentence, “I live in Budapest,” he hasn’t had any trouble moving forward into the new life God has given us. In fact, he’s embraced it.
While we usually use the time walking the dog to debrief about the day, on this particular night, we were silent as we walked, each absorbed in our own thoughts, and I found myself wanting to break the silence by asking him, “Do you even miss Ukraine?” I held the words on the tip of my tongue for about half a block, wanting so badly to say them, but sensing that they were somehow off. As I reflected, I had to admit it was a horrible question. It wouldn’t invite any conversation, it might put George on the defensive, and it was almost certainly unfair. My husband spent nearly 30 of his 47 years of life in Ukraine! He had to miss it!
So I sorted through my feelings and tried to come up with a better question. After we crossed a street and started down another block, I finally asked him, “What do you miss about Ukraine?” He hardly had to pause to think before answering. He said he missed people, friendships, and the ability to go up to anyone and start a conversation.
He spoke thoughtfully and softly, but without any apparent emotion. Even so, it was comforting to hear his heart, to know that, despite seeming to be unaffected, my partner in life also shares in the loss that I have felt so keenly. I carried this knowledge forward with me into the coming days, a quiet reassurance that I was not alone.
A few days later, George and I were on our way to a meeting. I had forgotten to put on my watch, so I glanced at George’s watch to see if we were going to be on time—and I freaked out. We were an hour behind schedule! How in the world had that happened?! I frantically drew George’s attention to the time, and he calmly explained that his watch was set to Kyiv time, which is an hour ahead of Budapest. My immediate relief that we weren’t running late was quickly replaced by curiosity. Why was his watch set to Kyiv time? Had he simply forgotten to change it after his most recent trip back to Ukraine? I started asking questions, and the truth came out.
He never reset it after evacuating from Ukraine.
Even through three months in the United States last summer (where the time difference would have been much less easy to calculate), he held on to that one last connection to our former life. Unlike me, he never had any trouble saying that we lived in Budapest, but all the while, his watch face showed where his heart truly was.
In contrast, my watch stopped working soon after we left Ukraine. Maybe it was out of protest when I reset it to match our new timezone.
As far as I can tell, George has never struggled with any sense of guilt over leaving Ukraine. I have. From survivors guilt, to regret over the cascade of decisions that ultimately led to us evacuating, to types of guilt that I don’t even have names for—I’ve experienced it. At one point I was even torturing myself with the accusation that, when it came right down to it, I just hadn’t loved Ukraine enough to stay when things got dangerous. Though trusted advisors told me flat-out that this feeling was a lie, I found it difficult to believe them. In the middle of all the other pain I was experiencing from external forces, I was actively shredding my own heart to ribbons with guilt.
I think maybe the reason George hasn’t had to deal with guilt is that while I was mostly isolated at home with the kids, hurting and grieving, he was out in the thick of things, being and doing. And everything he was doing was having a positive impact on Ukrainians. Even from my vantage point, it wasn’t hard to see that God had put us in a place of fruitful ministry to fill a crucial role that few others could. I would tell myself over and over that we had been uniquely prepared for this moment in history, that we were doing important work, and that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. And they weren’t just words. I did believe it—but until recently, I couldn’t feel it. I would simply repeat this mantra to try to assuage the pain and guilt I felt over not being in Ukraine.
I’m happy to say that this is changing, slowly. Recently I’ve been able to become more involved in the things that George does, specifically by helping to raise awareness in the West about the needs of Ukrainians and working with him to create a community of Ukrainians around the park near our apartment. I feel a renewed sense of life and purpose—and even (dare I say it?) a little bit of excitement. But it doesn’t take much to shake my new outlook. When I hear about the on-going suffering in Ukraine or start to wonder about our family’s future, I begin to heave great involuntary sighs while simultaneously feeling a strangling tightness in my throat and chest. This sadness and heaviness are never far away. Sometimes it makes me feel so weary that I’d just like to give up.
I’m learning to use these feelings as a cue to turn to Jesus, who promises perfect rest to all who are weary and weighed down with heavy burdens.
If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here.
I would be honored to have you along on this journey!
10 replies on “Guilt and Weariness”
Again, thank you! I have really struggled with the difference between my husband’s response and mine, too. We’re still in Ukraine, but we’re not in our home. Since we evacuated, some of our children and I have just been devastated. We’re completely overwhelmed with homesickness and grief. For me I also feel useless; all those months under occupation I was constantly busy helping others and just staying alive. Here? There’s nothing for me to do. My husband has been the opposite. He’s been flying high since we got here. He loves exploring new places, learning and practicing new phrases, and being far from the front lines. I’m learning what you’re learning, though: to turn to Jesus with all of it. And your writing made me wonder if my husband has his equivalent of your husband’s watch?
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience, Phyllis. I can tend to romanticize what our life would be like if we had stayed, but war is just horrific and ugly, no matter what your vantage point, and there is heartbreak for everyone affected, whether they choose to stay or flee. I am praying for you. You all have been through so much. Don’t discount your usefulness. Being there for your kids while you grieve together is huge. It must not feel like much after the intensity of life under occupation, but I’m sure when they look back on this time, they will recognize the crucial role you played in helping them navigate it.
Sharon, you write beautifully and express your feelings so well. All you are going through emotionally is so spot on. Your struggles are so valid. I’m so happy you are beginning to sense a change, and it is key that you feel you have a role to play. I continue to pray for your family and for Ukraine. My prayer now is that as you turn to Jesus for support, you will feel His Spirit and His comfort. Sending much love, Karen ( Grammy to Mariko’s kiddos).
Karen, thank you for your words and your prayers. Both mean so much!
Sharon, its early morning here in Amman and I finally can settle to read your reflections from last year. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing the grief , pain , the weariness. I am touched by the glimpse of ‘ life and purpose’ that Jesus is giving you through it all. As I read your journal insert , you reminded me that Jesus is the only one who can fully minister to the weary and burdened soul . My heart hurts thinking if the pain you have gone through, and I wish I could have been there more for you . Praying the Prince of Peace would give you His rest in this still difficult time . Love you 💜
Thank you for making the time to read them all. I’m touched.
You went above and beyond to be here for us in those mind-numbing early days. I’m still amazed when I remember how you all dropped everything to come be with us and help us navigate those critical weeks. Thank you!
In my cancer, God has shown up in a new and wonderful way: as I praise God He inhabits me in such a different way🤷♀️🕊
That is truly beautiful. The difficult, painful things bring the greatest spiritual blessings.
Sharon, I am so thankful that I found your post which lead to these blogs. Somehow, I have always kept in touch with Jed and Renee and occasionally with Pam but I have wondered for sometime how you and your family have been. I confess that I feel my prayers are unfocused and nebulous at times and wonder if anything I can do from this distance (southern Ohio, USA) is of any value. I have known your George since he was days old and have had great joy watching him be the man God intended. Reading your posts, sharing your heart has given me peace for your family. You are the glue God has given to hold them together (through the Holy Spirit, of course) and I am thankful for you, Sharon. Tell me, how shall I pray?
Thank you, Stephanie. I know God used all your prayers, and we have certainly needed them! I believe there were days when we were carried by the prayers of others. Please pray that we would know which things to focus on and which ones we need to say no to–and that we’d be able to say no. And that we would always remain dependent on Jesus, humbly aware that it’s not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit.