Children think in concrete, specific terms: black and white, true and false. As parents, we train them to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” What could be wrong with that? I don’t want to raise liars, and I’m sure you don’t either.
But sometimes, when you live overseas, the whole truth isn’t safe. Sometimes the whole truth can get you thrown in jail or kicked out of the country. Government officials, overly-nosy teachers, and prejudiced locals know that children are predisposed to oversharing, and they will exploit it. Any number of innocent security breaches is also possible. While we can’t plan for everything, and while God certainly protects us even through such breaches, we quickly grasp the need to guard our tongues at all times. It’s hard enough for adults, but our concrete-thinking children struggle even more.
My husband and I took two pre-schoolers to just such a place, and we grappled with this conundrum the entire time we lived there. How do we train our children to be completely honest while protecting the work to which God has called us overseas?
When we returned to our passport country, I breathed a sigh of relief—finally, they wouldn’t have to watch everything they shared. Then they started public school. The questions rained down: Where did you live? What did you do? Why did you go there? Were you missionaries? The “whole truth” answers still weren’t safe because we left behind teammates and local believers, people whose security depended on our silence.
Eight years into this question, I finally have an honest, Biblically-sound, God-honoring answer. You ready? Here it is: Jesus didn’t always tell the whole truth. We find one example in Mark 11, where the religious leaders asked Jesus about the source of His authority. Jesus didn’t answer. Instead, he asked them a question. Repeatedly—not just here but throughout the Gospels—Jesus deflects questions or gives partial answers. At the same time, we know that He never lied. Sometimes His listeners (even the disciples) just weren’t ready to comprehend the full answer; sometimes it was a security or timing issue. Honesty isn’t always about a complete, straight-forward divulgence of all the Truth available.
We are in good company when we train our children (and ourselves!) to answer according to the audience. This means we must stay connected to the Holy Spirit, who sees not only our hearts but the hearts of those around us. In every situation, we take a breath and pray, “What does this person need to hear?” Our answer will be completely honest, but perhaps not complete.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait until our children learn to heed the Holy Spirit before we let them interact with the public. Regardless of a child’s spiritual maturity, these three guidelines will help him or her deal with the frequent and repeated questions—both overseas and in your passport country.
- Have an always-safe answer. This should be one sentence that is completely true, usually involving your platform.
My dad is a doctor.
My parents teach at ____________ school.
My mom works for ____________ relief agency.
- Have a deflection statement. Children need this so they won’t appear rude when questioned by adults. It usually works to say, “You should ask my mom/dad about that.”
- Have a time for full disclosure. If it means taking a vacation to another country or going out into the woods where no one is around…
(a) Give your children a chance to talk about all the reasons you live in the place and manner to which God has called you. This will not be a one-time occurrence. We created opportunities for this conversation over and over as the children grew in mental and spiritual understanding.
(b) Give them an opportunity to name all the people who have asked probing questions and talk about how they responded. Assure them that you trust them and that everyone lapses or makes poor decisions occasionally. This is not a time for discipline but for training. If you learn about any security problems, you can take measures to contain or thwart them.
If—no, when—you or your children struggle with how to answer questions about your presence in-country, go to the Gospels. Show them stories about how Jesus dealt with questions and help them get comfortable with honest answers that won’t lead anyone awry.
Carole Sparks and her husband twice found themselves “walking Jesus” in coastal African cities—the second time with two small children. Now, they are watching God work in a mid-sized southern US city and helping others learn to follow Him more closely. Connect with Carole through her website, http://carolesparks.com or her parenting blog, http://notaboutme1151parenting.wordpress.com.