We talk a lot about Missionary Kids (MKs) being Third Culture Kids (TCKs), but we talk less often about another aspect of their lives, the Preacher’s Kid (PKs) aspect. These MKs of ours, these kids we love so fiercely, are both TCKs and PKs. They deal with both the cultural issues of TCKs and the potential religious baggage of PKs. It’s the religious baggage that I want to talk about today.
(A nifty little visual to illustrate the intersection of TCKs and PKs in the souls of our MKs.)
Timothy L. Sanford, an adult MK and licensed professional counselor, wrote about some of the ramifications of growing up in ministry and missionary families in his book “I Have to be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies). To give you a bit of context for this little-known book, Ruth Van Reken, co-author of the classic Third Culture Kids book, both endorsed it and helped to edit it.
I’m not a PK or an MK, and I can never presume to speak for them. This book was, however, surprisingly relatable for me, and at times rather painful. Perhaps it’s because I entered ministry at age 19 — not still a child, not quite a woman. Perhaps it’s because I spent a few formative years in a highly legalistic church where everyone seemed to be on display.
Whatever the reason, I found I was susceptible to the lies addressed in this book. If I, without growing up in a ministry home, resonate with these PK issues, then maybe other missionaries and church workers do, too. I also know that many MKs and PKs end up serving overseas, and I began wondering if the ideas presented in this book have broader applications for the body of Christ.
While acknowledging the very special and unique lives PKs and MKs have lived, I also want to recognize that adults in ministry roles can absorb false ideas about themselves, about God, and about His people. And we all need truth and grace extended to us.
So this blog series is for all people in ministry contexts. Whether you grew up as a PK or an MK, whether you are currently or were formerly in overseas missions or local church ministry, or whether you’re married to someone who is, this blog series is for you. It’s also for the Church at large. If you are someone who cares about the walking wounded among us, this blog series is for you, too.
I believe, along with William Paul Young, that “since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.” Sometimes the Church gets stuck in damaging behavior patterns, and we, as a collective people, perpetuate beliefs in the lives of ministry families that simply aren’t true. Lies seep into our souls, and as a community we need to acknowledge them, wrestle with them, and ultimately, reject them – for there is a religious culture at work here that needs destroying.
I love the Church, and I believe one of the glorious reasons God places us in a local Body is so that we can “love each other deeply, from the heart,” and by so doing, participate in the healing of each other’s hearts. That is what these posts are about. Sharing our stories, and finding healing and wholeness together.
It is not about blaming parents or making anyone feel guilty. Rather, it is about mobilizing the Church to dismantle some of our harmful systems. It is about calling on Christians to change the way we do life together. Ministers, missionaries, and their families are the most notable casualties here, but the Body as a whole suffers when any member suffers. I believe we can be part of the healing.
But we need to do something first: we need to give ourselves permission to be honest. Before moving on to the lies PKs tend to believe, Timothy Sanford gives us permission to say the little word “and.” Saying “and” enables us to tell the rest of our story; it enables us to tell all our story.
This is where he caught my attention — because I had not given myself permission to say “and.” I had only been saying “but.” “And” is not the same as “but.” “But” tries to nullify, where “and” respects and includes. “But” attempts to cancel out the bad in our lives by focusing on the good, or to cancel out the good in our lives by focusing on the bad. The problem is, this doesn’t work. The negatives don’t nullify the positives, in anyone’s life. And the positives don’t nullify the negatives. Ever.
For some reason this concept was even more freeing than the yays and yucks I learned about in mission training. The good doesn’t mean the bad didn’t happen, but neither does the bad mean the good didn’t happen. They both happened. The question is, can I hold them both together, at the same time?
For a long time, I couldn’t hold them both together. I had thought it was disloyal to admit that my parents’ choices could ever cause me pain. But as a TCK in a military family, there was pain associated with our various relocations. There was good, and there was bad in our life. Just as there is good, and there is bad, in everyone’s lives. I needed permission to say so. I needed permission to say, “I had an idyllic childhood, AND all the goodbyes and hellos were painful.”
And perhaps you do too. Perhaps you need to know it is equally valid to talk about the negatives as well as the positives. Perhaps you need permission to break the silence you’ve been holding. Perhaps you need permission to say,
“My parents were good people, AND they did some bad things, too.”
“Our church (or agency) leadership loved us, AND they made decisions that hurt us, too.”
“I had some really neat experiences because of my parents’ jobs, AND there were some pretty awful experiences, too.”
Sometimes we just need permission to say these things.
Furthermore, when I read this book, I realized that I must also give that permission to my kids. The life my kids live because of my choices, it’s not all bad. And it’s not all good. (But neither would their life be, had I not gone into ministry, or not chosen to live overseas.)
Oh how I want to see life in black and white, as purely good or purely bad. But life is never black and white. And I learned I can’t take offense at the various things my kids might say were good or bad. I need to let them hold their own “ands.”
“But” is insufficient. We need to say “and.” This little word opens up a whole new life for us. And. Just breathe. In, and out. And then, tell the rest of the story, the rest of your story. Tell all of it together. Tell the entire thing, the parts that make you feel broken, and the parts that make you feel whole. Tell your ands.
Wherever you are in the world, it is my prayer that you will find people who can handle all the ands of your life.
What are the “ands” of your life? Are you being honest about them with yourself and with others? Or is there something you need to say that you’re not saying?
Perhaps the situation is reversed, and you need to hear someone else’s “and.” Are you willing to listen, even if it brings you pain?
Are our communities safe enough to tell the whole story of our lives? Are our communities safe enough for the “and”? Are we brave enough to listen to each other’s “ands”?
Bit by bit over the next few months, we will be processing the lies PKs & MKs (& the rest of us) tend to believe about people in ministry. As we delve deeper into these issues, I hope you will return each month to tell your stories and share your hearts, broken and otherwise, in the comments.
Part 2: “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs“
Part 3: “I Can’t Trust Anyone“
Part 4: “God is Disappointed With Me“
Part 5: A Conversation with Timothy Sanford