This question must cross the mind of every missionary parent, at least at some point.
I know it has crossed mine… and more than just once.
First, I wonder- What would it look like, their resentment, I mean? Would my child become angry and act out? Would I see sullen and negative with constant complaining discouraging everyone around him? What if my child grew sad, depressed and began to withdraw from life in general? Could her resentment of my calling impact current or future desires to have a relationship with Jesus? Might one of them dislike missions and end up with a deep standing, negative attitude towards missionaries or others working internationally? What if they begrudge the opportunity to have normal childhood experiences? Will my kids feel I’ve somehow deprived them by my choices? Will the hours my husband and I have spent ministering to others spur jealousy and envy of missed afternoons by the pool or mornings spent playing alone in the sand because Mama was busy translating at the computer? What if they are convinced I’ve chosen God and my career over them?
I don’t like to think about those questions very much.
I have often heard it said: God first, spouse second, children next and then ministry and career after that. I’m also not so sure what I believe about that way of thinking and ordering priorities these days.
We like to put things in a hierarchical, linear fashion, don’t we? It makes sense and who does not want to have their priorities organized, and lined up correctly, right? Maybe my discomfort with this idea originates within – I know my own heart when I apply a ranking like this to my decision making process. If it is something I want to do, I pull the God-first trump card and I can hear myself saying –
- “God has asked me to walk this path for this season…”
- “God has deeply impressed in my heart that…”
- “Look how God has opened up all these doors for me to…”
- “I would have never sought this opportunity myself. God truly dropped it right into my lap and I know He wants…” or even
- “I’m not so sure what He wants me to do, but I’m going to move forward and trust Him to shut the door if…”
What makes this doubly hard and so tempting is that I tend to be a “Yes-person.” Aren’t many of us involved in ministry or service to others, internationally or otherwise? I easily act as though I believe that if I don’t do a needed job, no one will and it won’t get done… which is no better than behaving as though I’m critical to eternal success.
On the other side, suppose I’m looking at the exact same situation, but instead of excitement or anticipation, ambivalence and reticence regarding some upcoming task, new responsibility or unexpected ministry opportunity overwhelm both my feelings and thinking process. I can just as easily approach any discussion with the “truth” that any ministry must always, under every circumstance, come after family responsibilities, claiming –
- “My children really need me around more on Saturday afternoons. I don’t think I should give up any more family time already…”
- “I’m so tired lately. I don’t know how I can be a godly wife, mama, chauffer, house help AND missionary all at the same time…”
- “God would never ask me to sacrifice my children and their needs for the sake of…”
- “God expects me to take care of my husband, children and home before I get involved in other ministries…” or
- “My bigger ones are starting to feel I care more about… than I do about them.”
This perspective is a huge temptation because I do love my family and I’m a perfectionist, another trait shared by many who have followed this calling and career path. After hearing about a very simple, logical priority ladder to consult when making decisions explained, I know I can follow that flow chart, organize all my decisions so that they fit and thus “be” perfect.
Please don’t think that I think that any of the above statements are categorically wrong, or that any who might have said them or something similar are using high and haughty words to justify the desires of their own heart. In fact, for others, that may never be the case. I just know my own heart, its stealthy deceitfulness – and I know that it is a huge temptation… because when I say something along those lines, really… how CAN anyone else hold me accountable for my decisions and my corresponding courses of action? Either way, I’m obeying God, right? I’m either putting Him above all… or I’m keeping my priorities in line, all based on man’s wisdom… and what I want to do. Very few will dare to tread on a friend’s or a colleague’s or even a spouse’s (sometimes) toes asking hard questions and really seeking to help him/her evaluate those priorities and the decision making progress, spending time in passionate prayer for and with the other person regarding each step, each opportunity. I know I rarely willingly agree to be either one of those two people.
Maybe I’m also convinced of this ~
There may be times when it looks like I’m sacrificing my family or my children because of something I know I’m supposed to do. There may be moments when my children do resent the work or the fact that they don’t have some opportunity that they want to pursue. My husband may question my commitment to ministry when I tell him that our children really do need a break from Sunday school in a second language. There will probably also be seasons where our partners back home wonder what’s the point in sending all that support money just so I can be wife and Mama on the back side of the desert.
I guess I don’t think there exists a cut and dried answer to the question… I can’t reduce it to a simple, logical priority placement plan. I WISH it was that easy. I do know I need to find a place of sincerity, moderation and balance.
Yet there’s no guarantee. Even if I, by God’s grace, do land on a right priority balance between following God, caring for my family and devotion to ministry and others ~ my children might still resent “the work” or at least some aspect of this life. Maybe part of my job includes discipling them while modeling and living authentically before them this struggle to find balance and perspective?
I’m curious. What do you, in general, think about all of this?
Do you find it difficult? Why or why not?
What do you think about the prioritization hierarchy I mentioned above? Is it helpful to you?
How do you keep right priorities and balance in your life?
– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa