A common question that we receive is “What is the hardest part about being a missionary?” There are a lot of ways to answer that question, and I wrote about one of them HERE. One response I usually reserve for just for the ears of Stacey is: PARENTING! I don’t usually share that response with others because parenting is obviously not missions, and we would be missionaries even if we were not parents. But, I thought it would maybe be encouraging for those parents out there that are having a hard time, missionary or not, to know you are not alone.
So, here are 3 reasons that parenting is harder than missions.
1. Parents are always on the clock
As a missionary you feel like you are always on the clock. People will show up to your house at all hours of the night or day. This is maybe more true for medical missionaries than it is for us. There are rarely any linguistic emergencies, but people do still find other types of emergencies to bring to our door.
No matter how much it feels like you are always on the clock as a missionary, it is actually not true. Missionaries find ways to get themselves off of the village grid. We have these big metal doors on the front of our house and we shut them at night. Most people in our village have learned that when those doors are shut, we are unavailable. Now, it doesn’t always work, but it does most of the time. But guess who is behind those doors? That’s right, our kids. When we go on vacation, they go with us. Home assignment? Yep, kids are there. Based on our current circumstances, we do not get a lot of date nights out. But even when we do, the kids are always in the back of my mind. We are responsible if something goes wrong, and also have to deal with discipline if it is necessary when we get back.
Jesus was a perfect kid, never sinned. Imagine that! But even with Jesus, having a kid was stressful. Remember when he was left behind in Jerusalem? When they finally caught up with him, Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48). I take this as an example that parenting is exasperating, no matter what kid(s) you have.
2. Your Kids Don’t Care Who You Are
I saw a photo of the musician Beyonce at an awards ceremony the other day. She was sitting next to what I imagine was her young son. And guess what she was doing? Beyonce was holding the toddler’s snacks. Do you know why? Because to that child, the super-famous woman sitting next to him was not an award-winning singer, she was his snack-holding mommy.
In a similar way, missionaries often engender great respect. People in America often see missionaries as heroes, or some sort of super-Christians. On the field, missionaries are often respected as experts in their field. People come to us to learn about the Bible, linguistics, translation, etc. In one day I had twenty-some people sitting listening intently to my teaching on discourse analysis. Then, later that day I tried to correct one of my children’s grammar and was met with total disbelief. “No Dad, I am pretty sure that commas can go at the end of a sentence.” *sigh* My kids don’t care about my linguistics qualifications. My education and life experience literally play no role in whether or not they listen to me. Unlike the people with whom we work, our kids just don’t care who we are.
3. A Foolish Son is a Grief
I think I might be eliciting a cringey reaction from some of my readers. I have felt a resistance to any talk of parenting frustrations among other evangelical Christians. I believe that this is a reaction to the general culture around us. In American society, more and more children are seen as a burden. The pro-choice movement places pretty heavy emphasis on the cost of children, particularly the cost to women.
In response, American Christians (rightfully) respond that, “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). Nothing that I have said here negates that truth. We have four children which are a heritage from the Lord, and a reward. And I am thankful to the Lord for the gift of our children.
However, I rarely hear Christians quoting Proverbs 17:25:
“A foolish son is a grief to his father
and bitterness to her who bore him.”
Stacey and I have dealt with the grief of watching the day-in and day-out lostness of the Kwakum people. We have talked to missionaries that have worked for 20 years with a group of people with very little fruit. That grief is deep, but it is nowhere near the grief and bitterness that come from having a child that is kicking against the goad of your parenting. We experience this grief everyday with some of our children. And, having seen others’ experiences, we know the grief only grows as the children move out of the house and further away from their parents and the Lord.
The reality of parenting is that it does not always feel like a gift, and it is certainly not always a joy. And when I think of the ups and downs of missions, in many ways parenting is harder. When I am struggling with parenting, it is hard to believe that children are a gift, but I know I am called to believe it in faith. I think that can be one of the reasons that we don’t like to talk about the difficulties of parenting, because it makes it look like we are doubting Psalm 127.
However, when we speak of children only as a blessing we miss out on a couple of opportunities. First, we miss out on the opportunity to share our burdens with others. Galatians 6:2 calls us to “bear one another’s burdens,” but people cannot do that if we are not honest about our struggles. In the same way, we also miss out on comforting grieving parents. Whether or not we are struggling, if we are afraid to discuss the difficulties of child-rearing, we will never be able to pray for those who are. We will not be able to let them know that we relate with their struggles. Stacey and I have tried to be open about the difficulties we have faced. From time to time we send out requests to our supporters for prayer on specific issues we are having with the kids. When we do that, we almost always get emails back from parents who are struggling in the same way. What an awesome opportunity to fulfill the Law of Christ.
Parenting is really hard. In fact, in some ways, it is harder than being a missionary. I think we fall into a trap sometimes, a trap that tells us that things that HARD = BAD. But, I think we all know that missions is hard, but we don’t consider it bad. Maybe you have awesome kids, who were saved at 3 and continue to honor the Lord. Praise God! But if Jesus’ parents had a hard time sometimes, we all know that you do too. Let’s just be honest about the struggles and allow Christ and his Church to comfort us. Then, we will be better prepared to comfort others in the future.
Our kids are Kaden, Makyra, Elias, and Zoey. They are a blessing from the Lord and we love them a lot. But they also can be very difficult and constantly grieve us. Kaden is a baptized believer and is continuing to pursue and love the Lord, albeit imperfectly. The other three are not there yet. Would you pray for them right now? Pray that they would love the Lord, seek after Him, and be a joy to their parents? Thanks!
Email me and let me know how I can pray for your kids too.