This was a big question for me before we moved overseas. Truthfully sometimes, in certain seasons, it surfaces again for me. So I have a few thoughts for anyone who might be considering such a move, or a similarly disruptive decision.
Sometimes when a question nags at us like this one does, way down in the deep place where we keep our love for our children and our hopes and fears for the future, it helps to pick at the question a little bit. So let’s ask: do what to our children? Meaning take them away from their home country and culture, cause them to grow up in a new and very different place, perhaps bring hardships into their lives that they may not otherwise have experienced, take them from our families . . . ? The ramifications of all we are doing can be quite intimidating. But trying to put words on our vague apprehensions and to spell out our concerns can help us hold those concerns up in light of our biggest values–and our parenting goals.
The question above assumes two things. One, that we have a responsibility to our children. This is uncontested. And two, somehow this (our decision to serve in a different context) is not in the children’s best interests.
To determine the truth of the second assumption we really have to go back to our values. What do we want most for our children? Or, even better: What is their biggest need? We ask ourselves if whatever losses they will experience outweigh the value of what they stand to gain. (Yes, that’s gain.) This is difficult to assess—not least because, not being able to predict or anticipate future events, we cannot really do a true cost-benefit analysis. We don’t know the full cost, we don’t know the ultimate benefit.
But if we tried: What is the goal of parenting? What are we trying to do for our children? Are we aiming for well-adjusted, responsible adults? Culturally conversant with an (unravelling) home society? Classically educated, piano-playing, healthy-eating, well-mannered, theologically-grounded, church-going, soccer-playing …?
Sometimes we think we want those things. But what we really want is for them to grow up knowing and following Jesus.
What better way to help them do that than to try and do that ourselves? Even if it leads us to make sacrifices for our calling? Or make decisions others don’t understand?
Some of the things we worry about our children giving up are possibly things that are not good for their souls. I have been known to lament that my children won’t have a childhood like my own in some respects. But I grew up without a single friend from another culture. I grew up feeling pretty entitled—let’s face it, we all did. I grew up with little experience with uncomfortable circumstances and therefore low tolerance for them or resilience undergoing them. Perhaps my childhood wasn’t, in some ways, the best preparation to serve others in this changing and challenging world. Could it be that allowing our children to encounter both risk and hardship as they come would be of lasting benefit? Whatever particular challenges may come with life overseas can be put in this category.
Most won’t have to be convinced that giving up our immersion in or knowledge of pop culture is no loss. But some things that the children will miss are true sacrifices. Like family. Don’t say, “at least we’ll see them every [however many] years” or “with Skype we won’t even miss anything.” The simple truth is that they will miss out on a lot—that is part of what we lay down for Jesus, if we feel he’s leading us to move. The children will taste the loss, they will experience laying it down. Can we trust that even that could be used by God in their lives?