I had a friend ask me recently what ministry looks like when you have young children. I think the picture says it all. David and Nathan were six and three when this was taken in Tunisia. Raouf and I weren’t in the picture, because we’re in the house teaching a marriage class to couples, the other parents of the children here.
We left the kids in the able hands of some singles, who let them play in our yard and otherwise keep them occupied for the day.
David’s got a broken arm from an earlier fall, but he’s playing it cool and trying to fit in as the host child. Nathan is looking skeptical as usual at what’s going on, probably wondering why all these kids are playing with his toys.
Whether you’re in full-time ministry or just seeking to live for Christ where you’re planted, your choices affect your children. When we answered the call to mission service, we didn’t drag our children across the ocean (as some would describe it); we gave birth to ours there. They didn’t know what life in America was like, because they had never experienced it. This can be a big factor for many families serving overseas. If you’re taking your kids with you, they need to be at peace with the direction you’re going.
Just saying that doesn’t mean it will be easy on them, but it’s a major first step.
Either way, having people in our homes at all hours and visiting in their homes can be hard on children, but when I sit back and think about it, I also realize it’s just part of life. Kids can get hurt in your own quiet home just as much as they can get hurt by a mean kid at school. It’s how we deal with that hurt that matters.
At one point in our ministry, we realized we’d lost an important time in our boys’ routines, because people kept coming without appointments. The boys began acting out or having other problems because they’d lost their bedtime quiet time with mom and dad. We made a decision to tell those we’d been called to serve that they needed to either come before or after this “holy” family time, and we worked to enforce it for the good of our children and our family.
Ministry, like life, is filled with choices. We have to say “no” to service at times to say “yes” to our children. When I was homeschooling David for a year, I had to say “no” to morning visits or ministry so that I could concentrate on his school needs. God understands. He’s the one that gives us wisdom and peace to make the hard decisions.
Life is full of seasons. They are hard to see when you’re in the throws of ministry and family life. Take time to step back and ask the Lord how to use the hours you have. Where do your responsibilities to your family fall? Be careful not to let them fall by the wayside, but make them a purposeful part of each day.
One other aspect of this is the natural roles of parenting. When the boys were babies, my time was focused on their care. Raouf was there, but I was needed more at this stage. I didn’t have nearly the time as usual to spend with women or help in ministry. He sometimes had to go without me. That was alright. It was just another season.
When I look at my grown sons, I ask myself about the effects of ministry on their lives. I’m sure they have hurts they probably haven’t even told me about, but as a mother, I have to give that to God to heal and help. The greatest sign for me came in the summer of 2014, when in the same week, we put one son on a plane to Turkey and the other to the Dominican Republic. Now we were home alone, and they were off to serve.
We don’t always get it right as parents in ministry, but we can rest knowing we serve a God who works out all things for the good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.*
In the end, remember this: People watch us as a family, whether it’s in the grocery store or at the park. They see what it means to have a Christ-centered life by how we interact in real life. Focus on that, and God will be glorified and use your family to draw others to the Kingdom — and the kids will be alright.
Grace and Peace
Romans 8:28, my paraphrase.