Editor’s note: This blog post was originally posted on the blog, A Life Overseas. It is reposted with permission from the author, Abby Alleman. She previously served overseas as a missionary with her husband and three children. Now she and her husband touch the lives of refugees through the ministry of the Welcome Network. Learn more about Abigail at her blog and website (abigailalleman.com). Follow her on Instagram @abigail.allema.
Can I as a missionary parent well?
Somewhere between the 1,100-mile move and the wheels falling off (not literally, but figuratively) of our family’s parenting vehicle, I asked the question:
‘Is it possible for me, as a career missionary, to parent well?’
It seems I crucify myself between two thieves: Fear and Self-Doubt. And there are probably a million other places I can go which defeat me as a parent.
But, fellow cross-cultural parent, I am not writing this for any of us to stay in places of shame or defeat. I believe God has a fresh word for all of us amid the uncharted waters of loving our kids in new spaces, both figurative and literal.
Trying to protect your children from being shaken
When we were first considering a dramatic ministry change, I called a friend to pray over me and my family. She saw a picture of me trying to protect my kids from what this new call and accompanying relocation could do to them. As I released them, they were in scary places I had no control over, and they were shaken. Yet, my friend’s word of encouragement was that without this ‘shaking up’ they would never establish themselves in their own unique relationships with God.
Whether you are in transition, or simply in the throes of what missionary journeys can do to us as very human parents who still struggle, may I offer this same word to you for your children?
Chastising ourselves for what our children are going through
It is easy to chastise ourselves for what the calls to ministry in new places and often countries and always cultures can do to our kids. We consider their desires and preferences. Yet sometimes a transition happens despite our children’s deep desire to remain in a specific place.
A little over a year ago, this was my story.
This is not a post about knowing all the answers. I am far from a place of confidence along the parenting journey. We have walked through some excruciating experiences in the past year.
However, I’m choosing to be vulnerable and share some universal parenting truths that are currently keeping me and guarding me as a parent. Perhaps there is some daily bread for you too, in this offering.
There Is Divine Strength to Parent
Missionary or not, it is a hard thing, at times desperately hard, to be a parent. From the moment our children come to us so needy for our love and care, we feel out of our depth to meet those needs. It starts in the newborn phase with physical exhaustion. This moves rapidly to the deepening emotional and spiritual needs of growing people. This past year has felt like the most exhausting in my fifteen years of parenting. Yet the promises of God remain, ready for me to grasp and embrace. These three Biblical promises alone, remind me of the truth of sufficient strength for my every need:
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.Isaiah 40:31
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”Isaiah 40:11
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Comparison Leads Us to Futile Places
We can learn much from parents further along the road, as well as from our peers. But, when our ‘learning’ becomes construction of standards by which we compare, there is only the wilderness of dry rivers and dust-eating attempts to find nourishment. This is true primarily because there is a whole story that goes with each family. There are places we cannot see — especially those places that are far from social media — that tell a different story than the external. This is not to dampen the joy of those who are experiencing places of genuine flourishing as parents, but there is not a parent on this earth who has never struggled. We are all co-journeyers on this long road home, none of us having it all together.
As You Press into the Heart of God, He Will Teach You How to Parent Well
Truly, the best thing we can ever do is to learn the manifest heart of our Abba Father. As we learn His heart, this is the place from which we learn to parent. His love is infinite, always seeking us, pursuing us. We see how he has loved his covenant people though they strayed time and again. This gives us the grace to continue to love our kids when they do not love us back and ultimately when our hearts break in big and little ways. We remember that yes,
“The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”Proverbs 3:12
But, He also is a God whose kindness is intended to lead us to repentance.Romans 2:4
God never stops being our Abba, for we are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, He gives us the strength to know His heart FOR US in our brokenness, mistakes, and sin. Then, we too, can give that same heart to our children.
He Who Has Called Us Is Faithful
As I have felt the guilt of following God and therefore causing my children to enter hard places, I have had to remember God’s faithfulness. Just as he called me to be a parent, so he calls me to do this as I am His child, surrendering my life to Him.
My oldest son just began high school. It is his ninth school. I would not have chosen this for his story. Yet, God. He is the ultimate Author, and He chose our journey as missionaries to shape our children’s lives too. I think of all of the ways my son has needed to trust God in new things. I trust our journey as his parents has been for his good.
And I can trust that for my other two children. No matter their current struggles or strengths, it is God who owns them and the entirety of their stories. The final chapter of completion is His to write. I could desire nothing more than that their journey would lead them to His arms and that we would dance together in that great and Final Day at the Wedding Feast of God.
There is much more that could be said as parenting is incredibly profound. What I offer here is meant to encourage the brokenhearted, the struggling, the doubting, the fearing among us. If my own journey is any indication, that will undoubtedly be you in one or many parenting seasons.
And the truth is that, though we are deeply imperfect, we can parent our children from the strength, hope, and heart of God. This is the promise of Christ in us.