Our family had reached a breaking point: my eldest son was in first grade and was tired all the time from a combination of school, music, sports, church, and lessons in Mandarin on Sundays. The reason he was taking Mandarin wasn’t to honor our family heritage (we are not Chinese-American), but because of a random phrase that his piano teacher had uttered in passing when he was five: “The children in my studio who go to Chinese school are the best ones at memorizing music as well,” she said. “Something about learning all those characters must strengthen their brains.”
That was enough to send me into a flurry of Mandarin-mania, and within six months, my son was learning all about tones and Pinyin and how to say useful phrases such as “the balloon flew away” in Chinese. And this was just one example.
Any program or activity that I thought would help him maximize his fullest potential, I’d sign him up for without hesitation. When he was an infant, I read that getting sufficient sleep was critical for a child’s brain and personality development, which turned me into an sleep-compulsive mom. My mother, witnessing the militant way I observed naptime and bedtime schedules, scoffed at my inflexibility. “We never did this with you guys,” she said of me and my brother. “You stayed up late, you slept when you slept, what is wrong with that? You turned out fine.”
Undeterred, I retorted: “But we could have turned out so much better!”
So yes, I admit it: I have been more than guilty of overparenting, multiple times over, with all three of my sons. I confess that I still am, on occasion. But in recent years, something happened to me. I realized that when it comes to the endless array of activities and options for our generation of kids, it is possible to plan too much of a good thing.
Recently, the social media universe went abuzz over an article in Boston Magazine entitled “Welcome to the Age of Overparenting.” Actually, in some ways the title is misleading: the trend towards overparenting has been around for a while, for the decade I’ve been a parent at least, and probably for as long as the children of the Baby Boomers have been school-aged. Whatever the causes of the trend, I was tired of feeling as though I was making parenting decisions based on a lemming-like response of “everybody else is doing it.” And so, out went Chinese school and a whole host of other classes, courses, and activities. Our kids each play one instrument, and our older boys are involved with baseball in the spring. Once a week, they go to AWANA. But that is it, and it feels like more than enough. In addition, most importantly, my kids play a ton, although their options for playmates are sorely limited after school. Everyone else is too busy!
It’s so hard to chart a different course; the temptation to try to keep up with other families and their children is unbelievably potent. Even after our decision to start scaling back and give our kids more time to just be kids again, I would forget the reasons for doing so. “Are you signing up for soccer? You have to start right when they’re no older than four years old otherwise they’ll be behind!” one friend told me, sending my mind reeling about whether my kids were doomed to a life of athletic spectatorship. It took every ounce of self-control I had not to immediately check and see if there were still room for late registrations.
What has helped me as I have sought to embrace some sort of antidote to the pressure to overparent has been to do three things in particular, two of which I’ll mention in this post:
1. Constantly ask “Why?”
As in, “Why are we choosing to do this?” So often I found myself opting to sign up our kids for this or that because that was what was the norm in families around us, without critically assessing whether the choice really made sense for us, whether my kids would truly enjoy or benefit from the particular activity, whether there would be any potential negative ramifications on our family life from the additional commitment, and most importantly, what my underlying motivation was for making this choice for our kids. Drilling down the the “why” question is a simple way to discipline ourselves to make wiser choices as parents.
2. Remember the point of parenthood
It was amazing how many times, when I really dug into the true reason for why I was having our kids take this summer class or that sports lesson, that it all came down to a desire to have them be glorified somehow, someday. Too often we think that our job is to help our children reach an enviable state, so that by the time colleges evaluate their potential, they will be deemed an excellent addition. But conceiving parenthood and our children’s futures in this way entirely misses the point of why God gives us children at all.
God gives us the blessing of children not to further their future purposes, but to further His overall plan and purpose. Certainly he wants for us to help our kids invest in and develop their talents and abilities–but not for their own glory. I think too often, Christian parents forget this point, which is why our parenting looks so similar to that of families around us.
Yet we are called to “set [our] minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2), carving out a different parenting path that will reflect “the peace of Christ” ruling our hearts, as opposed to wallowing in anxiety-ridden worry about our children’s future. Otherwise, the longer we pursue an “overparenting” type of approach in our families, the more we will ultimately be teaching our children that we are consumed by earthly approaches and failing to trust in the One who created our kids to begin with.
(In the next post, I’ll pose a third suggestion: that missional parenting can also be a great antidote to our overparenting culture. Stay tuned!)
What do you think about the current trend towards overparenting in our culture? How do you and your family strive to combat this trend in your own families? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
A couple of months ago, I told the story of my eldest son “Harry”, who had been unabashedly sharing about his faith with his friend down the street. I just wanted to update you on some news about what has happened in the lives of my kids and this particular neighbor, a 9 year old boy named “Scott”.
I was in the kitchen with some church friends who were over for dinner when suddenly, Harry burst into the room, breathless and excited. “Mom! Mom! Scott wants to become a Christian!!”
My hands were completely messy with food preparation and at first I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I asked my son for some clarification, and he said that he had taken his Bible out to Scott, explained the Gospel message and had asked if Scott wanted to pray to become a believer, to which he had answered yes.
I sent my husband out to join the boys and to find out whether this was, in fact, an accurate assessment. He huddled together with my elder two sons and with Scott, and I kept peeking out the window to see what was going on. It looked to be a serious discussion, and then 10-15 minutes later, I peeked again to see that they were all praying.
And soon the heavens rejoiced.
We are still in the process of trying to help Scott understand what it means to follow Jesus, that a one-time prayer is just the beginning and not the entirety of the process. His decision is made more complicated by the fact that we don’t know his parents well, if at all, and his family is not Christian.
When I saw Scott the next day, I asked if he had mentioned what happened to his parents. He said, “Oh yes, I told my mom. She seemed happy about it, and she said I had the freedom to choose my own way.” So, at least his parents weren’t upset about this life transition, but nor do I sense that they are trying to encourage his fledgling faith.
Now I feel that our family has a spiritual responsibility to try to help Scott develop and grow as a Christian, especially given his family situation. As I explained to my “Jesus freak” son, being God’s witnesses in the world is only the beginning of our mission; we are also to be about making disciples, not just converts, which means that we need to teach and train Scott to know what it means to follow Jesus. Our job has only just begun!
But what has convicted me as I have rejoiced with our kids are two sobering questions, having witnessed my kids do with ease and with passion what I find much more difficult myself:
1) Do I really love Jesus so much that I cannot help but want to share him with others the way my kids do?
2) Do I truly understand what it means to love my friends and neighbors, so much that I cannot help but share about Jesus to them?
While I was spending time with my fellow Christian friends, my kids taught me anew what it means to participate in God’s mission amongst those who do not already know Jesus, as a way to reflect their love for Christ and for others. And they are inspiring my husband and I embrace our mission to reach out to Scott’s parents as well. I have had their phone number for quite a while but just haven’t made the effort to call, as I wonder if they just perceive us as the funny religious family down the street.
But it’s time I embrace more of my inner freak. And I’m thankful that my kids are showing me the way. This story is “to be continued”…but in the meantime, when have kids taught you about what it means to love God and love others?
As the world now knows, yesterday brought news of the passing of iconoclastic Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who has been memorialized in countless tweets, blog posts, and Facebook updates, not to mention in the more traditional forms of news reporting. Less heralded but no less important came the news of the passing of two key African-American leaders: civil rights champion Rev. John Shuttlesworth, who worked tirelessly alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in pursuit of racial equality, and Derrick Bell, the first tenured law professor at Harvard Law School (who gave up his position to protest the school’s hiring practices).
I had much less knowledge of both the Rev. Shuttlesworth and Prof. Bell until my more informed friends posted their obituaries on Facebook, but once I read about their lives, I better understood what it was about Steve Jobs’ passing that saddened me so deeply. It wasn’t that I’ll miss his “cool factor,” his brilliant marketing, or his storied creativity. What I will miss about him–and this is a quality reflected in the lives of Shuttlesworth and Bell as well–is his courage to chart a different path, to go against prevailing wisdom, to paint a vision of a new way to live.
Some might say there is no comparison between the value of what Shuttlesworth and Bell stood for and what Steve Jobs created and sold to the world, a realized vision in which computing shifted from complicated to commonplace. Pursuing racial equality certainly carries a moral weight that cannot be denied. Nevertheless, for Jobs to do what he did also required a strength of conviction and will that should not be ignored.
It is never easy to be the “crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers,” as Jobs himself narrated in the famous “Think Different” Apple ad campaign from the late 90s. Most of us would rather just keep our head down, plug away at whatever course of life we are on, maintain the status quo and try to stay alongside the proverbial Joneses. But the world needs more crazies, misfits, rebels and troublemakers. These are the people who make tangible and profound differences in our experience of reality, who imagine a picture of a life we cannot even dream of and then have the tenacity and the perseverance to show the rest of us the way there.
Missional living, in my mind, is all about forging the counter-cultural path, and if there is any one quality that is required when you approach life this way, it is courage. Courage to be able to stand up and say “yes, there is a different way.” Courage to resist the desire to people-please and stay true to what you know you have been called to do. Courage to be able to stick to your convictions when most everyone else around you is pursuing the path of greatest personal gain and glory, or the equally tempting path of least resistance. And missional living requires a little bit of craziness as well, as expressed so perfectly in the “Think Different” ad: “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
In Jobs’ now-famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University graduates, he gave the graduates this charge: â€œDonâ€™t let the noise of othersâ€™ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.â€
May the lives of these three men continue to inspire us to lives of crazy courageousness.
(This post originally appeared in Henry Zonio’s Kidmin and Culture blog; it’s a review of the “Vocation.Life” chapter from Scot McKnight‘s book One.Life. With Henry’s permission, I’m sharing the review here. If you enjoy this post, check out the other reviews that appeared on Henry’s site and also read One.Life for yourself!)
The college I attended did not have a Campus Crusade chapter, but even I can recite the first of Crusadeâ€™s well-known spiritual laws: â€œGod loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.â€ But for many people who seek to live the Christian life, knowing the phrase does nothing to ease their questions about it. They do not doubt that God loves them, but they unceasingly wonder if they are in the center of Godâ€™s plan and living the life he has intended for them.
We all, at one time or another, have likely asked the question, â€œWhat is Godâ€™s will for my life? What should I do with my life?â€ And these timeless and challenging questions are the ones that Scot McKnight addresses in his chapter entitled â€œVocation.Lifeâ€. The word â€œvocationâ€ comes from the Latin root vocare, which means â€œto call,â€ and so from the Christian perspective it is not merely choosing a career path, but giving a life response to the One who is calling us to begin with. McKnight offers so much wisdom and direction on these questions of calling in his typically facile, anecdotal style that itâ€™s easy to miss all the pearls. But let me highlight a few points that I found particularly valuable.
1. There is no distinction between â€œsacredâ€ and â€œsecularâ€ jobs.
It may seem easier to find meaning in jobs or activities that have a distinct Christian purpose or intent, such as being a pastor, or a missionary, or a volunteer in a church ministry. However, McKnight is â€œunconvinced that some jobsâ€”the so-called â€˜spiritual onesâ€™â€”are valuable while others are â€˜secularâ€™ and therefore not as valuable.â€ And I wholeheartedly agree with him. Any action we undertake, if it is done with Godâ€™s Kingdom.Life in mind, becomes a sacred act, whether we are preaching the Gospel at a crusade to an audience of thousands or doing laundry at home.
It is less a question of the specifics of what we are doing, and more a question of our attitudes and our heart-orientation in the midst of those activities. You can be a pastor in a megachurch for all the wrong reasons and be less in the center of Godâ€™s calling than someone who is touching the life of just one other person in a meaningful and Spirit-led way.
2. The worth of a job has nothing to do with how much income it generates.
We live in a culture in which the most valued jobs have become the ones that earn the highest income. A recent column by New York Timesâ€™ Nicholas Kristof bluntly declared, â€œPay Teachers More.â€ Kristof notes that â€œin 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher.â€ There is a reason that the legal, medical, and business professions attract many of the countryâ€™s best and brightest minds. In the eyes of most Americans, success is often defined in monetary terms.
McKnight aptly reminds us that â€œwhen the kingdom dream of Jesus shapes our vocations, it turns us from folks who strive for wealth into folks whose vocations are used for others.â€ Imagine what could happen in the church if every Christian parent, teacher, and childrenâ€™s ministry leader intentionally and consistently helped the children in their midst to embrace this idea as opposed to letting the culture dictate the values these kids adopt in their own lives?
3. If we are committed to furthering Godâ€™s kingdom, we do not need to worry about whether we are in Godâ€™s will.
It doesnâ€™t seem to matter if you are a teenager or a retiree or somewhere in between; people can become paralyzed from making any choice for fear of making the wrong one with respect to decisions about calling. This is why I so appreciate what McKnight says in this quote: â€œGodâ€™s willâ€¦and what you dream about in your deepest dreams line up so well, you can usually chase your dreams and you will more often than not find Godâ€™s will.â€ If you are sincerely seeking to please God in your life choices, and you are doing the best you can to align those choices with Godâ€™s works-in-progress in the world, you are unlikely to make a wrong choice.
And even if you do, you can trust God will shut the appropriate doors or find ways to communicate when you are going down the wrong path. You might be surprised to know that Eugene Peterson did not originally intend to become a pastor. But he â€œpaid attention to God until he realized that a pastor is what he was created to be.â€ (From Jonathan Wilson-Hartgroveâ€™s review in Christianity Today of Petersonâ€™s newly-released memoir, The Pastor.) And so, too, can all those who are Christ-followers rest assured that as long as they are sincerely â€œpaying attentionâ€ to Godâ€™s leadings, their sense of calling will emerge and develop.
4. Say â€œnoâ€ to those valuable endeavors that are outside our particular calling.
I found this point to be the most challenging for me and yet the most critical one to incorporate in my own life. The opportunities to be involved in establishing Godâ€™s Kingdom â€œon earth as it is in heavenâ€ are more numerous than any one of us can handle. McKnight encourages focus instead of spreading ourselves too thin. He writes, â€œWhen we try to do too many good things, we burn out or we tune out or we leave out someone we loveâ€¦In order to â€˜do thatâ€™ one thing well, one must guard from trying to do too many other things. Saying no to other things is what keeps life balanced.â€
I think itâ€™s helpful to remember that when we say â€œyesâ€ to every need that appears before us, we are actually diminishing the opportunity that another person has to embrace the calling God has given them. So we need to prayerfully consider what our specific calling is, understanding that discovering that call is as much about saying â€œnoâ€ to the good opportunities so that we can say â€œyesâ€ to the best ones that match Godâ€™s intent for us.
Iâ€™ve only highlighted a few of the many helpful ideas McKnight presents in this chapter. Itâ€™s well worth the time to read the entirety of Vocation.Life, crafted by someone who clearly is living within his own God-given call as a teacher and writer. But make no mistake: your life and vocation are no less important or valuable to the One who has called you in the first place.
(Photo courtesy of http://www.istockphoto.com/4774344sean)
Safety. We parents crave it for our children and our families; we search for neighborhoods that are considered “safe,” we try to keep our children away from dangerous objects or scenarios, and we purchase all manner of gadgets and gear in order to ensure that our kids won’t fall down stairs or pinch their little fingers or electrocute themselves. This is what it means to be a good parent, right? As Christian parents, especially, why would we ever choose to do anything that could endanger the lives, health, or well-being of our children?
Kirsten Strand, a Chicagoland mother of two boys found herself pondering this very question one day when her then-2nd grade son came home and announced, “I can’t go back to school until I get a pair of Heelys!” The Strands lived in the city of Naperville, which regularly makes lists such as “Best Small Cities to Live in America.” Kirsten’s son had been swayed towards the wheeled sneakers by his peers in school, and as Kirsten says in The Missional Mom, “At the time, Heelys cost $80 a pair! I thought, ‘If this is happening in Naperville in second grade, what will happen when they get older?”
Most families, Christian or otherwise, avoid neighborhoods that might be considered “dangerous”, with school systems that are under-resourced. But as Kirsten discovered, there are spiritual dangers that are just as prevalent in supposedly “safe” neighborhoods that are easier for us to miss. In our zest and zeal to protect our children from discomfort and disadvantage in a physical sense, we may actually be hampering them spiritually. Could it be that the lessons that arise from living by faith, in situations that stretch our comfort zones, are exactly what God would like for us to embrace?
In his book The Monkey and the Fish, author and pastor Dave Gibbons asks “Where is Nazareth?” as a way to encourage the reader to probe this question: where are the areas around you in which people are marginalized for whatever reason? In Jesus’ time, Nazareth was considered a place from which nothing good could come, and yet God chose it as the hometown for his son. If God can root his own Son in a place with a negative reputation, perhaps we parents today have to be more willing to do the same.
As for Kirsten and her family, four years ago they made the decision to move to the neighboring town of East Aurora, a community that was so completely different from Naperville, both socioeconomically and ethnically. East Aurora was just the next town over, but the children there were living a completely different reality than what Kirsten and her family had been experiencing in Naperville. The Strands are now actively involved with the ministering to the under-resourced community in East Aurora, and they have no regrets for making what looks to be a more “dangerous” choice for their family. Kirsten says, “We decided that if God was calling us to this, He knew we had children, and He would take care of them. We had to be willing to lay down that cross and say, even if the absolute worst happens, that we would be able to accept it.”
The Strands have put their hope and trust in the Lord, which seems to me to be the safest way for a family to live. What do you think? What are ways in which God might be challenging your ideas of safety, comfort, and danger?
(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosasay/3287920767/)
This morning I have a post on The High Calling website, entitled “Practice With Purpose,” about our family’s time at Breakthrough Urban Ministries last summer. Here is the beginning of the piece, and you can read the rest at TheHighCalling.org’s website!
My exasperated son banged his hands on the piano keys. He was an 8-year-old with clear musical ability but no desire to practice. â€œWhy? Why do I have to do it again? I donâ€™t understand!â€ he moaned. I knew this was standard behavior for similar children his age, but the knowledge didnâ€™t make dealing with his resistance any easier.
â€œCâ€™mon,â€ I coaxed. â€œYouâ€™re playing in public on Saturday. Donâ€™t you want to be at your best?â€ He glowered a non-response, finally eked out the troublesome phrase, then ran outside with glee when our time was over.
I rubbed my temples, wondering how my life had come to this, a never-ending list of home- and child-related tasks and challenges that often had nothing to do with my own gifts and abilities. Was this what it meant to be a great parent? Pouring all my energies into family life until there was nothing left of myself to give? â€œI need a week at the spa, by myself!â€ I grumbled to no one in particular.
(Read the rest of the post here!)
Image by Diane Gracy. Used with permission. Sourced through Flickr.
My eldest son (“Harry”) who is nearly 9 years old has been on a Jesus kick of late. He wants to know of everyone he meets, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” In the past two weeks, he has asked at least eight people this question (one newcomer to our church; three Little League coaches; three fellow baseball team members, one exterminator). This past year, he befriended a fellow 3rd grader who moved onto our block this summer, and it wasn’t long before Harry was asking theological questions: “Do you go to church? Do you believe in God? Do you know Jesus?”
I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about his directness on the topic of Jesus. On one hand, I’m so utterly thrilled that Harry is concerned about the spiritual welfare and destiny of all those he meets. I’m so glad that he does not feel any sense of hesitation to speak the name of Jesus. I wish I had the same sort of boldness in my own life!
At the same time, I don’t want for him to be alienating people by asking questions that might close doors to a relationship. I want for my kids to be salt and light in the world, but I also want for them to be building relationships with people and demonstrating the love of Christ to others, so that they earn the right to share about Jesus. Five minutes or five days or even five months after meeting someone may be way too soon to start probing into another person’s spiritual status.
I also fear that he is using the “Are you a Christian?” question as some sort of litmus test, and that if you answer in the affirmative, you have made it “in” some sort of private club in his mind. After all, how often do we do this ourselves as adults? We feel a sense of comfort if we are around those who express or demonstrate a faith journey congruent to our own. We start to build mental categories in which those who we label as “Christian” are those around whom we feel most comfortable and spend the most time with. This strikes me as the exact opposite of what being “missional” is all about.
So here is what I have told my son, and I would love to hear what others think about this approach:
“I’m so glad that you have a heart to ask people about their spiritual lives, and to see if they know Jesus. I hope you never lose that willingness to talk about Jesus! But for some people, the topic of Jesus is challenging, either because they do not know him, or because they do not yet believe what we believe, or because they have already chosen to reject him. So when you first meet someone, if you start the relationship by asking them if they are a Christian or if they know Jesus, they might put up a wall that makes it difficult for you to really get to know them.
Instead, I’d like for you to take the time to build a friendship or relationship with others, and let them see Jesus in you by how you act, speak, and treat them and others. Let them see that you have an eternal source of joy, hope, and peace inside you. Let them see what it means to act as a light in a world that can often be a dark place. Let them see you love and accept them wholeheartedly, as God loves them. And then when the time is right, you can share more about who Jesus is in your life, and what he means to you. In the end, it doesn’t matter if someone answers whether they are a Christian or not; only God can know for certain a person’s heart, and we are called to love others around us regardless of whether they are a Christ-follower or not.”
What would you add to this? Or would you take a different approach? I’m eager to hear your thoughts as always!
Today, my son and I read a Robert Frost poem, one I had never before encountered. It’s short, but its message reflected a missional perspective. See if you agree:
A Time to Talk
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
What I find most fascinating about this poem is the word “plod” in the next to last line. It changes the tenor of the entire poem, implying that the narrator may not be feeling enthusiastic about this particular interruption in his day. But at the same time, he goes to meet his friend, and I am guessing that after he takes this time out for the visit, he will be glad he did so.
The poem hits home for me, because I am a tried-and-true introvert, and I am also not someone who does well with interruptions, especially when I am in the midst of a task or a to-do list, with all my desired goals rising like Frost’s unhoed hills around me. But “A Time to Talk” gently reminds me that ultimately, the most important work that we are to be about in this world is relational.
I think of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, soaking in the time with him while her sister putters around in her busyness. I remember how Jesus’ strategy to revolutionize the world centered on his connections with a small group of people, 3 and 12 in particular. I ponder the reality that we live in an overly busy and frenetic culture in which “just stopping by to talk” rarely seems to happen anymore.
Perhaps it would do us all some good to make more intentional space in our lives to spend time visiting others and inviting friends, neighbors, and acquaintances into our lives with more frequency. An idea we have talked about doing in our family but have yet to implement is to start a regular “open house” evening and let our friends and neighbors know they are welcome to stop by for a visit, then encourage others to do the same. I’m now motivated to try this out this summer!
Your hills may remain untilled and your to-do list ever-daunting, but as we do the mission-critical work of building deeper and more meaningful relationships with those around us, I have a feeling we will be closer to choosing what Jesus is hoping for from his people. Even if it takes us a little plodding to get there, I think we will ultimately be glad we did so.
Are there ways your family intentionally strives to create “time to talk” space in your life? How do you do so? Would love to see your ideas!
Lately as I’ve had the chance to meet moms and hear their questions, I have realized there are three words that I have used over and over again in our conversations that bear discussing in a little more detail. I think when moms understand these three words, they have a much clearer picture of what their life and priorities are to look like. The three words are: calling, seasons, and balance.
Let’s take the word “calling” first. As I’ve mentioned here on this blog in the past, I believe the calling of the Christian mom is no different from the calling of every Christ follower: to love God and to live out the mission he has given us all (to be his witness to the ends of the earth, and to make disciples of all nations.) Motherhood is one of the avenues through which we live out this primary calling, and it’s a critically important one. But, motherhood is not the entirety of our identity as followers of Christ. We are each created in unique ways to live out God’s mission, and pursuing God and his mission is always the primary calling toward which we orient our lives.
But now we come to the word “seasons.” And it is also true that at different seasons in our life as mothers, the motherhood part of our identity will take a significant portion of our time and energy, especially when our children are very young. I love what my friend Shayne Moore, author of Global Soccer Mom, says about her motherhood experience, that when her children were babies, “my world became very small. I wish someone had told me it was okay that my world became so small.” By necessity, mothering young children in particular is a time in which we experience all manner of physical trials–sleep deprivation in particular! And so you may not find yourself able to do much in terms of active missional living in that season of life–which is okay!
But, even in that baby-focused season of life, you can still be missional in the way you live. You can keep up with sites and blogs to stay informed of what is going on in the church and the world; you can spend time in prayer for those global and local needs that stir your heart; you can take five seconds to sign a petition to rally against an injustice in the world, or donate funds to help the poorest of the poor. In other words, no matter what season of life you are in, you can find ways to live missionally, while recognizing that some seasons will lend themselves to being more missionally active than others.
Lastly, the word “balance.” I love what my wise missionary friend Grace told me years ago about living a life of balance, that it’s not about achieving the perfect combination of hours in different activities every day or every week. Instead, balance is something you achieve over the course of a lifetime. So some “seasons” of life will be more child-intensive, and others less so. But so long as we are always keeping our primary calling in mind, demonstrating that God’s mission is paramount in our lives, we can rest in the knowledge that whatever season we are experiencing is only a season. We can’t always do it all, at least not all in one season of life. But over the course of our life, we will experience and achieve the balance we are looking for.
So missional living, even when we find ourselves busy with managing our households, is something that can be done at any stage of motherhood, and it helps to provide a sense of balance that orients us properly to the primary calling that God has given each one of us. I hope you find these words helpful to you as you seek to find ways to live for God’s mission in whatever season of life you are in. Please feel free to offer other ideas or comments on how you understand these three words!
I spent the weekend in (rainy) Northern California, invited to speak by the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC) on the topic “Beyond Tiger Parenting: How Missional Moms and Dads Create Truly ‘Successful’ Families.” The raindrops did not deter people from attending, thankfully, so we had a wonderful time of thinking together through the challenges of parenting in today’s culture. We especially took time to examine the success narrative that so many of us adopt without even realizing it–that the only right way to raise kids is to get a great job and live in a safe neighborhood with top-notch schools, then encourage your kids to be involved in every activity under the sun so they can get into a great college and get a lucrative job, thereby enabling the entire cycle to self-perpetuate.
But is this what “success” is really all about? Achieving “the American Dream” which is typically defined by the accumulation of the right amount of material possessions coupled with the proper level of prestige and fame?
I told a story at the ISAAC event to help illustrate what can happen when you live for the American Dream. The story is actually that of my father, who came to America in the 1960s with little more than the $100 in his pocket. He was on a student visa to study economics and ultimately earned his Ph.D. from Washington State University. Along the way, he met and married my mom, became a U.S. citizen, then received a job offer from the federal government, where he worked in the Dept. of Agriculture as a researcher until he retired after nearly 30 years of service.
Meanwhile, my mom had run a number of small businesses, and the combination of their two incomes meant that they could afford to buy a house in a middle-class neighborhood of Bethesda, Maryland (well-resourced community, excellent schools). After two decades, they had saved and earned enough to buy their dream house in Potomac, Maryland (see photo), land of lawyers, doctors, senators and former basketball stars (Patrick Ewing of Georgetown University/NY Knicks fame lived down the street). They were able to sell that dream house for double what they paid for it at the height of the housing bubble, then used that money to buy their retirement house in Orange County, CA, paid in full. They currently reside there, playing golf four times a week at their country club and living a restful life in contrast to decades of hard and even at times, backbreaking work.
I think most people would think of my parents as being an example of an American success story. The great irony is that if you ask my dad what he thinks about what he has accomplished in his life, he will tell you that he feels as though he is far from successful.
I used to never understand his perspective. I’d say, “Dad, you live in a nearly million dollar piece of property in Orange County. Especially considering where you started, how on earth can you think of yourself as not being successful?”
But now, as I think about the intersection of his assessment with his pursuit of the American Dream, I can see his reasoning better. He thinksthat he is not successful because he hasn’t made as much money as other people, or he hasn’t achieved as many accolades as other people, or done anything that others would call extraordinary. Never mind that this man is a North Korean refugee who fled the country at age 13, was separated from his mother during the chaos of that time and never saw her again, and came to this country with nothing but hopes for the future and the $100 in his pocket. In his mind, he has not done enough.
When the American Dream is your life’s driving force, you will always end up feeling unfulfilled. There will always be someone who earns more, does more, is more talented, or wins more awards and prizes. There are other stories to embrace in one’s life than the same “pursuit of happiness” that drives the lives of most Americans. On one hand, I’m grateful for the pull of that Dream, otherwise my dad would never have come to the U.S., and my life would look completely different. But on the other hand, I wish he could be free from the fallacy that there is only a certain way to think about success. In my mind, he is a success. And not because he lives in an expensive house in the O.C.
How many of us think of success as defined in culturally-driven ways? What are the ways in which you strive to live out a different “success narrative” in your family? I’d love to hear your thoughts as always!