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Did we miss our chance?

A blog reader wrote me to say: Today's blog about the Haley's could have been written about my husband and me 8 years ago — the American dream part.  Since then, we have added two precious boys to our lives, now ages 3 and 5.   I feel we missed our chan…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

A blog reader wrote me to say:

Today's blog about the Haley's could have been written about my husband and me 8 years ago — the American dream part.  Since then, we have added two precious boys to our lives, now ages 3 and 5.  

I feel we missed our chance to do all the things you write about, and I wonder if you could do a post or two about how to embrace mission and service while being responsible parents in the active, hands on, every day parenting phase of our lives.  I know all is possible with God, but I can't see us packing up for the World Race with our sons in tow!"

What do you tell her?

So many of us start out in our 20's full of dreams and idealism. We're going to see the world. We're going to address injustice. We're going to touch the widow and the orphan.

And then – WHAM!! – reality hits. You get married, have kids, get a job and a mortgage. Throw in the odd crisis – the loss of a job, sickness – and all those dreams fall by the wayside.

You feel the weight of responsibility and who can blame you for giving up?

But the good news for my blog reader and for any of you who wonder if life is passing you by is that you do have options. Here are five:

1. Prioritize Simplicity
Get a job that gives you the flexibility to live missionally. Who says you need to live at such a high standard of living? Why not buy a clunker instead of being strapped to a car payment? What if you were to rent an inexpensive apartment instead of buying a house? Take a Dave Ramsey seminar and you might be surprised at the options that open up to you. If you had more time and money, you could be more missional. By living simply, my daughter Emily is leading a project in a Honduran orphanage right now. Downsize and you could join her.

2. Family Sabbatical
This is a great option if you've got a job that allows you significant time off. A lot of teachers have two months off in the summer. And some of them go on long mission trips. Beyond that, some people are able to take an extended leave of absence to volunteer somewhere.  One of our best parenting decisions was to bring our kids with us on long mission trips to Mexico, Swaziland and Peru.

3. Go Off the Map
Quit your job, sell your house, and do something radical. You have one life to live. Why not take half a year to address some challenging need somewhere in the world? Teri Frana did this and her life has never been the same. Email me and I'll be happy to give you suggestions. Young people in South Sudan need to be discipled. India needs the Gospel. Orphans the world over need hugs. Schools and clinics need to be started.

4. Take 'Em Along
If you have children, you may feel anchored in your community. But our society can be too risk-averse about our kids. You can take your children to a lot of places. Eric and Jen Peterson took their kids to Nsoko, Swaziland. And now their whole family is making a difference in a desperate place.

5. Serve Locally
When our kids' friends were home playing with their Gameboys, Karen, recognizing that the real challenge to their development was the kind of self-centeredness that society promotes, chose a different route. She asked our pastor where they could help at the church. After that, she and the kids cleaned the bathrooms.

As the kids grew older, they found their own ways to serve. As a high schooler, Estie would visit nursing homes. At 17, she graduated early and went to Africa and Mexico for a year. But growing up she'd learned that you don't have to go overseas to find ways to serve or build the kingdom. Opportunities are all around us.

At one time or another, the Barnes family has tried out all four of these options. Now that our kids are grown, they have all chosen to prioritize the kingdom over self-gratification. They've seen it's a better way.

Karen and I have sought to hold our possessions lightly and to make ourselves available to follow God wherever he may lead. The adventures and the changed lives he's given us in return have been priceless.

Comments (13)

  • My honor and life at this time are being a caretaker & I embrace this. God is doing a tremendous work in my heart and in my mom’s I believe (She is 82) and this is my mission field presently. However……(there’s a huge ‘however’ here), I have long term vision too and have been looking at some of these blogs (well many of them, ha!) and see somewhere down the road being available for these sorts of trips. My heart burns. My heart rests. My heart desires…..all He has for this little sheep.

  • Oh let me add my dear mother IS a believer. Missions is not always to the lost. But to honor people of all situations, as unto the Lord. 🙂

  • Soooo needed to hear this tonight! Thanks for the encouragement! We needed it! And a swift kick in the pants to keep running! (even with a baby and now two on our backs!)

    Josh & Jess

  • BE ENCOURAGED! I’ve seen SO MANY little kids out there with Mom and Dad and it’s just part of their life! If God is calling you to go into a long term situation, He’s calling your kids too! I know that may sound simple, but God is so very practical in His calling, and He makes all things beautiful!

    Seth’s 4 options are great! Keep seeking him and KEEP DREAMING!

    Bless you REALLY GOOD!

  • Great post Dad!!

    Dear Abba, please move someone somewhere to somehow make that life changing decision on account of this blog post. Some needy people out there are praying for them to trust God and come to them.

  • There are different seasons of life – such as the caretaking one Sandy mentions or the young children one the readers find themselves in. But I would echo Seth’s encouragement to you. You can do much more with young children than our culture often says you can.

    Look for opportunities to be generous and do acts of service. Begin to build into your kids now a compassion for those around them. Spontaneously pick up a meal for the homeless guy you see at the intersection and take it back to him. If a relative is in a retirement home, bake cookies for the staff there. If your child announces they want to give their winter coat to a classmate who doesn’t have one, affirm their compassion and if you can – let them give the coat away. If there is a food drive, let them shop with you and choose some of their favorite things.

    And there are ministry opportunities where you can include them. When my kids were very young I did a 2-week summer beach ministry every summer. My sister-in-law would go with me and watch all of our kids during the spells I was busy but much of the ministry was also done with a child on my hip. This same sister-in-law’s family (including the kids) collected blankets in the winter and drove into Atlanta to distribute them to the homeless they saw on the street – with her kids. I’ve been on short term mission trips where people have brought children as young as 18 month olds – and where a high school age cousin raised her own support to come along on the trip as a child care provider for those times when the parents needed to be more focused on ministry. One of the primary reasons the parents wanted to take their very young children was so that they would grow up knowing that “this is what our family does.”

  • Thanks for the post Seth. I think in the American Christian family culture we care more about making our children good citizens that are safe Christians and not disciples that need to really follow Christ. I heard that from a pastor and it really changed much of my understanding as a future parents. I am protect them but not keep them from what God may have even if it “seems risky”. I have been on the Race and had dreams, but God also had other ones I didn’t see yet and that include my new wife and different place of service at the moment. I don’t believe I’ve missed it at all, and one thing we learned on the Race was seasons. We have seasons in our lives. I think much on the Race and what I saw, and what really broke my heart and it can be just as affecting here in America because there are tons of needs here. But, if I felt like I missed it because I’m not reaching someone in a foreign country because I got married and had kids then it’s a wrong view. Children are a blessing from the Lord, and a joy to bring up in His ways. And to show them God’s plan whether here or there reaching orphans in Tanzania. I guess I have become careful after reading a certain blog and intro into a new e-book released (not yours) that unless you’re in a foreign country then you’ve missed life, and I think that’s dangerous. I’ve seen God work here so much as there.

  • James Eugene Barbush

    Thanks Seth. This is an excellent invitation to consider how we are living and make some life changing decisions that can impact us and others greatly for The Kingdom of God.

  • You’re welcome. I’m glad the post is helpful. This stuff works. Now we’re seeking to share this kind of lifestyle with a new generation!

  • You’ve hit at the very core of my dream and passion – helping those who think they’ve missed their chance realize that they’ve only just begun.

    We’re all called to a risky faith – regardless if God asks us to do it in a corporate job in suburbia, or in the inner slums of Detroit, or in the tent cities in Haiti.

    Radically living out the Gospel is always risky as well as infinitely beautiful.

    I thank God he continues to call and protect and guide and challenge us to ever more trust in Him regardless of our age.

    Thanks Seth for all you do to be God’s voice to this inter-generation generation.

  • This is really a helpful perspective and application. Being on the front side of “reality,” its comforting to know that even when I do have those commitments in life, God’s call to missions can still apply.

  • I am living in a pretty remote place right now. We have a family with young children on our team. Some people with western lenses might call the parents reckless for having their children here. I see it as a hands on approach of teaching their children to follow and trust God wherever He leads.

    The children have opened more doors into the lives of their neighbors than anything else could or would. I wish there were more families here with children! It is such an amazing way to build bridges in so many cultures.

  • Wow! This is a great and practical one. There are so many creative ways God can lead anyone who feels they missed their chance…
    This is a blog post to share by all means.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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