A blog reader wrote me to say:
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.