What’s the hardest thing about raising young children in the city?
I wonder what you think. The traffic, the rent, cramped living, the lack of grass? The noisy neighbours, the hit-and-miss schools, the on-street (and not even your own street) parking? How about the hours spent commuting, or the polluted air, or the lack of like-minded Christian families? These are all relevant – some more than others. (Grass is overrated, friends. Heaven is a garden CITY.)
For me, not one of these things is the hardest thing about raising my children in the city. The hardest thing is this: people leave. I’m trying to nurture a stable family in a transient city, which feels a bit like trying to make friends in the middle of Kings Cross station. Some people do stop, they say hello, they might even invest a little. But then they have to rush – they have a train to catch.
People leave for good reasons. They take the gospel to undesirable places, or their job moves them, or they go to Bible college, or they move nearer to sick parents. (Some people don’t leave for good reasons, by the way, but I’m not here to judge.) And I can cope with that – ish. I miss them, and I cry when they leave, but I can see the bigger picture. The West Country needs youth workers: I get it.
But it’s harder for children to see the bigger picture. My daughter doesn’t even know how long an hour is; my son doesn’t quite know the difference between London and Longnewton (my parents’ village). So how are they meant to understand that it’s actually a good thing that we’re waving goodbye (yet again) to another precious friend, because they’re meeting a need somewhere in South East Asia? My heart aches in a way it never used to before I had children, because I don’t like to see them sad. It’s as simple as that.
It’s not just church family members, either. It’s the teachers, the support staff, and the classmates. They can be here one day, and gone the next. And each time this happens, I feel like my child’s foundations are crumbling away, bit by bit.
But I need to learn some things. I spent last night and this morning in tears about this issue, by the way, so please don’t assume I have this figured out!
The more people leave us, the more we rely on the Lord. He’s my rock and my foundation. He will never leave me. Time and again the Lord reminds his people of this fact: ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’* Sweet, sweet words. (This is what I told my daughter the day her nursery teacher was dismissed without notice.) And of course, Jesus himself comforted his disciples with these words: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20). When friends leave, we’re forced to lean more on the One who never does. So if our weak foundations do crumble, by God’s grace they can be replaced by the true Rock.
When people leave to serve in God’s Kingdom elsewhere, it does help the children to have a more global perspective. This is hard for them, but it is possible. We’ve found that showing them maps and praying for people in other countries has helped them with this. And, similarly, they are learning that we all suffer for the advance of the gospel – those who go, and those who stay behind. These are hard but character-building lessons to learn, and I pray that by learning them my children will be blessed, and will be a blessing to the Kingdom as they grow up.
Also, waving goodbye to people makes us long for Jesus to return soon. I can tell my children that in the new creation, in the garden city, there’ll be no more goodbyes. There’ll be no unreached people groups, no sick relatives, no war zones, no more tears. It would be nice if my church family could be together forever, and that nobody would have to leave, but then we wouldn’t look forward to heaven enough. And one day, we will be with our brothers and sisters for eternity. In the words of that great Australian theologian of our time, Colin Buchanan: ‘Hooley Dooley Wop Bam Boom! Jesus Christ is coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Let me know if you have any thoughts on this. Click on the speech bubble, top right.
*Deut 31:6-8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Kings 8: 57.