The Power of “Goodbye”

IMG_1978

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.

Advertisements

Enjoy yourself (Just not in the same way you used to before)!

IMG_0601

I used to look forward to, and enjoy, weekends away with church. Now I brace myself for them, and often feel I’m the worst version of ‘me’ when I’m there. Sad, I know. But I believe that through prayer and practical wisdom this, the “time away with church family, with a family,” can be conquered!

I’m going away today, so I thought I’d offer some tips on how to get through, I mean enjoy, your time away (it’s more fun than packing). I’m in no way the expert, but I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with thus far – you’ll see I’m learning from my mistakes.

Things NOT to expect:

Sleep – Time and again I make the mistake of arriving on a conference/camp/ weekend away already tired, and hoping for some rest. Go on, point and laugh, I deserve it. You won’t get much sleep. Things will prevent you from sleeping: probably your children. But while you can do everything in your power to encourage your children to have a good night’s sleep (blackouts, familiar bedding, nightlight etc.), there are always things you can’t control. Even if your children sleep wonderfully, you are still likely to be woken up by something else, e.g. someone else’s child; a fire alarm; a 5am delivery van; a 3am Pentecostal prayer gathering (this has been my experience, anyway).

Catching up with good friends – this is unlikely, because you will be busy with your brood and also there may be other people who need you more. You don’t want to end up resenting your children or anyone else who gets in the way of your nice long chat with so-and-so. Maybe think of this as an opportunity to arrange to meet up with that friend in the next couple of weeks! Then, if you do end up having a good chat: bonus!

Taking part in everything that’s going on – it might be the teaching you look forward to, or the social aspect, or praying together. But it’s likely you’ll miss out on something you’d really like to have been at. You might get trapped in your room with a clingy baby and no phone signal to beckon help, while everyone else is having a whale of a time doing “organised fun.” You might miss all of the talks because your 3-year-old is terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings, or you might have to take someone to A&E. Hopefully none of these will happen, but I’m just saying it’s good to be emotionally prepared to miss out.

Things to DO:

Be thankful. Sorry everything above is so negative. I think that if we “manage our expectations” (fancy phrase) then we’re more likely to be thankful for any fun/teaching/sleeping/encouragements that we do receive. I need to remember to be thankful, because I just won’t be otherwise. I’m like that, me.

Forget yourself. I find that at these intense, emotionally draining times I get too focused on my own “problems” (e.g. lack of sleep/missed the seminar), which is just a recipe for disaster. If I try to focus on making sure other people are OK, I’ll actually start to forget what I was so narked off about in the first place. Get over yourself, Catherine (or, you know, something less harsh).

Research – if you haven’t been to the venue before, try to find out what you need to take with you from someone who has been or from the venue itself. You don’t want to arrive and realise you were meant to bring bedding. Almost equally you don’t want to stuff five duvets into your boot (trunk) and then discover you didn’t need them. Especially if you don’t have a driveway, so loading the car is tricky, and you bought the duvets especially. Just saying.

I’ve now noticed that (maybe apart from the final one) these are quite good tips for life in general. Maybe that’s because time away with church is really just a more intense version of normal life. And I need to remember, too, what an AMAZING privilege it is to have the resources, the community, and the freedom to be able to do this. Would my North Korean sister be grumbling about missing the Saturday night karaoke if she were here? No, I’m pretty sure she’d think she’d died and gone to heaven.

Have a good weekend, folks!