Saying Goodbye To Family
The young woman’s eyes looked worried as she approached me. “I really enjoyed what you had to say,” she said, “but I’m really struggling. I don’t know if I can leave my family to be a global worker. My husband and I just were married. We said good-bye to our families and drove here to begin our training. I cried the whole way! I just don’t know if I can leave my family.” My heart hurt for this young woman. Many women global workers dread saying good-bye to those they love. Some women have even decided that the cost of being away from home is too big of a price to pay. During our years as global workers, many women told me that though they thought what I was doing was wonderful. They would never be able to be global workers because, they would say, “I love my family too much.” That comment would make me sad and angry; angry that they seemed to think I didn’t love my family as much as they loved theirs, and sad that they would limit what God could do in and through them.
When we live continents away from family, we miss important passages of life. Grandparents and grandchildren don’t see each other as much as families who live in the same town. All extended family contact is cut-off.
Many of us do chose to go and stay. Why do we put our families through the hardship of separation? People who work at the embassy, the oil company people, and Peace Corp workers are also separated from their families. They live and work where they do for the thrill of a new adventure, the romance of travel or the pull of the almighty dollar. We don’t live where we live for those reasons. Instead, we’re motivated to reach a lost world with the good news of Jesus Christ. Money couldn’t compensate us for having to say so many painful good-byes. The adventure wears off quickly and travel becomes just one more thing to do when you do it all the time.
It is very important that we remind ourselves why we live where we live. Because we’re willing to live in a foreign culture, we hope that someone may spend eternity with Jesus in Heaven, that someone’s life may be saved, that someone may enjoy a better home life, and that someone may not starve to death. Hopefully, our service will be used by our Lord to multiply His Kingdom. Viewing life from God’s perspective will help us to know that the life we are living now is temporary. Compared to eternity, our life span is just an instant in time. When we reach Heaven, we’ll be able to look back and say it was worth it all.
Second Corinthians 4 speaks to the fact that God is the one who has given us our ministry and He has given us mercy so that we won’t become discouraged. He knows that we are fragile vessels and gives us His power to do His work. Verses 16-18 say, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light afflictions is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
There will be days when we long for home and family. Our homesickness will feel like an affliction. God created us in families and He understands our heart longings. When those sad days come, how should we respond? I think it is really important to recognize that we do get homesick and take those feelings to our Lord, acknowledging our natural feelings and asking Him to help us understand life from His perspective. Choosing to think as He thinks, to see life as He sees it, will help us serve Him joyfully and find creative ways to keep our ties with family strong.
Finding victory in this area doesn’t require forsaking our families. Instead, I think it means learning to think creatively so we can maintain very close relationships with those we love who happen to live far away. We have options like telephones, e-mail, video cameras, vacations and furlough visits home. More and more global workers are enjoying visits from their families. Encourage your family to include notes to your children in each of their letters. Help your children know your family by placing photos of them around your home. When you help your children draw a picture for Grandma or write a letter to Grandpa, take the time to show them a picture or talk about a special memory to help them know who their artwork or letter will be going to. Celebrate family special events with photos and phone calls.
- To help each of your family members stay in touch with you, and to minimize the work involved, write one letter and make copies to send to each family member and friend who you feel would be interested in your day-to-day life. With e-mail address lists and the ability to copy, and paste with word processing, this is very easy. You can also add a personal note to each one as appropriate.
- Make a photo basket of family members and friends. Keep this basket in a place where you as a family have your family devotions or where you pray with your children. Take one photo a day and share a story or important fact about that person. Then pray together for that person and their needs. Let your family know when you pray for them.
- Share with your stateside family your desire to stay close to them and for your children to know them. Ask them to become involved in your lives through letters and photos of their families. Some will want to send videos and books and small gifts to you. This may or may not work, depending on your country. Try to help them understand that more than gifts, the greatest thing they can give is themselves.
- Maximize visits from your family and your furlough visits home. Plan family reunions. Carve out time to spend ordinary time together, not just always “special” times. Get to know each other as you really are. Some family members may question your love for them as they won’t be able to understand how you could leave them behind. Make time to show them you really do love them. Love them the way they need to be loved, not how it is convenient for you to love them.
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.