Trading One Vision for Another
As I headed into the adult Christian life, “spending myself on behalf of the needy” was my aim, my life’s mission. As a teenager, I was inspired by the lives of missionaries past and present, men and women of faith like George Müller and Jackie Pullinger who made huge personal sacrifices for the sake of the poor and needy. I used to live on stories like Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon (1980) and Sarah De Carvalho’s The Street Children of Brazil (1996). So considering that I have no problem with sacrifice in itself and that I went into the Christian life with my eyes open, what’s the problem?
The eye-wincing truth is that I had imagined my mission field might be a brothel of trafficked women or a schoolyard of African orphans. I thought the sacrifices would be more obvious and profiled and the yield (or harvest) that came from sleepless nights or leaving loved ones behind more tangible than they are. “Yes, I left my family and home comforts behind,” I could imagine telling the breathless BBC correspondent, “but curing Ebola was worth it.” Somehow, raising children with special needs doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
But the Lord is my Shepherd. I really do believe that. And for some reason, my Shepherd has led me to this field rather than that one. This mission field with these two beautiful, bottomless wells who require all my energy, strength, and patience. Sometimes it seems like a wasteful use of all these resources, resources that could have been used to feed the poor. Whenever it does, I try to remember my Shepherd sitting in a house a few miles from Jerusalem:
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Matt. 26:6–10)
Jesus, my Shepherd, doesn’t seem to appraise value in the same way as I do. His spreadsheet is completely different from mine. He is interested in the wasteful expenditure of love and energy, just because it’s in keeping with the sort of crazy love and sacrifice he showed in his life and death. His call to sacrifice is the same whether I’m standing in an African field or in a kitchen with a child who for the 365th time this year needs to be cajoled into finishing a few spoonfuls of noodles. This certainly isn’t the sacrifice I would have chosen to make. But I remember standing in a meeting a few years ago and clearly saying to God, like Ruth to Naomi, “Your people shall be my people” (Ruth 1:16). Well, these two are his people, and now they’re my people.
Esteem the Field You’re In
For those of us who are mothers (and fathers), God wants us to esteem the field he’s given us. It’s not a tiring distraction from the true mission field we should be tilling; these are our people, for us to reach and for us to be trained and transformed as we do. Not only that, but in our giving, as we willingly lay down our lives, he smiles on us, because as Christ explained, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40 NIV). All the sacrifices, the diaper changing, the feeding, the dealing with meltdowns—they cannot be worth it if they’re just for our children. But they’re not. Ultimately, they are a perfume poured out for him.
It can be so easy, though, to look for more immediate sources of praise. Eight years ago, I did an internship program for a human rights organization in Washington DC. On the first day, the CEO welcomed us in a staff breakfast, and as part of his address, he handed us each a small trumpet key ring. He told us that there would be times when, out for drinks with interns in corporate law or accountancy, it would suddenly be tempting to belittle their sacrifices or hard work by subtly (or not so subtly) reminding them that while they work to make rich clients richer, we work long hours to free slaves. At times like these, he told us, we were to look at our trumpet key rings and make a conscious choice not to blow our own trumpets. Faced with a room of young, passionate, but competitive interns, it was a pretty perceptive welcome.
Parenting in a daily willingly-laying-down-your-life way is a powerful opportunity to reflect and enact what the gospel truly is.
I still think about that trumpet. And there are days, even now, when it is tempting to blow my own trumpet, whether by looking for recognition in the wrong places or by belittling the parenting trials that the people around me face. In a room full of women bemoaning the fact their children won’t try broccoli, it can be tempting to throw in a conversational bomb like, “Yes, but does anyone have any strategies on stopping smearing?” The truth is, as a parent, you wield a certain amount of power to make people feel bad about their own challenges or to make them live in awe and admiration of yours. Being open and honest with trusted friends is great, as is receiving their encouragement and affirmation. You need it! But the life sacrifices are ultimately for an audience of One.
Parenting in a daily willingly-laying-down-your-life way is a powerful opportunity to reflect and enact what the gospel truly is. But it is just a reflection, a role play, if you will—because there is no humbling moment, no public humiliation, or social isolation that matches what Jesus experienced at the cross. We have a high priest who fully sympathizes with all our weaknesses and gave himself up as the centerpiece of our faith. Giving up our lives for others is the centerpiece of our faithfulness.1 The call to Christ is a call to sacrifice—to suffering, death, and burial—and through that sacrifice, to resurrection and fruitfulness. So yes, today, I am spent. But in the gospel, I am rich.
- Rachel Jankovic, Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood, (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2013), 17.
Rachel Wilson is the co-author (with Andrew Wilson) of The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs.
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