In my life I have lost all four of my grandparents, my youth, a pair of glasses, several cats that meant the world to me, and my father to divorce. Each loss has affected me in different ways. However, with the exception of Tabby (my cat who lived to be 14), nothing is as hard as losing my Mum to the missions field.
The Bible is full of global-worker verses that are intended to ease the pain of leaving and this separation:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, ESV)
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30, ESV)
These verses are intended as balms of healing for those who leave behind family—children, parents, siblings. I love these verses for the peace and promises they provide my Mum. However, I sometimes find it difficult to find the same sense of calm and peace for myself from these verses, for I suspect God did not intend them for those who are left behind—not really.
This leaves me, once again, looking to God to soothe my heart in other ways. This is not because it is breaking or because I am fraught with despair at the thought of Mum once again returning to the field. If you have ever met Mum, you will know that there are very few so perfectly designed to serve God afield. Also, as an adult, the attachment is much different than it was when I first said goodbye to her as a (relatively) immature 19-year-old.
Now we have a different relationship which is built upon friendship, trust, and love. My understanding of Mum’s calling is wholly formed; my own independence not only exists, but it also is valuable and valued. Besides, who in their right mind would hold someone from God’s will—no matter the attachment?
Though all of this is true, I must take comfort in God’s words during those times when I realize that I will miss Mum while she is gone again—when I realize I will not be able to serve her, spend time with her, give her a hug when she needs it, and receive a hug when I need it.
At this time, when the future is the very definition of “up in the air,” I invite you to take a moment with me and look at what God has promised for those who are, for lack of any better way to say it, “left behind.”
In my experience over the past twelve years, I have found significant differences between the various assurances provided us.
1. The assurance that comes from the knowledge and experience of others is valuable, but it does not always come with that heartfelt peace that is sought after. Any family, in any culture and at any age or situation, will invariably be comforted by those older and wiser with these true words of assurance: “God’s plan is sovereign, and He will look after your parents.”
2. Second, there are the internal assurances—the memory of verses that say God’s will is indeed sovereign and what happens is of His will. Where do we turn? In the dark? In the quiet? In the fear? What has God promised us? Beyond the quiet assurances of the Holy Spirit, what has our Father written for us to find? Where do we find God’s assurances - those assurances that do provide peace - the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7, ESV)?
The first step in my attempt to hear what God has written for me are His innumerable promises. Two of these promises in particular have been attached to my life from my very earliest memories, and to dismiss their relevance now would verge on the insane:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, ESV)
The God who is asking Mum to “go” has also promised me power, strength, and His presence. However, these promises mean nothing if they are not put into their proper place. Jesus, speaking to His disciples, made it very clear just how verses such as these should be viewed:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37–39, ESV)
3. Plainly put, as much as I love Mum, she simply cannot be my first thought. God has made it very clear, through His Son, and through His own words, that if I am to follow Him I must make Him first in my life. As much as the anxiety of saying goodbye to Mum once again weighs on my mind every now and again, that is not how God has called me to live my life. When God commanded Joshua not to be afraid, that was no idle comment that was “toughened-up” by an editor to appear stronger and more “promise-y.” God is not known for his off-the-cuff commands. God told Joshua—and me, and you—not to be frightened, not to be dismayed, and to be strong and courageous.
If I am to love Mum more than Jesus, then I am not worthy of Him, and I am not a valid recipient of His promises.
Harsh but strong
It sounds somewhat harsh (and for all intents and purposes, it is) but harsh is what we need.
Harsh was what I needed at three years old when I wanted to find out just what happens when you put your hand near the gas flame of a stove (yeah, I was that child). Harsh is exactly the manner I would expect my parents to be if they saw me trying to burn my hand. At the time, I thought my parents knew everything, so of course I would trust them when they told me to keep my hand out of the flame!
God, however, really does know everything—in a way my parents never did. I need to transpose that childlike faith from Mum and onto God, for two reasons:
- It is what God has called us to do.
- If I have faith only in Mum, then to whom can I entrust her? By placing my faith in God alone, I am able to place Mum in His hands and know her to be in His care.
God is for me
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (Romans 8:31-32, NLT)
God may not have provided me with a verse overtly-specific to my current experiences—saying goodbye to Mum as she heads back to the field—but to think that God has not provided me with promises of assurance is the height of arrogance. My situation might feel unique, but it is representative of hundreds of situations the world over and throughout history.
Romans 8:31-32 is my lesson in this time. Not only is God for me, but He spared not His only Son for me and offered His richest blessings as well. God’s willingness to provide for His children never slackens, never lessens, and most certainly never fails. The moments of emotion that I encounter over the next months will come—and to hope God will make them disappear is to dismiss their importance. God’s everlasting arms are always under me, and the eternal God is my refuge (Deuteronomy 33:27).
These are the promises God has made to me as I say goodbye to Mum—and to these promises I cling.
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[I read Joshua's article on the Thrive website.]