I read a blog posted by our dear friends Beth and Stephen Lauer, who serve the Lord in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You can read the blog for yourself here: http://www.alifeoverseas.com/outlawed-grief-a-curse-disguised/ although I could easily summarize it for you if you like. It deals with the issue that all missionaries face: what to do with the fact that serving God in a foreign country means leaving behind all those whom you most love and care about. It also deals with the often airy dismissal by others of either “I could never do that; I love my family too much” (ie: you are a heartless jerk for going overseas) or “Well, God tells us to cast our burdens before Him” (ie: you are so unspiritual that you don’t know the fundamentals of the faith).
What should those of us who are so far away from our families do, especially at this most family oriented time of the year? Should we give way to grief and let our emotions out? Or should we rise above our emotions with heroic spirituality? Well here is what I think: Grief yes; despair no (which is why although I largely agree with the article, I disagree with the accompanying picture which seems more despairing than grieving). However, I do not think it is only those who feel called to serve the Lord in far off places that are told that their emotions are unchristian. It seems to me that we live in an anaesthetized world where ALL emotions are drowned in booze-sex-tv-iPads-entertainment-sports-drugs and EVERYONE is reluctant to face what they are truly feeling. I think Christians in the West simply adopt their culture’s approach to emotions and back-date their theology to fit in.
This attitude has far more in common with Stoicism than Christianity. Jesus wept, for heaven’s sake. Paul grieved for the care of his churches. Christianity encompasses all things human. It doesn’t discard or ignore emotions, else why did Christ put on a human body? Pam and I talk a lot about what we are giving up (family, mostly) to be here. I think it is both necessary and healthy. The Lord advises us to reckon on the cost (Luke 14:28) before undertaking a major endeavour. Prior to coming here in 2007 we discussed leaving Canada for 20 years, and always thought the cost too high; not for us, but for our children who not only had difficulty adjusting to our year in Germany, but even greater difficulty adjusting to life back in Canada. It was always our understanding that our children were given to us by God as our primary responsibility, and if serving God meant neglecting that, than we must not have understood the Lord correctly. We waited until they had all graduated from college/university before coming here. Not every missionary comes to the same conclusion, and it is certainly not our intention to criticize the decisions of others taken in faith and good conscience. But that was ours.
Now that we are here we still count the cost of our being here on our family. We reckon on it regularly, which may have something to do with the fact that although we grieve, we never despair. Our Lord is in this and He knows our hearts and our limits. He will not try us above what we can bear. That said, if any of our children needed us home, we would be there in a holy minute; I think they know that about us. Nothing is more important to us than our children. We do not place them above God, but we see our ministry to them as God given. We pray for them constantly, and ask God to bless and uphold them and our dear grandchildren. We do not have to live in their backyards to see the Lord working in their lives; our faith in God is greater than that.
Grief is the Lord’s way of putting us in touch with what is important to us; of allowing us to reflect and appreciate the contribution of another to our life’s journey, and express our love for them and our longing to be with them once again. For those who have died, it is a testimony – not given in vain by a sadistic evolutionary quirk, but given in hope by a loving almighty God – that we will see them again in glory. This is the Christian’s unique heritage; the assurance of an incarnate God who left the Father’s side to minister to our eternal need. If we are truly His, should we not be willing to do the same? And like Christ, should we not also express our deep longing and love for others?