If your parents love you deeply (and they probably do), there may be disagreement about your calling, your decisions, and your path in life. In fact, your parents are likely concerned about you serving in missions precisely because they love you so much.
As Christians, we need to love and follow God above all else, including the people we love the most (Matthew 10:37). And we are commanded to love and honor our parents (Exodus 20:12).
Loving and obeying God while loving and honoring your parents can be incredibly hard. The tension can threaten to pull us apart. If this is your situation, the road ahead will likely be a tough one, for you and your parents.
Every relationship is unique, so proceed prayerfully and carefully, but do take the journey. Here are some traveling tips.
1. Think about their perspective.
They have likely invested in your education. They have probably been dreaming about your future for 20 years—much longer than you have. Be sensitive and charitable. You wouldn’t be where you are without them.
2. Start early.
Don’t blindside your family with “this Jesus stuff.” Let them know what you’re thinking about, what you’re learning, and who you’re talking to. Read books, listen to talks, and watch videos about missions together. This can help you explain some of what’s going on in your head and heart, as well as what you’re seeing for your future. (If you didn’t start the conversation early, confess that, apologizing for not being open with them.)
3. Go slowly.
This is the ability you gain when you start early—you don’t have to rush. You can build trust with your parents, letting them understand what is going on in you, what you’re thinking.
4. Listen to them.
Ask for their perspective. Give them an opportunity to share their wisdom. This communicates your love and respect to them. When you realistically weigh options and paths, you demonstrate your maturity.
5. Watch your witness.
If you seem to be exactly the same person you’ve always been, without any discernible difference or change in your habits or character, it will be mighty shocking when you drop the idea of heading to the slums of Bangkok this summer. If your faith is going to be active “over there” it needs to be active here and now. If you (and others) don’t see the fruit of your faith now, your parents might be on to something in their reservations regarding you and missions.
6. Find who they do admire.
Mother Teresa? Martin Luther King? Pope Francis? A friend who volunteers frequently? A neighbor from years ago who was so kind? Perhaps other Christians they respect could put your parents’ minds at ease that your path is not crazy (or at least that it’s crazy in a good way).
7. Show them the history of organization you want to serve with.
They love you and don’t want you connecting with something that’s controlling or untested. Show them its size, heritage, accomplishments, and what people currently with it are doing.
8. Tell them good stories.
Find out what is happening with those currently serving where you want to go. This will help them see the value of the organization and the work you’ll be doing. If they’re not Christians, you may need to share some of the other tangible benefits of people hearing the great news about Jesus, like decreased domestic violence or increased literacy.
9. Explain how you’ll benefit.
Having your child go into missions, taking with them the $100,000 degree you just paid for, can be frustrating. Some parents will rest easier if you can tell them how you’ll learn incredible skills, whether public speaking or administration or another language. And if you’re actually using your degree to serve cross-culturally, tell them how.
10. Get into the nitty gritty.
Talk to them about how finances will work. Everyone knows that nonprofits need donations. But sometimes parents are thrown for a loop when they hear that you’re going to be raising money to serve. It’s just a different model—rather than paying some people to raise money full-time, most missions organizations spread it across everyone as part of their jobs.
11. Be honest.
How long do you think you will be overseas? It might be a year at first. Or maybe you’re thinking you might do this for a long time. Tell them where your head is at. And it may be helpful to mention what others have done after leaving your missions organization, whether teaching stateside, serving as an interpreter, or getting another degree. This shows that your service is not necessarily forever and it’s not the career suicide they may fear.
12. Show your concern for their future.
What happens if they get sick or need help? Did they dip into their retirement savings for your education? What is their vision for their own future? How can you help them in that?
13. Love them exceedingly well.
Laughing, caring, remembering, celebrating. Don’t let this possible tension become the focus of your relationship.
14. Pray. A lot.
Listen to Jesus before you bring up the subject, and as you go. It may help to write down your prayers and what God brings to mind for the conversation. And have others pray for you and your parents, too.
What have I missed? What has worked for you?