Raising Your Children “Wrong” So That They Turn Out Right: A Missionary Perspective
By Sarah Granger
I cried folding clothes last week. Not because it is one of my least favorite chores (though it is!), but because I was folding my daughter Alyse’s uniform shirts, and thinking that I won’t be doing that much longer.
Alyse is graduating from High School tonight. She’s going off to study Philosophy and Literature at a wonderful Catholic University, Mt. St. Mary’s in Maryland, with a full tuition scholarship this August. Although I cry at the thought of not having her around – at weird times like during laundry folding, lunch packing, etc – I am very happy for her, proud of her, and delighted in all that she has accomplished.
Last night at her Baccalaureate ceremony at Pope John Paul the Great Academy, a wonderful classical Catholic school, Alyse received awards for Math, Creative Writing, and Theology; an academic award for excellence for maintaining a perfect grade point average this year; as well as being named a finalist for the school’s highest award for Christian Leadership. Tonight she will be named Salutatorian of her class. Okay, so I am letting my motherly pride show. I can’t help it if I have the most amazing kids in the world! Then again, I can’t really take credit for it, either. I am not bragging about my abilities, but boasting of God’s awesome faithfulness to me and my family.
You see, Alyse and my other holy and successful children are products of my not doing anything right, at least not by the world’s standards. Read almost any parenting book and it will tell you that putting your children first, and finding the “best” education for your kids are the surest ways to ensure their academic, spiritual, and social success. I do not doubt that for many families, this works to some extent. However, for me, surrender to God’s plan to bring my family into missions, to face great uncertainty about their education, future, and even where we would live, has been the path to success for my children. So if God calls you into mission, or to serve him in any radical way, know that you will have to be prepared to ignore the well intentioned advice of the experts of the world and TRUST God with your children and their future. This is hard to do. God promises us that it is possible.
Among all of the wisdom contained in God’s Word, there are two counter cultural Bible truths that I have relied on in raising my children, and I think they apply not only to missionaries but to every family.
1. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else. When God called me into missions with three small children, Iwanted to build the Kingdom, but I had so many questions: Where would my kids go to school? What about health care? What about living in a country where they didn’t speak the language? Safety? Isolation? Lack of opportunity in an impoverished place? The list went on and on. How could I follow the Lord until I had the answers to these questions? I had to trust. Jesus promises that He will give us “everything we need” if we seek His Kingdom first. This promise consoled me – all of the things that I needed for my children, God knew. He loves my kids more than I do. He promised to provide for them. I did not know how, but then again, the Bible also commands “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Prov. 3:5 Despite my lack of understanding I chose to trust in the Lord and to follow His will, and He kept His promise: schools, health care, safety, friends, opportunities beyond what I could have imagined, all were provided in abundance for my kids. Not because I had a good plan that I understood, but because I sought God’s Kingdom first. In my birthday card last week Alyse wrote: “I can’t imagine how difficult it was for you to go into missions as a single Mom with three kids, but your choice to love the Lord in that way has been the greatest gift of my life.” He will give you, and your kids, everything you need.
2. “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.” Isaiah 54:13
Before I was called into missions, figuring out how best to educate my children was very stressful for me. I weighed the pros and cons of public vs. private schools, the cost of Catholic schooling, the possibility of homeschooling, the ideal curriculum, extracurricular activities, and more. When we were called into mission in a tiny town in Mexico, I placed Anika and Alyse in the only available school. They struggled for a few months with learning the language, then quickly became honors students, completing first and third grades respectively near the top of their classes. They loved the school and their teachers, and made friends quickly. They learned not only basic subject matter for their grade level, but also became fluent in Spanish, and learned to acclimate to a new culture. I immediately saw God teaching my children in wonderful ways that I never could have anticipated.
After our time in Mexico, my children were moved from school to school, country to country, and occasionally homeschooled. In the midst of this educational instability, they were exploring ancient Aztec, Mayan and Roman ruins; learning to be comfortable in mud huts and Bishops’ offices; being exposed to American History in Valley Forge, Washington DC, and Philadelphia; making pilgrimages to Tepeyac, Avila, Rome, and Fatima; rubbing shoulders with natives in Belize and royalty in Spain; eating goat intestines with the poor in Mexico and gourmet dinners with clergy in Europe; speaking two languages and hearing many others. God taught them far more than any educational option I could have provided in the United States, gave them extracurricular activities that seemed miraculous. In spite of our moving around the world to follow Him, God filled them with peace and security in their hearts. Our lives as missionaries taught them not only knowledge, but also wisdom and trust, and submission to His will. They have become spiritual leaders among their peers, holy and devoted to Jesus, and academically versatile. This has served them incredibly well as they transitioned back to American schools two years ago, where they rub shoulders with peers who have received an excellent first world education their whole lives.
I cannot take credit for my kids’ social, spiritual, and academic success, just as I could not have foreseen it. When I look at the all that my children have achieved, as I watch Alyse graduate tonight with high honors, I will rejoice in the Lord for His wisdom that guided her to this point, as she has learned that in seeking His Kingdom, everything she needs will be given to her.