While undergoing missionary training I will never forget the comment by our lecturer who said the life of a missionary is one of good-byes. Never a truer word was spoken!
We said goodbye to elderly parents, siblings, our older children and in time our grandchildren as we moved across nations. I said goodbye to my father not knowing it would be the last time I saw him alive.
Goodbyes and change are never easy. As “third culture kids” missionary children are quite adept at change but nevertheless it is still a major grief process for them as well.
Grief is the word I use because ultimately no matter how “exciting” a new venture is whether it is leaving country, town or house, there is always going to be elements of grief associated. Here is a quick overview of what you leave behind.
- Family and friends – You are almost certainly leaving behind many you love, in some cases never to see them again or perhaps with an interlude of many years.
- Familiar places – Familiarity breeds contempt but mostly it breeds a sense of comfort. We like to know what the packaging says on what we eat. We like to go to our favourite hairdresser, car mechanic, business operator, or any of the many other connections we make when settling in to a place.
- Church family – We know these people. We have journeyed with them for perhaps many years. We know what to expect in a worship service or at least be able to understand what is being said and sung!
- Our precious things – Sadly we all are attached to the “Things” in our lives. When they are packed away and we don’t know when or if we will ever see them again there is an element of grief attached to that also.
- Work and school – Leaving behind familiar work and school situations, friends and colleagues. Also leaving again the comfort of familiarity as we move on to the unknown. Encourage them to stay in touch with old friends as I do myself. You will of course drift away from certain friendships but I do try to stay connected with friends and families as well as old work mates.
- Memories – We accumulate just as many memories as we do “stuff”. To leave these behind can be heart wrenching.
Allowing ourselves to walk through the process of grief is imperative and to each of us this will look different.
I remember one of my little girls I taught, going about the classroom just before she and her family were due to leave the country. She was touching each book, special place, saying out loud this would be the last time for… She also talked frequently about her last experiences; sleep over, concert here, etc etc. It went on for a few weeks and towards the end of the school year she wanted to have a farewell party for her little friends. Her mother eventually came in very concerned.
I asked why?
“Because when I leave a place I don’t say goodbye. I just leave without looking back or really having a farewell anything.”
To me, her daughter had the better coping mechanism! She was finalizing her memories, and giving healthy closure to her relationships! You must give yourself and your family time to grieve and process. We each do that differently!
Grief comes in many shapes and forms but if not dealt with well, can leave lasting negative impacts, particularly on children. Here are some practical helps I have learned over the past 30 years of traveling and change.
- Family and friends – Set them up for the farewells. Give them time to process and also try to be as cheerful as possible. I remember crying myself to sleep each night before we left country as I faced the prospect I might never see my parents again. I had a tape that I was playing and after the tears it brought peace to my soul. “Because He lives I can face tomorrow!” None of us knows what tomorrow will hold whether we stay or leave but we know that He does know and we can trust in Him. He will take care of those we leave behind. Grieve certainly, but then find your peace in Him.
- Familiar places – When we go overseas it is always a challenge to establish new connections but we face it positively and with anticipation of finding new friends. Someone said to me just the other day about Paul, “He doesn’t know a stranger does he.” I think that is a key. We embrace the challenges of finding the new! If you complain and whine and harp back to the “old place” you will definitely feel the negative affects of change. Embrace positively. Talk to new friends about their best people they have found for tasks until you set up your own network of the familiar.
- Church Family – I thank God I am part of an amazing world wide family! It is not just one denomination or people group. It is “church” the body of Christ and in our many years of travels we have been blessed by many different church family. It is good to get rooted in one family but not always possible. Keep your arms and heart open to the family.
- Our precious things – We always take just a couple of precious things with us, including photos (now more easily transported with digital photos). This is really important for children and I don’t recommend leaving behind their favourite toy. I remember one woman who said each time they moved as a Navy brat, she had to leave her toys behind! They don’t need to take it all but the really precious ones for sure. I also made sure we took a couple of familiar Christmas decorations, to make it feel like home. Naomi has one donkey made from a wooden peg in first grade that has traveled the world and is still placed on her tree each Christmas!
- Work and school – For adults it will require time to adjust to new work place routines and colleagues, and so it is with children – but on steroids! They are already facing daily challenges, particularly teenagers, but to uproot them at that age creates a whole different set of emotions and issues. I remember in my 5th or 6th grade Janice left town! I couldn’t believe how it made me feel to think I would never see her again! Encourage your children regularly! Naomi found her strength and peace as she left school, family and even country with two scriptures. Psalm 91 and Joshua 1. Be strong and of good courage. You can encourage them to grow through the time rather then succumb to the pain of grief.
- Memories – These you will always have. But you are pressing on, moving forward into new memories. Take the time to talk with children and encourage them to start to believe for new memories.
Change is inevitable no matter where you are or what stage of life you are at. Paul gives the analogy of a boxer. If you resist a punch it will hurt but if you move with it, it won’t hurt as much. The more resistant you are to change the more it will hurt. A positive, respectful attitude towards each other will help you all move through the process and enjoy the journey.
You have a choice on how you handle change – Choose life or death. Choose to live in a positive, embracing mode or resist and fight with a negative attitude. It is up to you. There are so many wonderful new adventures you can enjoy.
Until next time