New York magazine once published an article titled "All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting," which depicted today's parents as harried, frustrated and unfulfilled by the challenges of raising children. Not long afterward, the mommy blogosphere was buzzing about the article, with scores of Christian mothers chiming in with their own stories of frustration and weariness at the daily burdens of motherhood. "I just told my husband how unhappy I am," one commenter posted at The Mommy Revolution. "I'm empty, exhausted and fried."
A mission far greater
Why do many parents feel so unfulfilled? And is there a different way for today's families to live their lives? I believe that the solution is for parents to understand that we are all called to a mission greater than ourselves. God wants us to embrace all that He has made us to be, with the purpose of serving His mission both in the home and in the world. When we live "missional" lives, with a focus on God's call to be His witnesses and disciple makers to the ends of the earth, we are better able to experience the fulfillment missing from a mission-less life.
Parents often focus all their energies on their home life and on their children, as evidenced by the many new labels of parenting that have emerged in recent years — tiger parenting, helicopter parenting, free-range parenting and, one could argue, overparenting. All these extreme methods have one thing in common: They put children and the parents' dreams and hopes for those children at the center of a family's life. But God never intended for parents to displace the call to share the Gospel from their priority list.
A missional outpost
When parents recognize that they were created by God to be His missionaries, in whatever context He has placed them, then they begin to realize that there is a purpose to investing in their children and in their home life, and that purpose is to form their homes into "missional outposts" from which the family reaches outward.
When you think of your home as a missional outpost, you envision it not as a haven primarily for your family's own use, but as one in which you recognize that all gifts, abilities and passions can be off ered in service to God. This perspective is different from parents who pour energies into their children and their activities in order to bring glory to their children — and to themselves. A missional family recognizes that the purpose of life is the furtherance of God's plan.
Take, for example, Melinda Boyle and her family. Melinda has a passion to reach the deaf community in the U.S., a majority of which is an underserved subculture. She is an interpreter for the hearing-impaired, and over the years her children have gotten involved. "For my kids, reaching out to those who are hearing impaired is a way of life now," Melinda says.
Nurture your child's spirit of giving
When parents take the time to build a missional perspective in their families, the children will likely embrace and then even begin to lead a family's efforts to live in this way. When Jesus admonishes His disciples by saying, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," (Matthew 18:3), He is recognizing the unique nature of the faith of children. And children often display an enthusiasm for missional values — values such as sacrificial generosity, hospitality and sensitivity to God's leadings for their time, talents and treasures.
Isabel Jones' parents work for Compassion International, a nonprofit that provides for children's basic needs in developing countries. One year, she and her sisters accompanied their parents on a trip to Kenya. After seeing kids her age who were poverty-stricken or in ailing health, Isabel wanted to help. Since many of these Kenyan kids did not have shoes, which could help prevent diseases and illnesses given the conditions they lived in, Isabel launched ShoesForKids.me. To date, Isabel's ministry has sent more than 4,000 pairs of shoes to children in need, sending to countries across Africa, Asia and Central America. On her website, Isabel writes that she dreams that someday every child in the world will have a pair of shoes.
Adults, when confronted by the global problems and issues of the world, often feel that those problems are so enormous they are too hard to tackle. But many times children don't see the world in those terms. They eagerly ask, "How can I help?" They resonate with the idea that each and every life on this planet has value — especially the lives of children just like themselves.
And parents can help to nurture and encourage those missional impulses. As children grow older, culture begins chipping away at their natural inclinations. When parents help their children grow in their awareness of the world's needs and enable them to work toward meeting those needs, they help build missional hearts that will carry through to the future.
While writing my book, I interviewed many women who discovered that motherhood was not a phase of life that they had to just tolerate and survive. For example, Tonya Herman is a mother of two who lives in Compton, Calif. She loves and ministers to her city despite its rough edges. She recently opened her home to two teenage boys so they could have a chance at academic progress and success. Arloa Sutter, a mom who raised two daughters in Chicago, responded to God's call to reach the homeless and poverty-stricken men and women around her. She mobilized her church to serve coffee to those in need, an effort that blossomed to become Breakthrough Urban Ministries.
Parenthood can be exhausting, but life as a mom — or dad — can still be exciting and fulfilling as you pursue God's calling and purpose in your life. Missional parents are no less tired at the end of the day than other parents. But they go to sleep knowing they have pursued God's mission and made an impact both in their children's lives and in the world around them. And that is what makes all the difference.
Helen Lee is the author of The Missional Mom: Living with purpose at home & in the world.