I grew up in rural Mississippi—a beautiful blend of cattle pastures, meandering brooks, and forests. For some, this sounds dreadful, but for me, it was a delight. Climbing trees, playing on hay bales, and conquering hordes of imaginary enemies lurking in the woods were the daily adventures of my childhood, and they are memories that I still cherish.
My family is now planted in New Orleans, a city full of adventure, but not the type of place where a child can roam and explore. When we return to Mississippi to visit our families, I see how the place affects my children. My oldest son, in particular, appears to come alive even more. Running around the wide-open lawns with no shoes. Riding on the tractor with his grandfather. Going to pick vegetables from the garden. It’s a place where a six-year-old boy who is full of energy can go explore and learn about God’s glorious creation.
To be honest, I periodically struggle with our decision to take our kids away from small-town Mississippi. While we know that our life in the city has a great deal to offer, my wife and I both enjoyed our childhoods, so it can feel like we are robbing our kids of a gift.
This is just one of the many concerns that can plague parents. We desire to be good parents, to raise our children in a setting where they can thrive holistically, but there are always doubts. Am I doing this right? Are they going to grow up resenting their childhood?
Another area this plays out is a child’s extracurricular hobbies. Parents nowadays overload weekly schedules to have their kids involved in every activity imaginable. FOMO means “fear of missing out,” and many parents allow this mindset to guide their household. Children and teenagers are encouraged—and sometimes pushed—to fill their schedules with traveling sports teams and school clubs out of fear that the child will miss out on something, whether it’s popularity at school or a competitive advantage on the sports field.
As I reflected on our decision to live away from our comfortable upbringing, I came to realize this: What our kids need from us more than a lifestyle of enjoying every comfort is to see what it looks like to carry our cross daily. They need to see that we actually believe that Christ is worth giving up everything for. They need to see that God’s powerful grace enables us to make sacrifices for the sake of Christ.
This is not a call to foolish or compulsive risks. Neither is it a call to neglect our families. Putting your family in a situation where you know they will languish long-term—regardless if it is for missions or some other noble cause—is not honorable. It’s being a poor spiritual leader.
Christian parents are called to wisely and prayerfully consider what it looks like to live as a faithful steward of the gospel. One way that we steward the gospel—though we do it imperfectly—is by striving to prioritize it above everything else in our life.
For some, that means leaving close relationships and comforts to go serve Christ in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable context. For others, that means staying right where you are and living as gospel witnesses there. For virtually everyone, though, that means saying “No” to some fun (and good) activities that will crowd out the more important activities in life, like church involvement. In other words, it is allowing the gospel to set the priorities of your family.
In order to help you evaluate your own schedule and guiding principles, here’s a short set of questions that you can work through. I encourage you to complete these diagnostic questions with your spouse. I believe it will spark some fruitful discussion.
A Family Diagnostic:
#1: Twenty years from now, what do we want our kids to say were the highest priorities in our home?
To use the words of Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” Do you want them to say “having fun,” “following Jesus,” “opening up our home to others,” etc.?
Consider reading through passages like Proverbs 4, Proverbs 22, and Ephesians 6:1–4 to get your discussion rolling.
#2: Looking at our weekly schedule, what are we giving the most time and money towards? What does this say about our real priorities?
While it is vital to specify your desired priorities, an examination of your weekly schedule will reveal your actual priorities. Where is your time focused? When it comes to decision-making, what activities take precedence?
#3: What rhythms can we change to align our weekly schedules with our long-term priorities?
Now that you have discovered the real priorities of your life, what changes need to take place? For instance, if you want to prioritize the connectedness of your family, could you plan a weekly family night when everyone keeps their schedule free so that you can share a meal at the table and then watch a movie together? The key to establishing long-term priorities is establishing tangible next steps.
#4: Are there areas we are ignoring God’s call for the sake of comfort? If so, what are they?
This could range from small to life-altering changes. An example could be church involvement. If you’re a Christian, God calls you to actively participate in the life of a local church. If you are not committed to a church because of some other activity taking priority (such as sleep or sports), you need to make changes.
A more drastic change could be a call to live overseas. If you desire to do this and have been affirmed by godly brothers and sisters around you, what is keeping you from pursuing it?
Once you work through these questions with your spouse, share your answers with another Christian and get started. It will likely be a difficult path, but we can rest assured that any momentary losses will be surpassed by the riches of honoring Christ in our family.