My cousin and I live over 14,000 miles apart and yet our lives are often similar- diapers, laundry more laundry, keeping the family fed, seeking to bring hope and healing to those we come in contact with. We both spent many of our formative years on African soil. It shaped us, grew us, taught us about some of the harsh realities of life that break you but can also draw you closer to the Savior. Coming from a family of four generations of overseas workers is a gift, but it can bring an unseen weight of expectations and this weight rested heavily on my cousin’s heart. She just wanted to do more.
Neither of us ended up settling back in Africa although we both left pieces of our soul there. She never saw herself being planted in a small town in North America. I never dreamed that I would end up in Papua New Guinea. But there we both were, laboring for Christ in our own ways both with small children, both longing to do more. “It’s a bit ironic,” I told her. “Even though I’m technically on the field I also feel the pull of wanting to do more.” When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I get envious of my husband’s freedom to go out and do life-changing things while I’m at home so our two-year-old can actually get in a good nap.
I am so blessed that much of the work we do with widows and their children we can do as a family, but those days of action and ministry don’t often seem like laboring. For me, laboring is hand-washing laundry when I would rather be in bed. Laboring is being consistent with disciplining a very active two-year-old when I just don’t have the energy. Hard laboring are the mornings that I end up having to stay home even for what would be a simple errand in another country because it is just not practical to drag a small child around a hot city while waiting for hours in bank lines. Some jobs just make more sense for my husband to take care of.
I want to do—to go. That is why we are here right? Some days I am all Martha. We are doing the Lord’s work. Let’s do it, make it big, plan it, go for it, and pack each day until it is so full there is no room for silence because doing is often so much easier than sitting bored on the floor singing “The Itsy-Witsy Spider” one more time praying that your over-tired toddler would just GO TO SLEEP already.
Then that still voice whispers, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Easy—how is it easy? How do you have boundaries when a little person seems to need you constantly? And then, in my need to cling to a sense of purpose, I take on more than I should and later find myself mentally screaming out to God, “This is too much. I can’t handle it.” Like Martha I ask, “Lord, don’t you care? Shouldn’t someone be helping me?”
“Ruth, Ruth,” the answer softly comes, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Only one thing is needed. I can have that one thing, too, if I’m willing—willing to step back and be OK with just sitting at the Savior’s feet. Willing to learn the lessons that can only be learned from the intense season of loving a toddler. Lessons like patience, finding joy in every day moments, the importance of being flexible, having childlike faith and the reward of laboring when no one sees.
How do you find laboring with small children? Do you bring them along with you while you minister or is this more of a season of spending more time at home then you did previously? What lessons have your children helped teach you that nobody else could?