I remember the day I became a great-aunt—at 30. There’s a big age gap between my sister and me, and her oldest daughter had my first great niece just a few months after I moved overseas. They introduced me to her via video chat. I was emotional, thrilled, proud. And excited.
I was ready to be the fun aunt.
You know what I’m talking about—when you get to enjoy them, take them out for ice cream, go to the park, pack everything you can into an hour or two or three. You might have to deal with a dirty diaper or a tantrum, but it’s a relatively tiny section of your life that you have to sacrifice compared to that of the parents. You rally. You get it done.
And then you give them back and return to a land where you can get work finished and sleep eight hours, and you don’t have to do bedtimes, wipes, or meltdowns. It’s glorious.
It’s Different When It Invades Your Space
But if you ask a parent, it’s a whole different story, glorious in a different way. It’s sleep deprivation. It’s a schedule gone out the window. It’s round-the-clock inconvenience. But the love? The reward? The payout?
You can’t measure it.
I’m not a parent, but that’s a little bit like the way I felt when I moved overseas to do full-time missions. When I got handed the keys to the flat I was going to call home for the next couple of years, it was like I gave up the rights to my own life. My time wasn’t my own anymore. My days were going to revolve around people, whether that meant late nights or early mornings.
And I was all in. My door was always open. I kept things in my refrigerator that I knew friends and neighbors liked. I sought people out in my spare time. I missed a lot of sleep. It was glorious, beautiful, and messy. And I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
Except that I did.
America Tries Every Day To Talk Me Out Of It
When I came back to the States, I thought I would automatically bring that mentality back with me, that my life still wouldn’t be my own. But that’s not what happened.
I fought it at first, but over time, the fast-paced, jam-packed American life sucked me right back in. I had a demanding job. I guarded my schedule. And as the days ticked by, my willingness to give people open access to my time dwindled to nothing.
Not that I didn’t want to give—I did. But I had settled into being the fun aunt to missions. It got a two-or-three-hour window here and there, if that. I’d schedule it in for a few hours. It would be great. And then I’d give it back.
How In The World Do We Do This?
Scheduling missions isn’t a bad thing. We’re busy people; there’s no way around it. We have jobs and activities and agendas that help us make it through the week still breathing, and without intentionality, we can get lost in our color-coded calendars and never step outside of our survival zone. The problem isn’t scheduled time for missions. And the problem isn’t my schedule, as much as I would like to blame it on that.
The problem is my heart.
The thing about missions is . . . it invades your space. It doesn’t fit in a box or a schedule. It seeps into every part of your life. It steals your sleep, it steals your privacy, and it steals your time.
When I moved overseas, I was jolted into having a new perspective on everything. I saw the world differently, I saw my time differently, and I saw the reason I was there differently. Everything about everything—my job, my house, my walks to the grocery store—was meant to help me meet people and introduce them to Jesus. I was asking God to order my day the way He wanted, and I watched my world through different eyes.
But when I came back to America, my heart started to take back ground.
It was like my brain only knew how to compartmentalize here, to schedule some time with missions, have a great time, and then go back to everything I had to get done. But that was never the point. The point was to know Christ and make Him known. Love Him and love others. In everything.
When it comes to kids, being the fun aunt is just fine. But when it comes to missions, we’re all in, investing our whole lives for the long haul kind of joy. It’s not easy.
But it’s worth it.
Grace Thornton is the author of “I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You.” She blogs at gracefortheroad.com.