If I could “have it all” as a missionary, here’s what my life would look like . . .
I would travel all around Latin America with my husband for his job, but it wouldn’t be exhausting to lug my toddler along. I would practice my Spanish daily with my neighbors. I would have my own job while still volunteering with the mission. I would have the courage to go to a dentist in-country. I would also sleep seven hours each night, read the Bible every day, run three days per week, feed my daughter only healthy food, vacuum before the dog hair forms tumbleweeds, and never swear in front of my child.
It’s not bad to want to do lots of things with our lives. God assigns each of us many roles so we can have diverse, well-rounded identities. But sometimes those identities bump into one another and cause conflict.
What do we do when we want to have it all, but we just can’t seem to make it all work?
Our God-Given Vocations
The different roles and responsibilities God gives us are our vocations. A great definition of vocation from Amy Bird is “doing the work God has put in front of us to do for the benefit of our neighbor in every station and place we find ourselves throughout our lives.”
God gives us our vocations so we can be helpful, productive people who glorify Him. God made us for the very purpose of being useful. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Some of the roles I have in front of me are those of a wife, mom, writer/editor, and missionary. These are some of my vocations. I know they are my vocations because I’m living them. God has put them into my life; He prepared them for me beforehand. These vocations give me purpose and meaning. God made me the mom of my daughter because no one else could be her mom as well as I can. He chose me and my family to be missionaries because we have the skills, interest, and character to do the role well.
Vocations Gone Wrong
But because there is sin in the world, our vocations can become sources of pain.
In the Garden of Eden before the fall, Adam’s vocation was to care for the garden: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Like all other things in the garden before the fall, the work was good. The vocation was fulfilling and not exhausting. Adam could do it and succeed at it.
When sin entered the world, the work became hard. “To the woman He said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam He said, . . . ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:16–17).
So the good work God gives us to do sometimes becomes painful and divisive. I hide in my house rather than get to know the locals. I find my own paid work and end up neglecting my family. I see my life on the mission field as lacking rather than full of new opportunities.
There’s always something wrong. There’s always something out of balance. There’s always something I want that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get.
In a Perfect World . . .
When we long for that “something” that’s missing, we really long for God’s perfection. We long for a perfect world in which we have work without exhaustion, relationships without conflict, pleasure without guilt. That perfect world is a world without sin. That perfect world is the new creation, which Jesus will bring to us when He comes again.
Jesus won that perfect world for us. He bore the consequences of our sin on the cross. When He hung from the nails and when blood dripped down His face, He felt the exhaustion we feel when the vocations we are called to feel like too much. When He was abandoned by God, He felt the abandonment we feel when our relationships with the people we are called to serve fracture. He died so that we don’t have to face eternal death, and He rose from the dead so that we can have eternal life. He ascended into heaven and promised that He will come again.
Until He comes again, we don’t have that perfect world. We cannot have it all.
It’s sad to recognize that, but it’s also freeing. When we stop trying to get everything and keep it all perfectly balanced, we can rest in God’s forgiveness.
Missionary life will always be harder than my “normal” life in the states. Chit-chatting in Spanish with my neighbor across the wall will always be nerve-racking. There will always be dog hair on the floor, my daughter will sometimes eat junk food, and sometimes a bad word will slip out of my mouth in front of her.
Every day, I curl up in my pride and say that the work God put in front of me isn’t good enough. Every day, I recoil from this sin and receive His forgiveness. His mercies are new every morning. Thank God for that.