Intensity and Intentionality {a note about marriage and motherhood on the field}

A while back our organization asked me to write a little something about marriage and motherhood on the field. At the time I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the article to be anonymous or not, as I obliquely discuss both my children and my marriage in it. So I waited awhile before deciding (with both Jonathan’s and my children’s approval) that this is something that I could share publicly. ~Elizabeth

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Two words come to mind when I think about marriage and motherhood on the field: Intensity and Intention. After living internationally for over four years, my experience has been that everything about living overseas is more intense than living in your passport country.

It’s more physically intense. It’s wildly hot where I am, with no central air conditioning. Housework takes longer as there are fewer automated devices. Electricity and water are sometimes unreliable, and food and water supplies aren’t as clean. That meant that in the beginning especially, we were ill more often – and more severely – than we were back “home.” Life in another country is also more mentally and emotionally intense. Learning a strange, new culture and doing everything in a new language is hard work. You make mistakes and misunderstand things every day.

Anyone crossing cultures must deal with these changes and stressors, but as a parent, I also bear witness to the strain of crossing cultures on my children. They get annoyed by aspects of life here: it’s loud, it’s crowded, and we have no yard or playgrounds nearby. They don’t like the way local people touch them or stare at them, and they don’t particularly like the local cuisine (or at least, not all of it). Life here is transitory, and the friends they make often move in and out of their lives with little advance warning. On top of all that, they miss friends and family back home – especially grandparents.

In light of the intensity of missionary life, I have to be more intentional about marriage and motherhood. I need to care for my children’s hearts in a way I wouldn’t if we lived in America. Of course we have the same pre-school and pre-adolescent emotional turmoil that children and parents have in their home culture, but we also have more potential issues. I have to keep my own heart soft towards my kids, and I need to take the time to validate their feelings. This is difficult to do as I am already emotionally, physically, and spiritually stretched to the max myself. Practically speaking, it means I also need to carve time out of our schedule so they can communicate with friends and family back home (usually that’s through Skype).

Marriage is the same way: I have to be intentional about taking care of it. Simply surviving here takes more time and energy, so it’s tempting not to spend enough time on my marriage. But of course when I don’t spend time on it, my marriage suffers. The less time I spend on my marriage, the farther I drift away from my husband, and the harder it is to bring us back to together again. Likewise, the more time and effort I pour into my marriage, the easier and more fulfilling it is. It becomes life-giving instead of life-draining, as it does when I’m not nurturing it enough.

In order to pour so much time and energy into my husband and my children, I have to be intentional about filling myself up. I have to be vigilant about taking care of my spirit by getting up early to spend time with God. I have to be diligent about taking care of my mind and body by eating at regular intervals throughout the day, exercising four or five days a week, and going to bed on time. If I don’t do these things, I don’t have enough emotional energy to pour into my husband and children, who need me so much.

In many ways marriage and parenting on the field is the same as it is in my home culture, but its intensity level is higher. Missionary life simply requires more of me, and in order to match its intensity, I have to be intentional about taking care of both myself and my family. I have to daily turn my heart toward them and toward God. When I don’t, the consequences are great. But when I do, the reward is greater still.

This article originally appeared here.

12 thoughts on “Intensity and Intentionality {a note about marriage and motherhood on the field}

  1. Love this. Found your blog when a friend recently reposted your 10 reasons to become a missionary post. We have only been missionaries for 4 months, but you have put into words what I have been thinking and feeling. Well said!

    • I’m so glad you now have words to explain your thoughts and feelings 🙂 And feel free to share this with your supporters, so they can better understand the challenges of your new life. Blessings! ~Elizabeth

  2. I am also Elizabeth. We blog at adventuregraham.com. So great to read such good writing on a missionary blog. Blessings to you as well!

    • Fun name connection! I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved the meaning of our shared name (thank you Mom and Dad!). I love that it means “consecrated to God” and that as I look back over the years, I can see God working in my life from the very beginning. My parents weren’t even very strong Christians when they chose my name, yet all the same I feel that they were dedicating me to God when they gave me my name. 🙂

      Thanks for your blog link! I’ll go check it out!

  3. What a good way to think about the challenges we face here! I tend to be “project focused” and sometimes feel inefficient here with the demands that relationships in our family take. But it’s true, the intensity here requires more of us. Thanks!

    • Inefficient — oh yes, I understand inefficient! Some days everything breaks, and it takes all day just to get those things fixed. Sometimes all week. It feels very inefficient, and those are just the things, not the relationships. So yeah, you’re not alone in your feelings of inefficiency! Thanks for dropping by, Jenn — I’m glad these words here have, in some small way, relieved your spirit about these things. ~Elizabeth

  4. It is just so amazing how you can put into words what many of us feel! Thank you! Especially the part where you describe our kids, the TCKs makes me cry! I always wanted to believe and still try to hang on to it, that if GOD called us here, HE will also care for our children! And HE does! But it does not mean that it is easy for them. That we probably made many mistakes along the way not understanding their needs… And we will never know how it would have been if we stayed in our passport countries… Maybe some of our kids would have been benefitted from a more secure, steady life?

    • Ah, Dorothea, sorry to make you cry!! I do understand asking the “what if” questions — even though my kids aren’t quite old enough for me to have asked it much about them, I’ve asked it about a lot of other things in life. As we read through C.S. Lewis’s “Prince Caspian” this past week, I came across one of Aslan’s statements. It meant something to me. Perhaps it will mean something to you as well. In answering Lucy’s question whether she was ever to know “what-would-have-happened-if,” Aslan said:

      “To know what would have happened? No. Nobody is ever told that.”
      “Oh dear,” said Lucy.
      “But anyone can find out what *will* happen,” said Aslan.”

      For me this was a gentle nudge to stop asking the burning “what-if” questions I have about certain regrettable things in my life. I have no idea if it is comforting to you or not, but I share it in the off chance it might be of some use to you. (If not, ignore it!!)

      Love, Elizabeth

      • Thank you for quoting Aslan! 🙂 I LOVE those stories! Andrés and me where reading those to each other when we were young! 🙂 And that is the reason for our kids/Teenies names! 🙂 Actually I am fine with the here and now but we are told very often how life would have been different if we have stayed in Germany, especially if “Dad would earn real money…” 🙂

      • Ah, I didn’t know that about your kids’ names, but now I see it! Narnia is one of my favorite places to be! So glad to know we share that love too 🙂

  5. Such a good description. The first time we were returning to the US (after 3.25 years in Congo), I found a word to sum up the experience- INTENSE. I felt like there weren’t any normal, low key days or events. Things were sometimes intensely hard, other times intensely amazing. Keeping a house and family going was intensely time consuming.

    I’m learning about the intentionality side of things- mostly after doing it wrong, and seeing the way things go. 🙂

    • “Things were sometimes intensely hard, other times intensely amazing.” So true — there’s that Paradoxical aspect of life again. And you had me laughing at “Keeping a house and family going was intensely time consuming.” Also so true, and what a great way to say it!

      And I agree — the intentionality is harder. The intensity happens whether we practice intentionality or not. We don’t have any say in the matter! But the intentionality part, well . . . . let’s just agree to say we make a lot of mistakes at that . . . . 🙂

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