“I had never discussed with them my spiritual life; I had never discussed how much God was changing me and how the gospel was impacting the decisions I made.” – Lydia Low-Yeung
You are here because following Jesus is messy and costly, and you’re trying to wade through the muck that is following Jesus while honouring your parents. Or maybe you’re a good friend trying to help your friend through a sticky situation.
Throughout my years involved with P2C-Students, I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me and said, “Lydia, I really want to go on a mission trip, but I am afraid that my parents will hate that idea. What should I do?”
If we were talking in real life, I would invite you to grab a cup of coffee with me, because this isn’t a straightforward or painless kind of conversation. But since you’re reading this online instead of sitting with me in person, this is the time for you to grab a coffee and find a comfortable place to sit, while I go on a rather lengthy monologue/diatribe about missions, and parents, and following Jesus.
No cookie-cutter answers available
Following Jesus on a missions trip (or into full-time vocational ministry) while honouring your parents’ desires for you is not the same process for everyone. Depending on your family background, both cultural and religious, there are many ways this conversation with your parents could go.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cookie cutter answer to prevent the potential tension between God’s call on your life, and your parents’ desires for your future. (Listen to my own story, as I shared during P2C+ Toronto 2015, to get an idea of what I mean.)
Six brilliant principles to follow:
Based on my own experience, and countless conversations I have had on this topic, there are some principles, however, that might help with the process of communicating with your parents.
1. Talk about your (spiritual) life with your parents
Regardless of whether your parents are followers of Jesus or not, carve out some time to keep your parents updated on your life on a regular basis. University is a life-changing experience, and though your parents may be savvy enough to observe some of the changes in your life, they aren’t omniscient! They really only know what you’re willing to share with them.
One of the things I regret the most is not sharing with my parents how much of a sacrifice going on missions trips every summer was for me. My parents saw me going on missions trips kind of like a joy-ride, or an “end-of-the-school-year” celebration. I had never discussed with them my spiritual life; I had never discussed how much God was changing me and how the gospel was impacting the decisions I made. Because I never shared these things with them, they saw summer missions trips as being fairly inconsequential.
So, when I finally decided to go into full-time ministry, they were obviously upset; they felt blindsided by my request. They told me that I hadn’t considered things fully, that I didn’t know what I was sacrificing, that I hadn’t thought about my future.
Because these were things that I had fully considered, I felt condescended towards, belittled, and as though they were treating me like a child. In hindsight, I had never really mentioned that I had been considering these things to my parents!
I had spent three years considering full-time ministry, but only started mentioning it to my parents in the last four months of university! There was a lot of miscommunication going on, largely because I had withheld information with my parents for so long!
Which leads me to my next point…
2. Give your parents time to process (and pray for) your request
Over your entire lifetime, you’ve probably had a passion for many fads and passing fancies. Remember Pogs and Furbies? Those were at one point quintessential to your life. You might be thinking, “Yeah, but those were childhood trends! This is not a cursory hobby! This is adulthood and my walk with Jesus!” Your parents, however, have no way of knowing that unless you give them time to process along with you.
What this really means is that you need to plan ahead.
If the deadline for a missions trip application is January 31st and you tell your parents that you want to go on a missions trip on January 30th, they won’t think this is something serious in your life that you’ve contemplated and prayed over. You’re also likely to have a sleepless and volatile night in heated discussion with your parents.
If you let them know about it months in advance and you’re still talking about it come January, this might be an indicator for them that you are being deliberate and thoughtful.
If your parents love Jesus, something you might say is, “I know that right now you don’t seem too eager about the idea, but could we take the next x amount of time to pray about it and to keep an open mind about what God might have planned for me? If this is something God wants, I trust that he will convince you in time, and if not, then one of us could be wrong. It could be me.”
This not only demonstrates prudent planning, but also shows your parents that you are growing in adulthood and humility, instead of being a headstrong and flighty teenager.
3. Have deliberate conversations with them
Schedule time in to have specific and deliberate conversations about them. Sometimes, in the spur of the moment, things can get heated! It’s better to step back and spend some time praying before having this calibre of conversation with your parents. Make sure that you have good questions to ask them such as, “Why do you feel the way you do?” or “Is there anything I can do to relieve your fears?”
“Often, parents are not on board for a few key reasons. The foremost reason is that they are worried about your safety and security.” – Lydia
Try to see things from their perspective.
Often, parents are not on board for a few key reasons. The foremost reason is that they are worried about your safety and security.
If your parents are Christians, this is a great chance for you to help them grow in their faith by acknowledging these fears, asking them how the gospel addresses these fears and pointing them to Jesus as the source of their identity and security. However, even if your parents aren’t Christians, this is still an opportunity for you to address these fears of safety.
You can do so in the following two ways: 1. Introduce them to the staff member who will be leading your mission trip and 2. Walk through the proposed schedule of your trip and safety measures that exist
This will help your parents see that your missions trip isn’t just a wild party in Florida during spring break. At the core, if your parents are worried about your safety, seeing that there is someone older and responsible, meeting them and getting to know them will often alleviate, or at least mitigate, your parents’ fears.
When you say mission trip, you might be thinking of something fairly low-key: talking to people about Jesus! But when your parents hear missions trip, pictures of getting arrested in a politically unstable country might come to mind! Help your parents see that you aren’t going to be doing crazy stunts like skydiving into a war-zone, and that there are safety precautions that already exist! (Make sure you know what these safety precautions are before heading into the conversation.)
4. Acknowledge their fears/objections
It can be easy to blow past objections our parents have, because either:
a) they aren’t our objections, or
b) we have already worked through these exact fears.
Acknowledge that you have thought about and considered their fears, whether it be safety, money, future success, etc. Ask yourself, “Have I seriously and honestly prayed about these considerations?”
If you haven’t, spend some time praying about these concerns. If you have, let your parents know that you too had the same concerns, and show them how God has directed you differently.
5. Let them know how much you appreciate them
Let your parents know how much you appreciate them! Tell them you understand where they are coming from and that you love them and know that at the end of the day, they have sacrificed a lot for you to be where you are!
Express to them that you know that if you go on this missions trip, you know that they too might be sacrificing something so that you might go, whether it be pride (their friends may ridicule them for letting you go!), finances (maybe it means they will need to support you for the trip or after the trip), emotional balance (whether or not they are Christian, your parents will likely worry the entire time you are gone until you arrive back home safely!), etc. Help them see that you appreciate them and the struggle they may go through!
6. Finally, pray that your parents will grow in their faith as a response to your act of faith
Whether you go or stay, make sure that your decision is one of obedience, first and foremost to our heavenly parent, God the Father. Make sure that it is one of faith. And then pray and ask that God would use your act of faith to grow your parents in their faith!
One of the most satisfying and greatest delights of my life was when I saw my dad stand up in front of the whole church and challenge every family to send their children into the missions field, whether it be full-time missions work, a summer mission trip, or into the secular workplace as a missionary. Seeing my parents grow in their love for Jesus and their love for missions, years later, reminds me that one small act of faith can be used by God in many ways. That, my friends, is exciting.
“Whether you go or stay, make sure that your decision is one of obedience, first and foremost to our heavenly parent, God the Father. Make sure that it is one of faith. And then pray and ask that God would use your act of faith to grow your parents in their faith!” – Lydia
Some final words of advice
If you’re considering going on a summer missions trip, or more long-term, into full-time ministry, or serving God in a different capacity than your parents expect, I can’t make you a guarantee that it’ll be easy. I can’t guarantee that your parents, followers of Jesus or not, will experience a miraculous conversion. I can’t guarantee that you’ll defy the odds and finish raising your financial support in no time.
But I can make you a guarantee that regardless of what God is calling you to do, regardless of whether you are to go into vocational ministry or to the marketplace; regardless of whether you go on a summer mission trip or find a summer job, God is good. And he is faithful.
When you take steps of faith to get out of the boat and onto the water, he won’t leave you hanging. It may be a painful and a somewhat arduous process, but God is good and has already taken care of your greatest need, which was to be saved from death. If he has already done that, he won’t leave you out to dry. It is my prayer that during this time of decision making, regardless of the outcome, you will come to see Jesus as he is. That you see him as infinitely precious, and that his worth will really outweigh the cost.
That whatever he is calling you to do, your answer will be a resounding “YES!”.