Priorities and Families


Given our three potential scenarios of governmental catastrophe or status quo or a world changing move of God, where does family fit into the equation?

This is a really muddy problem and there are highly contradictory inputs that have shaped my word view.  I have no answers for you, but allow me to broaden the frame you use to consider the problem.

On the one hand, Harry Chapin’s song “The Cat’s in the Cradle” marked me deeply when I was a young dad.  Our culture on the mission field was so slow-paced that my Dad never had those issues.  He was gone twice a week for about ten hours and the rest of the time was home and available.

I played the song many times and pondered it deeply while my kids were young and at home.  I made some awful choices, paid a high price financially and often worked much more than I wanted to because we were in a bad place, but Chapin’s song pursued me relentlessly.

There is another stream, however, that also colored my thinking.  I deeply immersed myself in a little paperback called “Fair Sunshine” by Jock Purvis.  This is the story of some Scottish Covenanters who were martyred.

The families were sometimes attacked, but often were able to eke out a basic existence on their own, while the man of the family was gone for weeks or months, both ministering to others hiding in the hills and running for his own life simultaneously.  (It is called being dangerous!)

Those Scottish families would have been insulted at the thought of their needs in any way hampering the work of God their father/husband was doing.  They were deeply committed to being self-sustaining AND providing some level of spiritual, emotional and physical support for him, if at all possible.

Then there was a third strand which I struggled with then and still do.  Paul made a strong suggestion that single people postpone getting married during that season of persecution because a spouse would be a liability to their serving the Lord.

I could understand if Paul was talking about having young kids, and yes, generally, a baby or two does create certain constraints for both dad and mom.  But Paul specifically said that having either a husband or a wife would detract from their being devoted to the Lord’s affairs because their love for a spouse would conflict with serving God.

I Corinthians 7 notwithstanding, I think there is at least the theoretical possibility of a husband and wife enriching each other’s walk with the King, instead of detracting from it.  I think it would be poetic justice if Paul’s bungalow in heaven is sandwiched between the homes of two couples who served God stupendously, together!

But I digress.

There are two more experiences which marked me and are formative of my world view. The first happened when I was pastoring.  A couple in their late 30s experienced a loss of resources when they were moving.  Their parents (in their 60s) immediately moved into high gear to travel half way across the country and resource their kids.

This was so foreign to me.  My parents were on the mission field and they did not expect to have to be a savior for either their parents or their kids.  I had a basic understanding that when I left home, I was on my own.  Really on my own.  I wondered where the line was that separated highly loving, deeply committed families and those who were enabling adult kids.

I still wonder.

Finally, there was the issue of California earthquakes.  My kids were under ten when a big one hit.  It was around 5:00 a.m. and I was home.  The old upright piano almost tipped over on one of them which would have been fatal.  They were understandably emotionally traumatized.

When there are earthquakes, pipes break and plumbers are in massive demand.  As I got ready to roll, the kids asked me, “Dad, will there be another earthquake while you are gone?”

I had to tell them that when there is one this big, there are usually aftershocks for a day or two.  They were not happy.

Desiree then cut to the heart of the matter and asked, “If there is one while you are gone, will we be OK?”

Now you need to understand.  At that point in their lives, I was god to them.  They had implicit trust in me.  If the weatherman said it was going to rain on Friday, and I said it wasn’t, they had absolute peace that their Friday plans were intact.  So all they needed from me was a simple promise that they would be fine, and there would be little or no fear when the rumbles came.

I had to look my five-year old daughter in the eye and say, “I don’t know, Honey.  I can’t promise that you will be safe.  Only God knows.”

Then having devastated her whole world view, I got in my truck and drove away to the 500 calls already on the board at the plumbing office.

That day, Desiree lost her demigod, and had to come to terms with whether she would trust the Creator God or not.

She has a particularly vicious hatred of earthquakes because she hears them in the ground minutes before anyone else feels anything.  When she was a teenager and I started traveling a lot, she loathed the times when I was gone and an earthquake hit.  I did what I could to comfort her from a distance when that happened.

It was during that time frame that God confronted me on the issue and told me that what happened to my family while I was gone on a ministry trip was absolutely none of my business.  I was to get on a plane knowing every time that my family was in His hands, and He had given me no guarantees whatsoever that they would survive the Big One, if it hit when I was gone.

It was a pretty stark way to leave home each time — wondering if I would see my family again.

So today I sort through all of those various inputs.  My kids are grown and gone.  My wife is hampered with some low-grade health issues.  She would not be the one climbing over a wrecked building with a crow bar in her hand helping to look for survivors.

There is also very little local support for her in case she were hurt in an earthquake.

So if you are a husband or wife, a dad or a mom, what are your responsibilities in times of natural disaster, or civil unrest or a move of God?  Is family first always?  Or not?

I don’t think there is one right answer.  For that reason I am not telling you where I stand on the various scenarios relative to my family.

I do think that every family needs to discuss what the options are and what their values are.

And I think every man who is head of a household needs to wrestle with what his responsibilities are and what God’s are.

The only wrong decision is ignoring the issue so that a decision has to be made on the fly, under pressure, without adequate discussion.

If the power of God breaks out in a remote part of Malaysia in THE move we have all been waiting for, it would help to have already spent some time exploring as a family what you would do.

Will you keep your American lifestyle intact and just purchase some videos?  Or will one or all of the family go there for a visit?  Or will you walk away from your career and your social safety net to move the whole family to Malaysia for the indefinite future knowing nothing about the conditions on the ground, except that God has opened a branch office there?

Copyright April 2011 by Arthur Burk

From home

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6 Responses to Priorities and Families

  1. Julian says:

    Funny this one only had a couple comments. How deep is our trust in the Lord, really?

    Thx for broaching these topics. Who else would?

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  2. Catherine says:

    My family lives in the States and my husband currently works overseas (at least) half the time. He is doing what he is made for, however our choice (what choice?) to live largely separately for a season in order for both of us to move in our callings has been met with varied (rarely initially positive) reaction.

    In the past week my town was run over by a tornado. The damage was intense locally and regionally. Within a few days, my husband, currently overseas, was injured in an accident. And we were forced to look into the reality of how settled we are (or not!) in the answers to the questions in this post. He scored a little better than I did on the initial post-test…

    As I processed a range of post-trauma emotions and helped our three young children weed through their myriad ‘what if’ questions – with discussions of plans, resources, things that matter, the reality of our dependence on God and necessity of the ever present focus ‘Okay God, what’s in it for You that I am here today and how can we move the Kingdom forward?’ – God met me in my own instability, healed pieces of me, and reassured me that we were, all of us, in His will and of course, this was all Father-filtered. We all needed this to be in our face right now.

    I agree – there are principles to be applied and right applications vary in expression by gifting, calling, circumstance, and a thousand other seen and unseen things – and the important piece is having considered and prepared intentionally to move intentionally in situations you have not chosen intentionally.

    We are seeing more letters on the “scrabble board” through my husband’s injury. After the tornado, a main drag was rerouted through my neighborhood for days, right over the roads we have so long intentionally blessed. There have been numerous opportunities to publically honor the public works, law enforcement, and emergency management personnel that performed stellar and seamless feats in the aftermath. My kids spontaneously formed a team to pray breathtaking things I did not think of. Their designs became clearer, and our focus has been sharpened. Go God!

    And so we progress in the midst of questions that remain necessarily partially unanswered (thank you, Lord). It lends perspective to see them all written down in one place – the thought pattern they provoke is so vital!

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  3. Rosa says:

    P.S.
    Pardon my wordiness,but I would like to add the words of David Livingstone I just came across:
    Lord,send me anyhere,only go with me…
    Lay any burden on my heart,only sustain me…
    Sever any ties but the tie that binds me to your heart and to your service.

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  4. Rosa says:

    Arthur,I have great respect for the way you dont give a pat answer as to what people ‘should’ do. I had the tremendous priviledge to travel to Ghana with someone that travels extensively in ministry. Sometimes his wife goes along, most of the time she doesnt. But because of the way way they work together, he is free to go,and has HUGE impact. I was blown away at the scope of the work he does in Ghana. It is so important that we do not pass judgement on those that travel a lot,saying they ‘neglect’ their families. I think those men and women experience more tough things and lonliness than most of the rest of us ever do. I hope not to be one of those that just buys the video,and says ‘isnt that nice of them to help’. This American lifestyle ‘ain’t all its cracked up to be. We need more people that hear the voice of the Father, and walk when He says walk. This topic has definitely been much discussed in this household.

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  5. Lindajoy says:

    that is brilliant

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  6. Sandy Beach says:

    Arthur, I am in a place right now that my life is getting ready to change drastically again and I am trying to come to terms with another move. I want more than anything for God to place me exactly where He needs me and not where I want to be. Thanks for asking the questions.

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