I had a hard time finding a seat at my daughter’s eighth grade graduation. I walked by rows of extended family sitting together — proud moms and dads, gray-haired grandparents, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins.
As I finally found an empty seat, next to a friend with her extended family, sadness crept into my heart. A favorite teacher walked to the stage and called out our daughter’s name to receive a special award. Tears filled my eyes as I listened to her affirming words and relished this milestone in our daughter’s life. I wished our whole family could have experienced in person what I tried to capture on video. I wish we all could have been there.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe your spouse’s job has taken you far from home. Or your life as a missionary has taken you overseas. Or you’re a military spouse and move every two or three years. In God’s providence, many good and worthy things take us far away from those we love, leaving us battling to trust the Lord and be content.
Despite the fact that I would love to have family nearby, God has provided some unexpected blessings as we raise our kids far from home.
1. You really leave and cleave.
Moving far away from home accentuates the leaving in marriage, and opens the door wider for cleaving. The apostle Paul writes (quoting Genesis), “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). After we moved, my husband and I were left with each other. The leave and cleave was not as complicated for us since we couldn’t easily run home whenever we had a disagreement.
Over the past eighteen years of our marriage, we have lived in three different states as we prepared for ministry and then served various churches. In all three places, we’ve been far away from both of our families. In some ways, we don’t even know what it would be like to live close to our parents or siblings. This has always been our normal.
My husband and I learned how to rely on each other, formed friendships together, and began our new life without the relational complexities of having extended family nearby. We obviously miss the benefits of being closer, but we’re grateful for how God has blessed us too. Our marriage is stronger because of the path we’ve walked together.
2. Church family becomes your family.
Without extended family nearby, relationships within our church body immediately became more significant. I can’t even begin to count how many ways God has provided the support we needed through our church family. From babysitting and meals when children were born to attending our kids’ plays and recitals, bonds have been formed with our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone out of their way to love our family.
At our daughter’s play recently, a small crowd of parents and young kids from our church gathered around her for a picture. My daughter’s friend said to her, “Are those all your brothers and sisters!” The joy of relationships in the body of Christ is made sweeter through filling in for family who can’t be there.
Jesus promised abundant blessings to those who forsake the comforts of home and family to follow him, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30).
3. You’re pressed to rely on God.
In the absence of family support, we have been driven even more to the Lord with our daily trials. The companionship of our heavenly Father is unfailing. He will always be with us (Matthew 28:20). In my greatest times of struggle, God has drawn me near through the promises of his word, to verses like 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
The longing for family has been especially strong at transitional times in life — when our babies were each born and at important milestones in their lives, especially as they are getting older. As we try to navigate getting four kids to four different places some evenings, I think about how nice it would be to have some help with driving and babysitting. It can be hard not to feel envious of those who have family support nearby. As longings for family press in, we can find measures of joy in trusting that God has us exactly where he wants us to be. We look to Christ for our satisfaction instead of to the perfect family arrangement.
Watching my friend Sarah and her husband pack up their four young kids and move to the desert sands of Africa reminds me that living far from family is a sacrifice worth making. Their family highlights the surpassing worth of Jesus. What they’ve given up by moving to a distant and unfamiliar place, they’ve gained in the opportunity to proclaim God’s glory to those with little access to the gospel.
4. You relate more to the lonely and hurting.
There’s a temptation when we’re feeling lonely or discontent to wallow in self-pity. Yet one of the best antidotes is to stop navel-gazing and instead focus our attention on serving someone else in need. Living far from family can give us a special sensitivity to those who may be hurting or lonely.
I remember the semester I spent studying abroad in Spain. In a new culture, with a language I was just beginning to understand, homesickness was a real battle. In God’s providence, I met a missionary family who took me in like their own daughter, inviting me over each week for dinner and Bible study. Time spent with these precious and hospitable believers lessoned the sting of homesickness. My time abroad gave me an awareness of the difficulty of being a foreigner in a new land and how a simple dinner invitation can show love and care.
God means for us to use the comfort we have received from God to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4–5). Lend a listening ear to someone battling depression. Attend their children’s performance or game. Offer a new mom practical help through babysitting or meals.
Whoever Leaves Family
When God calls us to live far from loved ones, we receive time together as a special gift. Time is not taken for granted because it’s not a routine part of life. Our children look forward to seeing their cousins and grandparents.
Raising your children far from loved ones is both a challenge and a gift. When you find your heart longing for a different circumstance, remember the blessings that the Lord gives and how he provides in unexpected ways, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalms 16:5–6).
Embrace the portion that God has assigned you today. The glad sacrifice of leaving those you love will be more than made up for in the gift of God himself. The situation that is your biggest heartache might just become a great blessing.