I grew up in a world of climate-controlled homes, carpet, and English everything. Living overseas, I miss that world and I miss my family like crazy.
I come from a close family–the kind that was involved (sometimes overly involved) in each others’ lives. Regardless, I didn’t meet my first nephew until he was ten-months-old. Recently, another nephew saw me on video chat and asked his mommy, “What’s that?” I had three weeks to process and prepare for my brother’s wedding. I missed my grandparents’ funerals, my mom’s cancer journey, and thousands of other things in my family’s life and in the lives of my friends. I sometimes forget which church members passed away because I was never there to say goodbye.
Where are you in the world? What have you chosen to give up for the greater choice of following God? Whether you’re overseas or not, this I know: serving God requires sacrifice.
Before you disagree, hear me out.
My biggest struggle has been leaving my family. For you, it may be different. Maybe you have cut back your work hours (and income) to spend more time serving others. Or maybe you’ve given up hobbies or a career to take care of your children. Some face harder struggles, or different struggles, but the truth remains that serving God is not one big, adrenaline-filled adventure.
I am privileged to be called by God. I consider it an honor to do His work and I do it with joy. But I also recognize that even joy-filled privileges are not painless. Day by day faith can be an adventure, but sometimes, it’s tears, heartache, and loneliness.
And, if I’m honest, sometimes, it’s asking God “Why?!”
Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On asked the same question in Numbers 16. Discontent with their honored service as sons of Levi, they gathered a mob and rose up before Moses, their intercessor. “You have gone too far! We are all holy. Why do you try to set yourselves above us?” (vs. 3, paraphrased).
While living in North Africa, I heard a sermon that has haunted me ever since. The speaker stood at the front of our tiny international fellowship and admitted that it was hard for him to deny his children the same life he had as a child. As a father, it was heartbreaking to strip away the foundations that made him who he was and hand them something untried in a foreign land.
Why did other God-followers get to raise their children where this man wanted to? Why was he and not they required to make this sacrifice?” Sometimes, he said he felt like Peter pointing at John and asking Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn. 21:21).
I was glued to the pew, startled by his tears and the reality of his pain. So I wasn’t the only one who felt the gnawing sacrifice? I had smothered those “why” tears, labeling them as “doubt” rather than “grief.”
Maybe some days you face stifling pain or nights of agony because of a sacrifice you’ve made. When you follow God, dying to self is inevitable, and denying the sacrifice doesn’t lead to victorious living.
Grieve those losses because grief is good, a necessary stair step to healing. Then, when you’ve struggled through the “why”, it’s time to pick up your head and move toward resolution by asking “How?” You may never get an answer to your “why.” Job experienced personal devastation; yet, as far as we know, God never told him the reason. But God gave him space to grieve before persuading him to “dress for action like a man” (Job. 38:3) and trust that the Planner knew what He was doing.
Unless you grieve, you will find yourself turning to rebellion like Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On whose questions were enough to make Moses fall on his face. “Isn’t what God has called you to good enough for you? Isn’t it good enough for you that He separated you from the other tribes to do His special service?” (Num. 16:9-10, paraphrased).
When I get stuck in the “why” and never move onto “how,” I grow resentful that God called me overseas and away from my family. Refusing to grieve leads to rebellion, either outright rebellion like Korah and his gang, or quiet rebellion that festers in my heart and shows up in bitterness, cynicism, apathy, or depression, to name a few.
But when I ask “How?” I find grace bigger than grief or sacrifice. Grace doesn’t dry homesick tears, but it gives them purpose.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had an unplanned (and impossible!) pregnancy sprung on her. Yet, the Bible records her asking “How?” rather than “Why?” Likely, Mary struggled emotionally as she faced her calling; yet, you hear her heart of obedience when she says, “…let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).
C.S. Lewis says, “The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.” 
Or, as Jesus so succinctly puts it, “…what is that to you? You follow me!” (Jn. 21:22).
And it’s worth it. Even when it hurts, obedience is always worth it, because He is worth it.
Trish Kauffman lives in Western Europe and works with immigrants. Because of the nature of her work, she has chosen a pseudonym. She is energized by open conversations that point to Jesus. She also loves being part of a community, reading, touring out-of-the-way places, and organizing (as long as some spontaneity is in the mix). She used to think she liked language-learning until she started learning Arabic. For her, the hardest part about living away from home is leaving behind family.
- Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. Quebec: Samizdat University Press, 2016. Google search. Web. 01 February 2020, p. 61.
- All Scripture references are taken from the The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.