Different Strokes? Marital Differences as You Look Overseas, Part I

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One of the biggest stresses on my engagement wasn’t really the normal stuff–the wedding planning or whatnot. It was a phrase I’d rerun over in my head a hundred times: I don’t feel called overseas. Evangelism is not my gift. My husband-to-be surpassed the one I’d been looking for so many times over. And it really did seem God was leading us to marriage.

But was he?

Was I…selling out? I’d been headed in an overseas direction for years. What was I missing?

I eventually decided there were needs for evangelism, poverty relief, and cross-cultural connection wherever I was at in the world; that the Great Commission applied to my own zipcode, too–wherever that was. And I trusted that if God were leading me to marry this man, his plans wouldn’t subvert each other.

Ten years later, my convictions felt less fuzzy. Four kids later and smack in the middle of suburbia, I was just trying to keep my head above water (or was it apple juice?). I was willing to go anywhere for the Lord…and this was it? (I’m sorry; I think I actually meant anywhere but here, Lord,)

God had so much to teach me about faithfulness wherever, in his wisdom, he planted me–and to the man with whom he so wisely joined me together.

I had no idea God was already creating an overseas desire in my husband even as I wrestled with my sense of purpose, my desire to shuck what I saw as a “small” life. In fact, I hesitate to share that happy ending with you in the sense that your own may involve nothing of the sort.

Our hope is in God–not in life as we’ve dreamed.

“My spouse doesn’t feel as called as I do.”

Before you commit to anything: It’s a necessity that you’re both completely committed to this path as if you were choosing to have a child.

Why? Because your life is about to change just as much. And I believe the demands and required teamwork of overseas living require more buy-in from a spouse than simply submitting to another’s passion. 

Usually, when thinking of “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14), we think of not partnering in marriage or business with unbelievers. But remember: a yoke connected two oxen. Put a weak ox with a strong ox, and you’ve got two…walking in circles. Pulling the less muscular ox around wears out the stronger ox.

In a more modern take–imagine you’re each standing on conveyor belts, holding hands. What happens when the conveyor belts start moving in opposite directions? What happens when your hearts aren’t moving toward the same end goal…to the point they’re moving toward two different continents? Do you truly want to have every significant obstacle overseas emphasize the tension between you, the ways you’re not one flesh in your lives’ calling?

What I’m not saying: If your spouse doesn’t want to go overseas, they’re weak. We know that the “strong” in faith from Romans 14 are those whose consciences aren’t pricked by some of the issues by which the “weaker” are plagued. (The Greek word for strong, dunatoi, also refers to the mighty or powerful.) And Romans 15:1 tells the strong they have an obligation to show consideration and sympathy with the weak–presumably those who don’t share their convictions or power (adunaton–unable, powerless). See 14:1: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (NASB).

Our God already has his plan and timing for the Great Commission. We don’t need to freak out about how it’s going to get done, faithlessly or blindly ramming this through. He does not hold us accountable to what he hasn’t asked us, or given us the capability, to do. He’s the one who made you a team. (If your spouse can’t in good conscience go all-in for the overseas decision, is there another way to realize your desire for the nations?)

Pray about this, and not just for your spouse’s heart to change. Pray that God’s Kingdom will come that he’ll do his will in your family and around the world. No purpose of his can be thwarted (Job 42:2). I doubt that excludes your spouse. God is able to move the heart of your spouse. But realize that he hasn’t asked every part of his Body overseas. “If they were all one member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:2).

More practically speaking, yes, the needs of so many around the world are great. But please remember that the Gospel in your home–the laying down of your lives for one another, the communication that we are accepted by God not because of what we accomplish–also matters intensely. 

Yes, the needs of so many around the world are great. But the Gospel in your home--the laying down of your lives for one another, the communication that we are accepted by God not because of what we accomplish--also matters intensely. Click To Tweet

“My spouse doesn’t have a job over there.”

Know that when one spouse has a defined role, the other spouse may have a particular challenge of finding their place.

Allow me to put it another way: Paying attention to the spouse with the undefined role–making sure they have a strong vision (ideally, it’s equally strong) keeps you from their cumulative alienation, frustration, and lack of identity. Empower your spouse now to find a valuable contribution in your new life (even if to them, this means staying home with the kids). It may prevent your family from coming home after first blush and adrenaline rush have long worn off. Consider Amy Young’s important post on Role Deprivation and Guilt when moving overseas.

Your spouse might not know what that role looks like as you prepare to go over. But it is important this is a priority for both of you. Your spouse’s work is not an afterthought in God’s mind (see Ephesians 2:10). He calls both of you as a unit. Intentionally.

Alternatively, you may be working in a small office with a lot of expats and/or just a handful of nationals. So your spouse may be jumping in the deep end with trips to the market, solving weird problems (“why is our water off again?”), and interacting with the community. Prepare your spouse equally with cross-cultural and language training. (More on this in Friday’s post, Part II of this series.)

have questions or thoughts about marital differences as you think about going overseas?
Speak up in the comments section!
(If your question is more private but could help all of us, email us at goservelove@mdat.org.)


Like this post? You might like How Ready am I? Self-Assessments for Global Work.


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