Seared in my memory is the moment we mentioned to my husband’s side of the family we were considering moving to Africa.
We were all clustered in my sister-in-law’s sitting room–and it was as if someone had yelled, “Draw!” as the smartphones were yanked out.
My relatives started to read aloud of this country whose headlines they hadn’t been near as invested in just two minutes ago.
As luck would have it, there’d been some rioting. My husband and I had young kids at the time; our youngest was two and a half.
The anxiety–of the same variety of the one I’d been juggling myself and was now smiling casually around–was palpable.
Malaria? I don’t think it will be that much of a thing. And politicial unrest, schmolitical unrest, I always say.
I’ve heard someone casually remark that one of the larger obstacles to your generation going overseas might actually be your parents. As possibly one of the most protected, safety-conscious generations in history, the struggle is real.
Separately, my husband told his father, with whom he’s particularly close.
And in that experience, we both picked up on a vital tip to tell people you love and bring them onboard with your big decision–and for relationships in general.
See, my husband longed for his dad to support such a major choice.
But he wanted his dad to have the freedom not to be, right?
So he told his dad–who’s generally a healthy person–something like,
I want to talk to you about something that’s really important to me. I would love for you to be excited, catch my vision, and dream a bit with me. You don’t have to. But I want to let you know what I’m hoping for.
Here’s what I’m hoping you’ll do.
You don’t have to react that way. Take space to process this.
But rather than letting my unspoken/un-agreed upon expectation manipulate both of us, let’s eliminate the mind-reading.
My father-in-law (who’s not of the people-pleasing variety) responded just the way my husband had deeply hoped.
He and I learned a key tip on relating: Without constraining people, it’s okay to let them know what you hope for in your relationship. Eliminate some of the mind-reading, right?
Bonus: It helped build our own enthusiasm, and our relationship with his dad, amidst our own freak-out factor.
It was a total win for my husband and for his relationship with his dad.
Who knew asking for what you’re hoping for relationally could be so rewarding?
“I DON’T THINK THEY’RE GOING TO GET IT.”
It’s entirely possible they won’t.
Maybe they don’t share some of the values propelling your vision forward. You already know you’ll need to work with a yawning chasm between your values and those of your host culture. But when you tell people you love you’re moving overseas, they need that same patience, compassionate understanding, perseverance, and humility.
Try to set aside what their reaction means for you–not demanding the approval you crave–and imagine how it would feel to be your mom, or your dad. What’s beneath their concern?
Bring them along with you in the non-physical part of this journey.
BEFORE “THE TALK”
Pray for wisdom on the whens and wheres to tell people you love the story God’s been writing in you.
James 1:5 gives voice to this: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
And both Esther’s approach to King Xerxes and Proverbs 25:11 remind me the setting of words matters, too: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
How we love people when we’re talking about a big life change (for them, too) matters just as much as telling the truth:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels…and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains…If I give away all I have…but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
So before you ever tell the people you love about this decision dividing everything into before and after, pray to love them well. Ask God to build their experiences and their courage to be open to this.
You’re not asking permission. You serve God rather than people (Galatians 10:10, Acts 4:19), and that reward in this life and the life to come is great (Matthew 19:29).
But a family’s blessing on a life decision usually does matter to most of us. How we’re “sent” or not affects our overseas experience (Romans 10:15).
And even if they don’t “get it”? Loving them well and honoring them matters intensely.
When You Tell People You love, Are You More Alike Than You Think?
Just as with you, God’s using the journey itself to craft them.
So hear out their anxieties, without buckling beneath them. Create space to truly understand their concerns without your judgment or emotional reaction (a.k.a. emotional and spiritual maturity.).
It’s strikingly similar to the response I’m guessing you crave from them.
Like you, they hope to be received and accepted within their doubts and concerns.
As in any communication, seek to understand the heart behind all the emotional static and how they’re expressing themselves. Find the 1% of what they’re saying that’s true (Okay, yes, I have a history of being emotionally impulsive. Yes, I see that this is a more dangerous place to raise your grandkids). Own 100% of it.
Give family the time and space to ask questions and hear your heart–and your well-considered wisdom. Show them you’re teachable and not just headstrong.
It could make the difference between a strained relationship weighing your down in a time where you’ll be repeatedly stretched thin…and a crowd cheering you on.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Janel also frequently writes and speaks to missionary women through Thrive Ministry.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.