Earlier this year, I had trip scheduled to go to the US, spend some time with my family, visit some friends, and connect with a church that supports me. It was smack in the middle of the first Covid-19 wave in Europe and the USA and my trip was postponed. My mom was supposed to come visit a few months later. We rescheduled her trip a few times, eventually moving it to next year. World pandemic situation permitting, my trip is still scheduled for later this year. These factors combined have made this the longest stretch of time that I have ever gone without seeing at least one member of my family.
This absence has led to lots of thoughts. On one hand, I think how lucky I am that even though I haven’t gotten to see my family in the time frame I wanted, I still will be able to see them at some point. Since moving here, I have met people (often refugees or international students) who are not able to visit their families because they are trapped in various countries due to precarious visa situations. Many haven’t seen family members for years. Knowing I will be able to go home and visit eventually—likely within a year—is truly a blessing. In addition, I have some wonderful people who love me and support me here, even if they are not blood-related to me.
On the other hand, I miss my family. Sometimes, when I think about missing them, I am afraid that God would rather my trip get cancelled because maybe my family is an idol for me. If they are an idol, surely he will want to take them away from me, right? My instinct is to try to miss my family less or not hope for the trip to happen. Maybe if I do this, he will definitely not see them as an idol in my life and they won’t be taken from me.
I don’t think this fear or my counter instinct truly represents God’s heart in the matter or the response he desires from me. Don’t get me wrong, he definitely called people into hard things at many points throughout Christianity and sometimes he calls me to difficult sacrifices as well. Following him is not a promise that everything will go how we want it and I believe examining what might be idols in my life and addressing those things is absolutely important.
And yet, I think God is more concerned with what the idols distract us from than the idols themselves. We can make even good things more important than him in our hearts. I have thought a lot about Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:37-39 as I reflect on this fear of losing my trip home:
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (NASB)
And in its close “parallel” in Luke 14:26-27:
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (NASB)
I recently read a passage in The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard that exposits the verses from Luke a bit. He writes, “The entire point of this passage is that as long as one thinks anything may really be more valuable than fellowship with Jesus in his kingdom, one cannot learn from him” (p. 293). And later on, he writes that “…unless we clearly see the superiority of what we receive as his students over every other thing that might be valued, we cannot succeed in our discipleship to him. We will not be able to do the things required to learn his lessons and move ever deeper into a life that is his kingdom” (p. 294).
What really stuck with me from these passages was that in focusing on what I fear I might lose, I am still missing the point. The point of those verses is to seek Jesus above all and to love him more, not my family less. I want to learn to value him above all other things. I want to rest in the assurance that even if my trip is cancelled, even if I don’t see my family for years, he is still with me, loving me and guiding me if I will listen and pay attention. He is the most important thing in my life—not family, not work, not friends, not anything else. Only when I view him as most important can I learn what he has to teach me, even through difficult moments.