Left Behind

John-Mark just left for Ghana.  This will be the fifth time, outside of the two years we lived there, that he will be going.  This will be the third time he’s going without me. Can someone tell me why it doesn’t get easier to be the one left behind?

Not only do I completely support his reasons for going, but I believe it’s important for him to go.  He is the mission pastor at our church, this is the partnership that we started and it’s heading into some exciting new developments in the areas of leadership development and the building project.  He needs to go.

I don’t particularly want to go with him either.  I have lived and breathed Ghana for the past eight years, from the start of this project, to our life there, to the Fair-Trade business I own. I’ll be going myself in April.  Almost every day involves the word “Ghana” coming out of my mouth.  Those closest to me have developed an eye-roll reflex when it happens.

When John-Mark leaves the family behind, it’s not just the practical things we struggle with: who will remove the snow and take out the garbage.  It’s not even the insecurities or loneliness: who will make sure the doors are locked at night and check on those strange sounds. All these things I can handle, begrudgingly.

It’s that for a time his family will not be his priority. For a while, all his energies, his thoughts, his gestures, his love will be directed to the Ghana mission and the people there.   I’m used to sharing J-M with others – it’s the realities of his pastoral role – but I don’t enjoy it when it’s removed completely, even if just for a time.

When he was packing earlier this week, I may have whined. A couple of nights ago, when he was getting documents together, I might have picked a fight.  For the past month, I’ve inserted “don’t go” randomly into our conversations.

J-M has handled these purely selfish reactions of mine with great care and concern.   “I’m not listening till you change your tone.”   “You’re being totally unreasonable.” “Are you PMSing?”  I must be, because right now my eyes are really leaky.

If we, the couple somewhat seasoned in short-term missions, struggle with this, how much more do other couples?  We are fortunate enough to share a passion for this mission. What about those couples who don’t see eye-to-eye ?  How much harder would it be?  What toll does it take when the emboldened short-term missionary cannot share the excitement of the preparation or the after-glow with his or her spouse?  How hard is it on the left behind spouse who has to hold the fort down and deal with the “every day problems” while the other goes to have an often “life-changing experience.”

One way to keep this turmoil from driving a wedge in your relationship is to be the first to smile despite the hurt and cheer the other one on.   I’m ashamed to say that J-M always beats me to it.

Today, before he left, J-M filled up the car with gas, changed the oil, did the dishes, and showed me how to work the DVD player.  I realized all the things I hadn’t done to make his preparations easy.  When he told me as he was leaving that he’d always prefer to be with me, I was woefully repentant.

I wrote this post to remind myself that the next time may not be easier, but it will be different.


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