The craziest thing happened today. It was a mini-miracle in my own living room, during our family devotion time. It almost made my heart stop. My son, with hands folded and head bowed, said in his prayer, “Thank you God for calling us here.”
It’s happened with each of us, but I wasn’t sure it would happen with him. It’s been seven months since The Big Move. The changes were huge and sudden, and the Big Feelings came like waves pushing all of us around at different times, in different ways. Denial, Anger, Excitement, Fear, Sadness, Bargaining, Pouting, Acceptance. And finally, gratitude.
I wrote this to him later that day:
I have seen your big heart, Marcus, and the way you ache for your Indiana friends. I have seen your anger and your wrestlings with God, and your reluctance to start over with new people. We’ve been through so much this past year. And sometimes, the weight of it all came out in tears or anger or silly fights over nothing. Sometimes, you cried in your bed and we prayed for your old friends and I thought your heart would never be comforted. But it has. God is faithful. And you and I know Who to thank for this.
Moving six kids to a new home, new church, new everything, has been one of the hardest things we have ever done. I have already shared some of the things I have learned,(link) for the sake of those u going through the same thing. Today, I’d like to focus on the children.
Let them be children
When we told our kids we had decided to accept the new call, the reactions were mixed. I remember a few clenched jaws, resolute faces. A little excitement. A few tears. Many questions. I remember one flood of grief so big that it carried somebody down the hall, into his room, where he collapsed onto his bed and sobbed. The littlest ones (age 5, 6) were so quiet, I wasn’t sure they even understood what was happening. (They did. The tears came later.)
In the weeks that followed, Big Feelings poured out everywhere. It wasn’t neat and tidy, it wasn’t predictable, and it didn’t always look like grief. It looked like defiance, stubbornness, and downright disrespect. I looked like not wanting to play the piano because music was too much to handle emotionally. It was hiding, it was clinging, it was over-planning, over-eating, over-reacting. it was frantically trying to do every fun thing just one more time. It was panic, it was fear, it was exhaustion.
Child emotions don’t work like adult emotions. Their emotions can be intense, and also quickly changed by a cookie or a distraction. Their roller-coaster ride will look different than an adult’s. Try to remember this.
Let them grieve
“It’s ok to be sad.” I said it a million times, to them and to my own self. Yes, you can willingly follow God while also aching for the things left behind. It is ok to be sad. Another thing? It’s ok for people to see you sad. My boys were hard to convince of this. “What if I cry at school?” A serious fear, indeed. They begged me to let them stay home where they could hide, but I could not. And, some of them did cry at school, but so did some of their friends and teachers! Together, we learned the precious gift of tearful hugs as we were loved through our grief.
Let them rejoice
Embrace the adventure! The same child who was crying on his bed was also eager to pour with us over google maps, to virtually explore our new city. Sometimes, my own heart couldn’t handle the excited adventure-talk, but my children were able to jump back and forth from tears to excitement easily. We spent time as a family, imagining what it might be like, and getting excited for new adventures together. (“If we’re by the big lake, maybe we will get a boat!” “Hey, they have a baseball team!” “Let’s find the closest library!”) Make time to dream about possibilities together. It’s good for you, too.
Treasure the memories
It might seem to make the ache worse at the moment, but I think it’s important to count the blessings God has given in the place you are leaving behind. The old photos may be pictures of things you will never do again, but they are also pictures of gifts and moments given from the hand of God who leads you on. We made scrapbooks, and when the kids received tokens of love from their friends, we displayed them prominently, both in the old place and now, in the new.
Keep routine, if you can
If there is any small fragment of routine you can keep during the actual move, try to do it. “Normal” just exploded! A few familiar routines can be very comforting. They do not have to be complicated. For example, eat three meals a day. Go to church on Sunday. Read a bedtime story. Keep your family devotions going. This is hard to do when there are boxes to be unpacked, but they can have a calming effect in the middle of the chaos.
Pray with them
All the feelings, the worries, the sadness, and the excitement can be brought into God’s presence. Pray with them, daily. Pray for help when breaking the news. Pray for patience with the movers. Pray for strength for the box-lifting. Pray for safe travels. Pray for the friend who is not handling it well. Pray that God would make the new school just what you need. Pray for patience as you wait to fit in with your new church family. Pray for the friends they miss, and for the new ones they make. Pray that your family will be a blessing in the new place. Pray that God will fill the holes you leave in the old place. Pray that each family member would have patience and compassion for the other as they face this hard thing. Pray for eyes that are open for God’s provision.
Remind them of the solid things
We made a poster, entitled “Things that will NOT change.” When everything seems unsettled, it is helpful to remember some things will not change: from Baptism, to God’s love, to pancakes for breakfast. Friends even added their own words of encouragement: “We will still love you!” I needed this as much as the kids did!
Anchor yourself in Jesus, and sit in His lap often during this transition. Do it with the kids, and do it for yourself. Think of this as an emotional marathon. You will be needing extra fuel, extra Scripture, extra fruits from the Spirit to make it to the finish. Do not forget to eat often at His table!
A final reminder to parents — A move is an enormous upheaval for the entire family. There is no magical formula to make it smooth and simple and cheerful. You will be overwhelmed, your children will have Big Feelings that squirt out sideways and don’t make sense. You will ride the rollercoaster together. You cannot flatten the hills for everyone. But there is important work that you can do while you ride with them. You can hold them close, and point them to Jesus. It is enough.
Be present with your children in times of transition. As they grieve the never-agains, comfort them. As they anxiously await Your next provision, calm their hearts with the knowledge of Your great love. As children miss friends and are dragged forward with parents into the unknown, make the time of scary change a time of strengthening for their souls as you prove to them Your care and faithfulness. Give your littlest sons and daughters the gift of caring parents, parents who are present for them, and who gently turn their eyes to You and your unchanging Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.