"But . . . it's an invitation, not a command. It's a real privilege to have this sort of opportunity," I tried to reason.
"What about me? I need you then. You know that's when my final exams are on. I need a bit of help then. Anyone can do what they're asking you to do."
"Maybe." I walked off. My son's reaction was a total surprise. He had always been very involved with church activities. He helped with the music and helped teach the Sabbath school class. He was helpful around our home and did his share of home duties with a faithfulness that often surprised me. But now he was angry--dangerously angry-- with the church. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The boy was 20. He was a man by now, surely? And I wasn't leaving him alone--his father would be around. I would leave them plenty of food in the freezer and anyway, he knew how to cook--they both did. Why was he so worried about the exams anyway? He was a very good student. It was time he grew up and got over his silly little upset. But that was the problem. When does someone grow up? Just because he behaved well did not mean he had learned everything about life. Had I been so busy helping others that I missed his need to feel special? Maybe he did still need a mother. Maybe my oncein-a-lifetime opportunity was not the point. But look what I would miss! A chance to meet old friends, hear great speakers and help make decisions that could affect the whole church. But what if my son's anger grew? What if he finally turned against the church or worse--against the God of the church? For more than a week, the battle raged deep within me. It was my toughest decision. My son never uttered another word about
the issue and on the surface, everything seemed calm and pleasant. Maybe, having vented his feelings, he had got over the whole silly idea of trying to keep me home. But I finally realised the issue was not my son--or whether I went or stayed--but whether I was prepared to sacrifice myself for someone else. Up to this point in my life, I had always been able to pursue ambitions with the thought that they were ultimately helping someone else.
I went to the conference president and told him I could not accept my appointment as delegate to the union and division sessions. His surprise was obvious. He knew I had been pleased with the idea. He didn't press me--at least not much--but he was a good man. Eventually I told him the true reason I was turning down the appointment. I was a bit disappointed when he just nodded, making virtually no comment.
I was even more disappointed when I told my son of my decision and he simply said "Good." Oh well--at least I had been willing to help.
But I was not disappointed by the strong sense that I had done the right thing. The round of home and professional duties did not suddenly become rose-tinted but they were done with a renewed sense of choice.
A few weeks later, the conference president came to me. "We found someone else to take your place as delegate to the division session," he said.
"Good," I responded. "But we want you to go to the union session." "But I explained to you why I couldn't go," I replied. "Can't that person do the union session, too?" "Yes, we want you both to go. We think because the union session is later, you might be able to go." I went home and asked my son, and was surprised when he said "Sure. My exams are finished then." But my biggest surprise was when I arrived at the meetings and met a total stranger in the elevator as I carried my bags to my room. "Hello," he said, "I bet you'll enjoy being involved with churchadministration for the next five years! Welcome to the Division Executive Committee!"
"What? What are you talking about?" He was right. I did spend the next five years pondering on church policies and listening to reports--both the exciting and the deadly dull! And I spent the following five years doing the same on the General Conference Executive Committee, meeting wonderful people from around the world and helping make decisions with a worldwide impact. It was an amazing privilege, culminating in the 2005 General Conference Session in St Louis. But during all those 10 years of decision-making, I never forgot that the most important decision I ever made for the church was to stay home for my son.
Don't make your children angry by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord. Ephesians 6:4. Elizabeth Ostring is a medical doctor and mother of now-adult children, who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.