Busyness: The Thief of Family Memories
“Seventeen summers” said the busy father, wistfully describing the memory of his oldest child growing up. He continued, “We get seventeen summer vacations, and then our children are gone.” His statement stung me as I thought about my own family experience. Is that all there is with parenting; seventeen family vacations? If scripture teaches that children are a blessing, why am I not enjoying that blessing?
I thought about my own busy schedule; go to work Monday through Friday with some evening work, then Monday night – Deacon’s meeting/basketball practice, Tuesday night – church visitation, Wednesday night – prayer meeting & youth Choir, Friday night – youth group meeting, Saturday – basketball game, yard work and church social, Sunday – teach Sunday School, attend worship, and back to church by 5:00pm for discipleship classes and evening worship. Most days we ate fast food or restaurant food while running to activities. My schedule allowed me exactly one night per week to spend with my family, and guess how we spent it? We went out to dinner, then watched television, a movie or I was on the internet! At one point my wife worked outside of the home, which would have made things even worse. Now she was busy providing taxi service to and from school, to basketball, to dance. Add to that television, video games, neighborhood friends and all kinds of other activities that I couldn’t oversee.
I realized that virtually every activity we were involved in divided our family! The “treadmill” that we were on was a thief of one of the greatest blessings of God; time with our children. In every arena of our life our relationships with others were superficial, and our busyness was contributing to superficial relationships with our children!
You have probably heard the statement that nobody gets to the end of their life and says, “I sure wish I had spent more time at work” or “I should have spent more time watching television” or “I wish I had made more money.” What do people say? They say, “I wish I had spent more time with my loved ones.” Even the respected evangelist Billy Graham said that if he could do it over again, he would spend more time with his family. But this problem is not unique to busy people like Dr. Graham. Most Americans can identify with this problem; it is a sign of the times. The problem is we can’t see it.
Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum asks this question, “Does a fish know that it is wet?” We answer, “Of course not. The fish has always lived in water. It is all the fish has ever known.” This is a very good analogy of our condition; we don’t realize that we are soaking wet with busyness, with keeping up with the Jones, with being consumed by things that have little long term value, and our relationships with others suffer.
For the parent, what has the greatest value, and what will bring us the best memories? Training up our children has great value; showing them how to live can change the world. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells this to fathers, “You shall teach them (God’s words) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” I realized that in all my busyness, and in all our activities, I could not obey this command.
Our best example of parenting is shown in the New Testament, with Jesus. Jesus had a Father and a stepfather. Jesus said this about His Father in John 5:20, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.” God personally trained and modeled to His Son what He expected. Joseph personally taught Jesus the trade of carpentry. Although Jesus may have learned a few things from Jewish scholars (and vice-versa), the primary responsibility was assumed by His Father and stepfather.
Today our family lives in the quiet, rural community of Landrum, South Carolina. I work out of my home; my children help me with tasks I need to get done. I teach them things I’ve learned. Now that we home school, our children’s SAT scores have improved, and my wife is enjoys “relearning” as she teaches most of the academics. We stay together during the activities at our small church. We have ministry projects we do as a family; our purpose is to be salt and light to our community. Each evening we sing hymns, read and talk about the Bible, and pray together. I tell my children stories of how God has worked in my life. We play ping pong and outdoor games. We read stories, play board games and do puzzles together. We get together with other families for fellowship. Now most evenings are spent together as a family. As I write this article I am drawn to the wonderful, familiar aroma of a home cooked meal, and the delightful sound of laughter.
Was this an easy change? No way! We have been far outside of our comfort zone. Our family income is much lower. I have been challenged to find a job that I can do from our home. We live in a less expensive home. Our drive time to the grocery store is now 25 minutes, instead of 10. Our children protested our move, and our oldest child resented our decision for a while. The children were bored at first as we slowed down, unplugged, and made other changes. We miss our friends. I gave up golf. Living together has required many adjustments from each family member. Our new lifestyle is in stark contrast with the status quo of the American culture; in some ways it is a throwback to earlier times.
However, we are beginning to see what a blessing our children are. We are making new friends. We already have some new memories together; busyness could never buy this! My wife loves her role as a Proverbs 31 woman. Our children are growing academically and spiritually; they are involved in ministry, rather than programs. Proverbs 13:20 says this, “Those who walk with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Since our children now spend more time with their parents than with other children (the biblical characterization of all children is fools), we have more influence in their lives. Now that I know my children better I can see their individual strengths and weaknesses. I believe that I will be much better prepared to advise them about their future calling and vocation. Our time together is starting to yield some sweet fruit! Who knows what the future holds, but I don’t think we will regret this decision.
Postlog: I wrote this article in 2005. Now, three years later we have seen the Lord work in our lives in more ways than I can adequately explain. I will never regret the extra time that I have spent with my family. Our children are truly blessings, and it has been a privilege to get to know them better, and to guide them as they pursue the Lord’s will in their lives individually. I love and appreciate my wife more than ever. We have sacrificed much, but the benefits outweigh the costs by an eternal margin.
Alan Melton is the founder of Disciple Like Jesus ministry. This ministry encourages parents to make disciples of their children in the same manner that Jesus made disciples. For more information, visit his website at DiscipleLikeJesus.com.