In the early days of our parenthood, it sometimes seemed that life would go on forever as it was going then. We’d never have any money, we’d never have a child old enough to babysit, we’d never have air conditioning. I was so tense as a young man that I made life harder for myself and those around me.
I’ve heard Marilyn say that when she had three children, life was tougher than it was with eight because when she had only three, there were no big helpers. Two were in diapers, and Rickey was a bundle of energy. Now, of course, we have some good help trained and that is a blessing, but the extra needs of the family are felt, too. It takes a tremendous expenditure of time, finances and effort to do what we do.
But by now we know that it won’t always be this way. There may be tougher times with a sick child or persecution such as when we were in court over home education. And there will almost certainly be easier times, too, when more of our children are mature teens and ready to carry their own weight and somebody else’s, too. All we know for sure is that everything that comes to pass, passes.
One of the blessings of our hard seasons is the powerful motivation they have been to train our children in wisdom. Not infrequently, I find myself telling one or more of my children, “Now don’t be like me when I _____” and fill in the blank. There are those who say that children have to make all their own mistakes. I say baloney. We all agree that it’s not a good idea to stand in the path of a speeding truck, and we didn’t learn it by experience. Some things have to be learned by one’s own mistakes but a lot of things can be learned from the experiences of others. I want my children to learn from my mistakes and not have to make their own. I have enough mistakes in my repertoire to go around.
Some of the things I’ve learned, through bitter experience, which I want to pass on to my children are:
Stay in the Word. Work hard even when you’re discouraged- it helps. Consider self-employment; there’s flexibility when it’s done right. Develop a personal and family ministry. If others aren’t ministering, don’t complain; minister instead. Keep a screwdriver handy. There are loose doorknobs everywhere.
One day in the fall when Rick and Tim were little guys around kindergarten age, we went to the woods to give our dogs a run. I kept the dogs in the car at first and sent the boys running off through the trees to hide so the dogs could hunt them down. I watched them trot eagerly away in their jackets and sneakers while a shower of yellow and orange leaves cascaded down through the clear autumn air. The thought struck me that this was a good day in my life and that I should enjoy it. Those were my precious little sons galloping away through the leaves and they were happy and healthy. They had a wonderful mother and two baby brothers and dogs to play with in the woods. It was a good day in their lives as well as mine.
It’s a shame that it seems so easy to get distracted, by a little difficulty, from great blessings. The season in which we find ourselves is never all good or all bad, but it is temporary and we should savor it while it’s here. I was reminiscing a while back with a man I see only once or twice a year. His son was my best friend in junior high and high school and they put up with seeing a lot of me then. As I reminded him of some of the things we used to do together, he said, “Yes, those were good years.”
They hadn’t seemed so good to me because it was during those years that my family was going through some hard times and I was struggling to live with myself while growing up. But talking to him reminded me that there had been some wonderful times and dear friends. I’m glad those years look good to him in memory because he made them better for me.
One day in May, Marilyn was sitting out in a lawn chair during a rare moment of leisure and watching the children play in the yard. She said the strongest feeling came over her that God was saying to her, “Enjoy this day. This is a precious time with your children. Treasure this day in your heart.”
That’s something I’ve had a hard time learning and it’s earned me a few wifely scoldings. I don’t know why contentment has been such a hard lesson to learn but it must be one of my besetting sins. I’d never make a guru because I can’t sit still. But I’m getting better.
Fortunately, there is enough nostalgia in my makeup to compensate for mental hyperactivity. I love to sit and look at our photos. The children love it, too, and we have some pretty tattered photo albums. There ought to be a custom that every couple receives a VCR for a wedding present. All we had to start with was a cheap instamatic but I’m glad we had it. Still, I do wish we’d had a VCR or movie camera to watch baby’s first steps and early attempts at swimming. And about a million other things. Besides my own memories, I think there’s a lot of value in building memories for the children to take with them into adulthood and families of their own.
The burdens of young parents are keenly felt, and it’s often hard to drop everything in the middle of a chore, and run for a camera. But it’s very rewarding if you can just get used to the idea that the housework will keep while you snap a picture or two. I would never encourage you to be a sloppy housekeeper, but there are priorities. If you’re not enjoying your children, you’re too busy. Children grow up overnight whether you want them to or not, and you can’t afford to miss little happenings that will one day be your memories.
If you’re like me, you can think of a million things you’d like to have time to do. Worthwhile things, too. I’d like to learn to play a musical instrument, be more involved in politics, be more active in my church, and read a lot of good books. (Some of which have been on my shelf for years). Many times, I’ve thought how I could improve myself if I only had time. But God reminds me that He is improving me through the very common responsibilities that I think are keeping me from my chosen pursuits.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what challenges, responsibilities and opportunities to bring into our lives as He builds a life curriculum for each of us. It is when we kick against the pricks and are constantly looking for something else more fulfilling that we miss fulfillment.
I hear a story about an elderly preacher and his wife who went to hear a promising young preacher speak to a large and responsive crowd. As they walked home afterward, the lady said, “My, wasn’t that young man a great preacher!”
To which her husband replied, “Yes, after he has suffered for awhile, he will be a great preacher.”
I guess most of us don’t think of having a baby barf down one’s shoulder as suffering for the Lord, but in the final analysis, what else could you call it?
I used to think that I was wasting my potential by not being in a full-time ministerial position. These days, I’m coming to see that there’s no more important ministry than the stewardship of little lives. We moms and dads hold the keys to future generations. We mustn’t get bogged down in the daily grind and forget to smell the roses, on one hand, and revel in the prospect of future achievement on the other.
This business of being in the ministry seems to apply to women as well as men. I’ve known guys who put their families through torture trying to finish college and get that paper in their hand. But for every one of them, I suspect I’ve known at least one woman who was itching for more of a ministry as well. We have lady friends who seem always on the lookout for a friend or neighbor who is an emotional basketcase so they can minister. We know other women who desire to “leave their mark on the world.” Do you think Susannah Wesley left her mark on the world?
It’s interesting to think that the moms who are looking for a ministry outside their families often pick people who never seem to make spiritual progress. Maybe they lack the spiritual discernment to refrain from casting pearls before swine or maybe they naturally gravitate to people who have promise of being a long-term market for their own misplaced mother instincts. It’s also worth remarking that I’ve observed other women diligently but fruitlessly ministering to other women when their own husbands and children have unmet needs. Where is their authority to speak?
The principle in Scripture is for older women to teach younger women to love their husbands, love their children, be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind and subject to their own husbands (see Titus 2 NASV). Now, I would think that the first requirement to teach pottery would be the ability to make a pot. I would also think it logical that the first requirement to teach all these womanly skills to others would be the demonstration of them in one’s own family.
God seems to be serious about the principle of seasons. Note that He wants older women teaching younger women. He also gives a list of curriculum components. It seems that younger women should concentrate on learning to do their job in their own family before aspiring to teach others. It’s more glamorous teaching a ladies’ Bible study than dipping diapers, but evidently they both have their season.
There will be different seasons in the lives of our children, we’ve found. There was a time when we were living in our little yellow house in Concord and had two, then three, then four little boys. I was young and eager, wanting to get into full-time ministry work and leaving no stone unturned looking for God’s big opportunity for me. I was eager to get into the Lord’s work and out of painting. My wife stuck close to her home and children while my eyes were on the ends of the earth.
In the long run, it was not my eagerness, but my children, that gave me an opportunity to speak.
Marilyn was so faithful in training her children. She had those little guys memorizing Scripture and character qualities and learning responsibility of the family. We dreamed of the day they would take their places in the adult world and we could enjoy the fruits of our labors in their success. It seemed along time that they were just little children whom people thought very bright, but who were too young to really accomplish anything.
Then one day, we woke up and our little boys were doing adult things. We had sons ushering in church, playing the piano, singing in the choir, remodeling the nursery. They were going to political conventions and working the polls. They were helping me make a living for their siblings and building a reputation in the community for responsibility and diligence. Gone was our secluded life at Concord which could have been even more happy and peaceful if only I had known how to wait on God and savor the season.
It was no coincidence that as my children grew so did our outreach. The larger our family became and the more our children began to do, the more people were interested in what Marilyn and I were learning. I had thought as a young man that I had so much to say and that the world was suffering because there was no platform from which I could say it. Frankly, that embarrasses me now because I’m finding that there is more I don’t know with every year that passes. And as I grow dumber, my children advance in their roles in the world outside the walls of our home and we, their parents, get more and more respect.
It’s a mistake to try to make our children grow up too fast. I always looked forward to the days when our children would be teenagers and now I wonder how I could have forgotten so quickly what it was like to be a teenager. I should have spent those early seasons enjoying my children as little ones and making the most of each day with them. Some people fear making their children too dependent on Mommy and Daddy. That’s like being afraid of gravity. Gravity has some disadvantages, but nothing to compare to being flung into outer space if gravity suddenly ceased to exist. I hope my children always feel the tug of home. I see the results of the opposite condition all through our society and wonder if all those working mothers and career-oriented, status-conscious dads really think it’s worth it to miss out on the springtime of their children’s lives.
If Marilyn and I could offer suggestions to younger parents, we’d tell them to look at the bright side of each season of life rather than longing for a season that is not yet due, or is gone and can’t return. We lived through a time when we had no big boys to babysit while we went out together and that seemed a disadvantage. Now we know that it was much easier having a quiet household then, than it is now. We could get everybody in bed at the same time at night and Marilyn could even get some quiet time during afternoon naps. We have our babysitters now and brother, do we need them! Gone are the long, quiet evenings at home with lots of time to talk. Now we have to go out to dinner to discuss anything at length. It’s not that our children are terribly unruly, but fourteen people in the same house can be a distraction.
It may be that our twilight years will be our best. Then we’ll have our children raised and the financial burden eased so that we can rest and play more. I never want to retire, but I’d like to have more choice in how I spend my time. I want to bask in the glow of sons and daughters who are honoring God and enjoy getting acquainted with my new children by marriage. I want to see the family network expand and influence the world around us for the Lord. I’d like to write a book now and then, and occasionally have opportunity to speak to parent groups, encouraging them to make the most of the seasons of their children’s lives.
One thing I don’t want in my later years is to regret my earlier life. I don’t want to look back on the times when there were little ones constantly wanting to be read to or played with in the sandbox and think that I never quite had enough time for those things. By then, I’ll know so very well that children don’t continue to want those things forever. I hope I’ll look back and remember thankfully that I subordinated my own interests and made the effort to invest in theirs.
Today, life is demanding. We have infants to care for at the same time we have young men needing our help in making the transition into the adult world. We face constantly changing needs, clothing is continually being outgrown and it seems there is no end to the errands needing to be run. But it wasn’t always this way and it won’t always be this way.
When the next season comes, I hope I look back on this one and recall that I wrung the good out of every day and took the lumps with some degree of patience. I hope that my children will remember happily how I dealt with them and want to deal with their children the same way. Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.