I'm fairly willing to admit my faults and weaknesses. It's not always easy, but when they're pointed out to me or if I notice them myself, it's unwise to pretend that they don't exist. One of my big faults is taking myself too seriously sometimes. Another one is the difficulty that I have with giving people the benefit of the doubt. It's easy to hide that when it's someone that's not too close to you, but when it happens to be your own flesh and blood, the realization stings and cuts deep.
Much of what I do as a worship pastor takes me away from my family. I do my best to make up time here and there during my children's waking hours, especially when I am out during bedtime. Occasionally, my children will inquire as to where I am going and sometimes even ask if they can tag along. Usually, if it's not Toys R Us or Target, they politely refuse any offer sent their way to join me.
This past Sunday, I have one of those 12-hour days that happen sometimes. After having a short break at home for about an hour, I needed to return to church for a 3 hour rehearsal followed by another 3 hour meeting. Lately, my 3 year old has taken to needing his "Daddy time" and I have generally been happy to oblige. He's a middle child and my wife and I have tried to be sensitive to that (her more than me as she's a middle child too).
As I was walking out the door, guitar in hand, he informed me that he wanted to come along. My wife and I made eye contact, speaking volumes in our looks, doing our best to discern what the right move was. As she started to respond, I gave her that "I've got this" look. I knelt down and explained where I was going to my son. I explained that I would not be able to play with him or color with him but would be playing music the whole time that I was there. I told him that it might be boring for him and that if he got restless, I would have to call his mommy to come get him. He acknowledged that he understood all that I had said and ran to the car.
As I walked out the door, my wife and I made our plans for what would happen in ten minutes when I called her. Still, there was a part of me that was kind of hopeful. Maybe this time would be different. Maybe he actually would not act crazy, you know, he is my son and all. My wife handed me the "survival kit" filled with crayons, coloring books, and various other creative distractions just in case.
We drove the few miles to my church and walked inside. I immediately began setting up and he took to coloring in the front pew. As the rehearsal got started, he stood there, encapsulated by the sounds, staring up at everything that was happening in front of him. He didn't yell, he didn't misbehave, he simply watched and listened. Every once in a while, he would dance and one time he even grabbed a couple of pencils and began using them as drumsticks, not in an "I'm an annoying 3 year old" kind of way but almost as if he knew exactly what he was doing (did he?).
My wife came by after an hour and asked how it was going. I informed her that he had done surprisingly well. When she told him that he had to leave, he put up a fuss, more than he had the whole time that he had been there. We agreed that he could stick it out for another hour, and he did. There were a number of times that I could have forgotten that he was there. He didn't act like a 3 year old, he acted like someone interested in seeing what their daddy was doing.
It wasn't until much later that night, after rehearsal and meeting were over, that I actually began to reflect on what happened. I was still so surprised at how he had acted, but why? Why could I not even give my own child the benefit of the doubt? Maybe past experience had been too strong to be ignored. Maybe I'm just a cynic. Whatever it was, I could have stifled him there and then, but something in me thought I would let him try it out.
As I was recently reading for one of my classes, I stumbled upon this quote from Dr. Wess Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International, "Allowing children into the mainstream of our lives lets them learn and understand their worth, not someday, but today. The most precious thing we can give our children as parents is warm, positive memories. More important than making cookies, getting the shopping done, or cleaning the house is what happens along the way. Childhood happens!" That's when this all hit me like a ton of bricks.
Time is no respecter of persons, it slows down for no one. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." We only have so much time with our kids to make an impact, to show them we love them, to spend quality time with them. I am guilty of missing it sometimes, but I do my best to make the most of what I have.
In the book by Stafford that I was reading called Too Small to Ignore, he goes on to say that we need to integrate children into our lives more, let them know that they are meaningful now, not when they grow up and can be "more productive." Like I said, it was a pretty heavy hitting moment for me as I put all the dots together.
My oldest son recently reported to me that I am the best dad in the world. When I asked him why, he said because I make him laugh. I was touched by the simplicity of his statement, but it also made me realize how important laughter and time are. I need to find more times to simply laugh with my children. I need to remember when they're pretending, that the ideas they have now could change the world some day. I want them to know that they're important to me now, not when they could be "more useful" to me.
One day, they'll be on their own and I wonder what they'll remember. Will they remember all the times I scolded them for playing ball in the house, or the times that I grabbed the ball, ran outside, and started playing with them? Will they remember the times I told them not to touch my guitar or the times that they came to a rehearsal with me and got to see exactly what Daddy does? I hope and pray that I can always remember to give them the benefit of the doubt, after all, someone did it for me, the least I can do is pay it forward.