OUR KIDS TRUMP OUR CAREER AND MINISTRY
We were enjoying the first day of our one-week Florida getaway as a family. The kids were buzzing with all the fun we were going to have— from going to the beach to visiting Disney World. In the middle of the hotel lobby, I got a phone call from someone inviting me to come to a special meeting with him and the president of the United States, George W. Bush. While I listened to this call, I was looking at my family in the lobby, so excited about what we were planning to do. I told the person that I was in Florida on my family vacation. He said, “But, Ron, this is a two-hour meeting with the president of the United States.” I said, “I know that, but I’m on my vacation with my family.” He repeated his last statement.
After a few minutes of discourse, this very kind gentleman realized that nothing could dissuade me from spending time with my family, even a meeting with the president.
As I listened to what he was saying, I played in my mind the memory my kids would have and the message I would have sent them if I had given in to the desire to go meet with the president. Sure, my family would have forgiven me. Katie would have said, “Sure, honey, you can go.” There may or may not have been another opportunity to meet with the president, but there would never be another opportunity to raise my kids. There would never be another opportunity for this vacation. I had one chance to leave an indelible mark in their mind of the value that I place on them.
When my wife told the kids that I chose to spend time with them over meeting with the president, there is no amount of preaching or saying “I love you” that could possibly compare with the value they felt at that moment.
All of us are busy people. If you have a career, are involved in ministry, or have a desire to succeed in some kind of endeavor, there are always going to be other things to do to keep you away from your kids. You have to make a decision in advance that your spouse and children are more important to you than your career and/or ministry. Period! When you make that decision, many other decisions will fall into place, including where you spend your time and invest your heart. When “opportunities” come up, your priorities are already set. You may think, I’ll get promoted if I make this presentation really good and work over the weekend. But you also know that it’s your son’s first T-Ball game. There will always be another opportunity for promotion, but there will never be another first T-ball game. If you are in ministry, there will be another TV appearance or great church to preach in, but you will never get a chance to raise your kids again.
We need to be careful that our drive to succeed in business and ministry does not justify neglecting or overlooking the precious young ones God has given us to raise.
You need to make a decision that there are some things you are just not going to miss:
- You are not going to miss birthdays.
- You are not going to miss drama performances.
- You are not going to miss games. If a child has 30 games in a season, it’s okay to miss a few. But don’t be an absent father or mother.
- You are not going to miss celebrating your wedding anniversary.
I can think of opportunities that came up at the same time as a family birthday or anniversary. It seemed like this opportunity might never come my way again, but I had already made the decision about what I would not miss for the sake of my family. I don’t even mention most of these opportunities to my family, because it would be easy for them to feel bad (because they don’t want to mess up Dad’s career). And I have tried to avoid promising, “I’ll make it up to you later.” There are some things you just can’t make up. You send a bigger statement by just making sure that you are there for your family.
You don’t have to be a perfect parent. If you are just there and have a real relationship with your kids, it makes up for a lot of things that may not be so perfect. There will always be another big break, another deal to make, another promotion to go for; but you have only one chance to raise your kids. They will remember where you spent your time. They will remember if you sacrificed for your family.
But I Meant to Be There . . .
Famous words from a parent with good intentions: “I meant to be at your ballgame . . . I meant to be at your recital . . . I meant to be at your parent-teacher conference . . .” Are these words supposed to comfort the young person who sees every other parent but theirs at an event?
We easily say the words, “I really wanted to be there.” Think about that for a second. Did you REALLY want to be there? Whatever we really want to do, we do. When we tell our kids that we wanted to be there but could not make it, we are telling them we wanted to be somewhere else more, and that is why we were somewhere else. In a kid’s mind, all he is thinking is that if you really wanted to be there, you would have been there.
There are only a few situations when absence from a child’s event is unavoidable, when not being there is because of an emergency. When we say, “I really wanted to be there, but . . .” we are sending a message that we didn’t want to be there as much as we wanted our career or our
Decide in Advance
Make the decision in advance that you are going to give top priority to your spouse and your children. Does that mean there can’t be some massaging of this rule? Of course not; but I hesitate to even say that. Many families live from one compromise to another. They make a rule or decision and then they violate it repeatedly for the rest of their life.
If you make the decision in advance, missing out on an opportunity that comes your way is not such a hard thing to stomach. I did not get a chance to meet with President Bush, but I did get a chance to meet with my family. I lived according to my values. My kids love me, and I love them. I have decided what type of marriage and family I want, and everything else will have to revolve around that. I made the decision to not cheat my family long before I got the call to meet with the president.
We have always had a weekly family day or family date. Flexibility comes into play if for some reason I have to travel during our regular time together. Then we find another family time that week. If I work an extra day during my regular day off, I find another day to “give back” to the family. Katie does not have to beg me, or even ask. I just plan it into my life. I have tried to live so that my kids would never say, “But, Dad, you are never here,” even though I travel every week all over the country.
In fact, I would say that as my kids grew up, I actually spent more time with them than many fathers who never travel out of town. At the end of the day, when your kids are teenagers, and they still give you great big hugs, you realize it was no sacrifice at all.
Coming Home from Work
It’s so important that when you come home, you come home both physically and mentally. Many people come home from work so exhausted physically that they are not any good to their family. Their mind is still at work. They are sitting there with the kids thinking about what they are going to do the next day. Maybe they turn the TV on and get engaged in their favorite program and call that spending time with family.
When you go to work, you put your game face on. You work hard. When you get home from work, it’s the second half of your workday; it’s not over. It’s over when the kids are in bed. Your wife may have been working hard all day. Now is the time for the family work of being a parent. You focus and mentally engage. Turn off work; leave it in your briefcase. Don’t check your email. Engage with your kids. Roll around the floor. Laugh with them. Play with them. Do stupid things with them.
I remember when my kids were smaller—and even now that they are older—that I would tickle them, play with them, laugh with them, wrestle with them and listen to them. Closing my eyes at the end of an intense day and listening to their giggles and laughter as I tickled them on the floor would be like a waterfall over my soul just soothing away all the intensity of the day. It created balance in my life.
Your life is not all about your job. It is not all about your ministry. But it is all about the different dimensions that God has allowed you to participate in. If you have children, that is one dimension. There is something about a child’s laughter, and comforting them when they are hurting, and listening to their little hearts that brings wholesomeness to you as an adult.
You know that if you don’t go to work with your game face on and give your very best, you are in danger of being fired. It’s the same at home. If you don’t come home and put your game face on and give your very best, you are in danger of being fired by your kids. They will fire you from being the one they share their heart with. They will fire you from being the one they cuddle up to. They will fire you from being the one they trust with all their heart. I would rather be fired from my job than fired from my family.
The Gift of Family
It’s easy to think, If I put my family first, I am getting further behind; I have a list of things to do at my job (or ministry) that takes 24/7 to do. It really is a fallacy to think that way. In order to do your very best at your job or ministry, you need to be whole. You need to be strong. You need to have a whole family, whole children and a whole relationship with your spouse. By listening to them, disciplining, instructing, talking, running, being frustrated—just being present with them, you become a better person. When you go back to your office, you are not just a driven machine executing details; you are equipped to relate better to the people you are managing and deal with the frustrations they have at home.
It’s one-dimensional living to only go after your career or ministry. We often think that if we stay focused on that one dimension, we will be successful. If you are married, having a wholesome marriage will make you more successful than just being driven by your career. If you have children, being focused on your marriage and your children brings wholesomeness to your life so that when you put your game face on for work, you really are at 100 percent capacity rather than barely surviving from day to day.
Marrying Katie has truly saved my life. In order to have a balanced, wholesome marriage, I have learned that I’ve got to listen to her. I’ve learned how to say to myself, It’s time to shut work off and focus on her. When we decided to have children, we committed to spending the right amount of time with them. Family life has actually preserved my life and increased my chances of living a longer life because of the wholesomeness found in a relationship with my wife and children.
Don’t miss out on the experience of having your kids share something that enlightens you, or even rebukes you. They may show you a part of your personality that needs work. They will definitely give you joy. God brings our children into our life to make us the whole people we need to be to be effective in the world, period.