Last week I wrote about the importance of being present with others. Over the course of my sabbatical, God wonderful did an amazing work in my life around what it means for me to be a dad. Seriously, if the only thing that had happened over the course of my sabbatical was this one significant shift in me, I would be utterly grateful to you all for allowing me to have this time!
Being a dad has always been a joy for me. I still remember with great joy (and huge dollops of fear) when Charis, our eldest, was born. Suddenly our world was flooded with rivers of life and joy and happiness. However, looking back over the past 10½ years, there have been too many moments when I was not fully present. Maybe a better way of describing this is to say I was ‘half-present’ – distracted.
Enjoying a season when I could unplug from the normal pace and pressures of life, I suddenly realised how frequently I was missing out on giving to my daughters one of the most precious gifts I could: my full and undivided attention. Over the course of my sabbatical, I noticed that, as I gave them my full attention, the girls more easily opened up and started talking to me about life issues which were exciting, worrying, intriguing or frustrating them. Even sat writing this now, I feel quite emotional as I consider how grateful I am, that over the course of three months I learnt a lesson which I hope will ensure that I will be far more present with my girls over the coming 10 years.
In his book, The Heart of Success, Rob Parsons lists some warning signs that suggest you may not be ‘being present’ with your family:
- Your kids have stopped telling you about their problems and achievements.
- Your partner feels excluded. You don’t row, so much as simply not talk, any more – what one husband called ‘a creeping separateness’.
- You are often late for important family events.
- You believe yourself when you say, ‘Soon we’ll have more time.’.
So how has it been, this side of the sabbatical? I can honestly say that, even though life has ramped up and it’s becomimg harder, I’m learning how to be present in the moments we have, so that my family can have of my best. Here’s what it looks like for me to be present for my girls in the hustle and bustle of life:
- It starts in the heart. As a father wanting to give the best that I have to my girls, I need to choose to die to selfish desires and give my best when my girls need it!
- It often requires seizing the moment. My kids are great at wanting to talk about something deep and personal or exciting and thrilling (such as the Trinity) just as their heads hit the pillow. Now, you cannot always respond to these questions, but to never respond is to miss the opportunity to be present when they want me to be.
- It takes thought. Learning how to ask questions that make sense in a child’s world is tough (at least for me!). I’m having to relearn how to ask questions so that I can help unlock my children’s hearts, so we can move to having conversations that are beyond the superficial.
- It means saying no! We’ve deliberately chosen to say no to activities that happen on a Saturdays and Sundays because we want to model to our kids that family time and time with the church community are more important than a club or activity (although there are, of course, exceptions to this rule from time to time).
- It takes planning. Lorna and I each try to take one of our girls out on our own, once a week, so that we have some dedicated and quality time with each of our girls. Normally this involves a babyccino!
- It takes creativity. Over the summer, Blue Peter was running a series based around MI5. I grabbed this idea and built it into some family devotions, where I got the girls to ‘investigate’ a passage together. Honestly, I’m not sure it was very good, but the girls loved it and I think that was because I had taken time to plan something for them. At the moment we’re using the iPad app to learn the New City Catechism together.
- It takes the grace of God. As a result of these experiences during my sabbatical, I’m even more aware of my utter dependence upon God for help to be a dad who is fully present.