“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Some people are simply too busy and are headed for burnout if they do not slow down. But to be honest, I do not know very many people like that.
I fear that we develop a way of thinking that fixates on what we perceive to be the negative aspects of every situation and season of life. This is a particular danger for parents. It is true that each season of a child’s life presents unique parental challenges that keep us busy; newborns do not allow their parents to get much sleep, toddlers are into everything, adolescents are trying to figure out growing independence along with hormonal changes, and older adolescents do not always transition to adulthood gracefully. But should we view these transitions and busy seasons as enemies stealing something from us or as strategic opportunities God is providing us as Christian parents?
For instance, parents often are exasperated when they have to deal with their child’s sin. Some verbalize the attitude by saying something like, “I cannot believe you would do that! You know how much I have to do today! I don’t have time for this!” But isn’t that one of your primary roles as a Christian parent? It would be a curse and not a blessing if you never saw your child’s sin. Teaching your child that they are a sinner and that there are consequences for sin in order to point them to the hope found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ is our most foundational responsibility as Christian parents. Dealing with your child’s sin is not an interruption to your day as much as it is a strategic gospel opportunity. Every parent only gets so many of those opportunities.
Judi and I are often asked by young mothers how they can stay spiritually vibrant and focused now that they are so busy with young children that they cannot have the one-hour devotional time they used to have. Our response is, “Who says a one-hour quiet time is they key to spiritual growth and vitality?” A daily one-hour, uninterrupted devotional time is great but it is certainly not the only way to have Scripture intake, pray, and worship. Maybe you will have to be creative and post Scripture around the house in places you spend a lot of time in order to mediate on it during the course of the day. Perhaps you will have to say shorter prayers but intersperse them more consistently throughout the day and break into song while your changing diapers. When you think about the creative possibilities and the way you may be pushed beyond your present categories of how to exercise spiritual disciplines then the busyness of a particular season of life may become a spiritual catalyst and not a spiritual enemy.
I could give many other examples, but I simply want to encourage Christian parents to think about the strategic benefits of every season of life. As the parents of eight children who are active in church, school, community service, and sports we spend a great deal of time picking up and dropping off at various activities. We try to remind ourselves that those rides are strategic opportunities that we will not always have. One day there will be no more sporting events to take them to and from. The real question is, while we still have these strategic opportunities, how are we going to leverage them for the glory of Christ in training our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord? Some of the most important gospel conversations and discipleship talks I have ever had with my children have taken place on those rides as we talk about how Christian commitment should shape every aspect of daily life.
The passage cited at the beginning of this article is known in Jewish tradition as the Shema (Duet 6:4-9). When God established Israel as his chosen covenant people, he established responsibility for parents to nurture their children in the faith. This is a clear charge given by the Lord God to moms and dads. The word translated, “teach” (Deut 6:7) is a word that means, “to pierce.” Parents are to teach (pierce) their children diligently (carefully and repeatedly) with the truth of God. Eugene Merrill suggests the image of an “engraver” chiseling with painstaking care into a solid slab. The command goes to great pains to make clear that this teaching is to take place in the every day busyness of life.
Deuteronomy 6:7 b, admonishes parents to teach their children “when you walk by the way
We tend to use busyness as a built-in excuse for not thriving. Busyness often becomes a reflexive defense mechanism to rationalize our struggles. I think the busyness involved with parenting children living in the home provides strategic opportunities for genuine Christian discipleship. Real discipleship is not abstract and utopian. It does not demand the perfect setting and uninterrupted time for spiritual growth and vitality. Rather, it is a call to take up our cross and follow Christ in the real world grind of our daily lives that are full of activity and busyness. Sitting around thinking about what you would do for Jesus if your life were different is a self-deceptive form of unbelief that keeps you from strategically serving Jesus with the life you actually have.
If you teach your children that spiritual vitality and growth only takes place in a pristine environment then you are setting them up for a life of discontentment in a fallen world stained by sin. A world that is anything but pristine. Your busy and often messy life provides you a strategic setting to teach your children what Paul meant when he wrote, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11b-13).
Paul was a busy man. Plans rarely unfolded in the way Paul wanted (2 Cor 11:22-33). Once he found himself unjustly imprisoned but he wanted to assure everyone that he saw his imprisonment as a strategic gospel opportunity: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in blazing a trail for the gospel” (Phil. 1:12, author translation). Perhaps, those piles of dirty clothes to wash, diapers to change, dashing around to sporting events, carpool lines, yard work, trips to the grocery store are not the problem, but actually strategic settings to blaze a trail for the gospel.