Things I'll Say Along the Way
We’re having a baby in March. I am excited, nervous, reflective, calm, and hungry all at the same time. (That last one might not have to do with the pregnancy. But I’ll call it a sympathetic craving.)
Anyway, that got me thinking about all the things I learned from my parents, and how formative they were to my thinking. My Dad is very profound, but often by accident. Don’t get me wrong: he’s very intentional with his words and actions. But some of the things that stuck with me were moments we didn’t plan–wisdom just spilled over out of the tank of his experience and onto the soil of my young, impressionable mind.
Now I’m older and I get to be the one who purposefully draws from his perspective. But I’m also preparing this family of my own–and that’s got me wondering about what I’ll say to help my child along, and how I’ll say it. These lessons aren’t parsed out into a guidebook. I’m not going to force-feed my kid all the exaggerated riches of my self-important advice. But along the way–if I get a chance, and the moment is requested–here are some things I’ve learned that I hope will help my child truly live their life well.
I’m just going to focus on a few of the ones I learned in 2014.
YOU AREN’T GOING TO DO IT ALL
I overestimate my own abilities. My passion has a huge appetite and I’m going to say I’m ready for something even when I’m not. When I make a to-do list, I feel like I’ve failed unless I’ve accomplished the whole thing in the same day I wrote it! I give too much of my mental energy to unresolved matters, even after I’ve organized them. I don’t “unstring my bow” often enough, even when I claim to be relaxing.
I hope I model a lighthearted joy that encourages a modest rhythm to our family life. I’m going to be okay about failure and I’m not going to stress about today’s delays. Jesus said something like, “Each day has enough trouble of its own”, and I used to think that meant I could allow today’s troubles to bleed over into tomorrow if I wasn’t diligent enough.
Now, for the sake of my family, I’m letting myself off the hook.
Here’s what I’ve found: usually I have about three major priorities in a given day–matters just for me. Meditation, exercise, and writing, let’s say. I only ever get two of them done, and Leisha always has to pick me up out of the gutter because I feel like a silver medalist in the game of life.
I don’t want to place myself on the podium anymore. If I can model a better way of living by restraining my passion and managing my expectations, I know my kid will be healthier because of it.
YOUR NEED TO REST AND YOUR DESIRE TO ENTERTAIN YOURSELF AREN’T THE SAME THING
I love entertainment. I’ve heard stories about good Christian folks who don’t own a television and only read the Bible in their spare time, and while I admire their ethic, I know that kind of life would violate the storyteller’s soul in me.
But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I live in an age saturated with digital content, and everything is vying for my attention. And if I don’t distinguish between rest and entertainment, I’ll let someone else rob my creativity in exchange for a false sense of peace.
Here’s what I mean: have you ever watched television and found your motivation drained after your time of “relaxing”? Some people notice this, then throw out their DVD player in retaliation–and they still don’t learn how to rest. Enjoying a film, album, or novel can be a great way to rest.
You just have to be aware of the exchange you’re making: by subjecting yourself to someone else’s creativity, you’re in turn becoming passive and disengaged. It’s called musing. In moderation, it’s great–in excess, it’s paralyzing.
Rest, on the other hand, often takes discipline. You have to purpose a sense of stillness in your actions and attention. Real relaxation doesn’t happen by accident: that’s why so many people go on vacation and it makes their life feel worse!
In its deepest expression, rest actually takes faith.
You have to believe that you are more than a machine; you have to believe there is a deep peace available to you in the midst of all the contradictions. Real rest makes me aware of my common needs–like sleep and food and laughter–and if I neglect those things I suffer long-term consequences. I hope my life reflects such peace. In the chaos and conflict of a world we haven’t yet perfected, I want my child to see a better way in me.
YOU MUST KEEP AWARE OF WHAT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY
I have the “Superman” instinct in me. Set a problem before me, and I won’t rest until we find a solution. I’m humble enough to admit I can’t do everything, but I’m so narrow-minded that I try anyway.
If I pass this gene off to my kids, they’re going to exhaust themselves in virtue. It’s healthy, and appropriate, to make sure certain everyday things purposefully fall outside your jurisdiction! Are you really responsible for anything if you feel responsible for everything?
GIVE ALL YOUR ATTENTION OVER TO JUST ONE THING
A divided focus is toxic. Your mental state is oppressing you and you’re the last one to know why. We live in a time where “multitasking” seems like a virtue because all our status updates go off at once.
Outside the deception of our modern age, we are destroying our sanity–twenty different directions at a time. And we are losing our soul.
I already put my phone away from me when I am with others (unless I have a prior commitment to communicate over a matter–in which case I explain and apologize for the exception.) On a deeper level, though, I am growing in the capacity to give myself to just one matter at a time. At any given moment, there are twenty different things I can pay attention to. And they all hide in the recesses of my mind. Bad habits like procrastination and escapist fantasies form when I don’t forge my focus onto just one thing.
Besides, my kid deserves my undivided attention. Not just with my words, but with my very mind. I’ll never forget one of the most fundamental lessons my dad taught me along the way: no matter what trivial thing I was doing, he cared about it as much as I did. He wasn't faking it: he took an undivided interest in the things that captivated me. When I got older, I looked back with amazement. “Why did he care so much about cartoons and LEGO like that? Didn’t he have better things to do?” I wondered.
Now I see it. A life of peace, patience, and restfulness, is a life that can give its full attention to love. And I hope to share that with my child along the way.