As a pastor of a young, growing church and the father of a young, growing family, I'm often tempted to give a toy instead of giving my time. Instead of rolling around on the rug wrestling with Jack or having a princess tea party with Laura Kate, there is the tug to take a shortcut and give some thing instead of myself. The reason I sometimes face this temptation is because it's easier and quicker, and many times after a busy day dealing with church folks or zoning officials or convention politics I just don't feel like I have much left to give. That may not make me sound like a nominee for Father of the Year, but it's the truth.
That's when that simple little statement about love and things and time comes to my mind and I remember that even though my parents may not have had piles of extra money lying around to buy stuff for me as I was growing up, I could always count on their time. I can't count the number of days I spent with my father messing with bird dogs or raising chickens for poultry shows. I remember several times sitting in class after lunch and hearing the principal come over the intercom telling my teacher that my dad was there to pick me up. When I ran out to the truck, my dad would be there with a member of the church (usually it was the chairman of deacons), my hunting clothes and shotgun. We spent the rest of the day chasing bird dogs and hunting together. It wasn't just a one-time thing. There were hunting trips to Texas, fishing trips to the Tellico River in East Tennessee and one trip in January where I rode in the back of a Ford pickup with a camper top with a bunch of show chickens all the way from Milan, Tenn., to Columbus, Ohio. It was great! I remember the time my mom spent helping me learn how to cook, ride a bike, and read. They didn't have a lot of extra money, but my parents showed me how much they loved me with the time that they gave me -- not by the stuff they bought me.
Now that I'm an adult and have my own family and responsibilities, I've discovered that time is the much more expensive gift. I think that it was Benjamin Franklin that said, "Don't squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of." Well, it's not only the stuff that life is made of, it's really the most expensive and extravagant gift that we can give to those we love.
With all this in mind, I want to just share some very simple, and I pray meaningful, ways for you to share time with your children. These are really in no particular order and I don't claim that this list is exhaustive at all. This is just one parent's list of things that were meaningful to me as a child or things that I've noticed have struck an evident chord in the heart of my children.
-- Spend time reading to, or with, your children every day. It doesn't matter if it's only for 15 minutes. It's something that they will never forget, and it will help move them way down the road toward developing a life-long love of reading and books.
-- Choose something that you can do together as a family. Horse shoes. Golf. Badminton. Running. Biking. Hiking. Playing music. Whatever.
-- Start a family memory book. Take pictures of the family on vacation, playing together. Write down stories to remember later on. Share favorite movies, quotes, colors, foods, etc. One very important thing for families with multiple children is to take lots of pictures of the children together. Those pictures will be worth more than gold to you and your children when they're grown and gone.
-- Think of ways to help make your neighborhood safer, and then spend time working on those things together. This will not only provide a great opportunity to work together, but will also help foster a sense of security, safety and responsibility in your children.
-- Find at least one extracurricular activity for each child to be involved in and help them become the best at that activity that they can possibly be.
-- Take your children hunting or fishing. Very few things compare to this time spent together and the life lessons learned during this time will last a lifetime.
-- Work on developing a family calendar together. Let everybody share input on what they'd like to do and when. Where will we go on vacation next year? What do you want to do on Family Day? It's so easy for one parent to do all of the planning and cause the rest of the family to miss out on a variety of things to do together.
-- Spend time outdoors together. Walk in the woods. Go four-wheeling. Make snow angels or snow forts. Go picnicking at a state park.
Parents, don't take the cheap, shortcut way out. I know that our schedules are busier and free time is more valuable and scarce than ever before, but that's just the thing that makes it so meaningful when we share it together with our family. Turn the cell phone off. Close the laptop. Turn the TV off and spend time with your family. When you do, you haven't just spent time -- you've invested it, and the return will be greater than you could ever imagine.
So, with all that in mind, I'm closing up my laptop because there's a little boy who needs to be wrestled with and a little girl who's got a book in her hand wanting me to read.
Brad Whitt is senior pastor of the Temple Baptist Church in Simpsonville, SC. This column first appeared at his website, BradWhitt.com.
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