Summer brings a sense of excitement to our entire family—especially for our four kids, ranging in age from nine to one. My oldest kids especially love the days of unplanned time when they can run through the neighborhood inventing silly games with their friends. At this age, they also love spending time with their parents—whether throwing ball in the backyard, going on a family hike, or taking a vacation to the beach.
My wife and I will often get comments from those who see our family enjoying time together that go something like this:
“You’d better treasure this. Before you know it they will be grown.”
“I remember when my kids were that age. It seems like only yesterday.”
“One day soon you are going to be walking those girls down the aisle.”
By now, I’ve gotten used to these comments—even though I still want to slap people who talk about my little girls getting married. You can almost see people having a flashback to a similar experience with their kids. “Before you know it” has arrived for them, and the memories are clearly precious.
This year, I’ve often reflected on these comments. Maybe it’s because my oldest child is beginning the inevitable transition from little girl to teenager. Maybe it’s because my baby doesn’t look like a baby any more. Or maybe it’s just because I’m getting old. I don’t want to look back on these years with regret thinking that somehow I missed them, that I rushed through them, that I look them for granted, or that I didn’t treasure the gifts that these years bring.
But how? It’s seems that I’m prone to one of two extremes when it comes to treasuring the moments of life with my family.
On the one hand, I don’t try hard enough. Many times, I’m simply distracted. Young parents, like me, are often at critical junctures in their lives and careers. We have passion and energy and long to steward our lives in a way that matters. We want to make a difference. We want to matter. We want to serve in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling. These God-given longings can form a toxic concoction when they are mixed with a bit of youthful pride, people-pleasing, and idolatry. Our drive for more can cause us to spend countless hours jockeying for the next thing and pretending we’re more important than we actually are. The steady ping of cell phones signals to the world that we matter (or at least so we think) and may tell our family that they don’t.
Rather than believing the hype I want to create for myself, I can rest in the fact that a sovereign God does not need my help to position my life for maximum effectiveness. I must learn that it’s ok to for there to not be another big project waiting, countless emails or tweets that need a reply, meetings that I have to attend, or other tasks that prop up my already-inflated pride.
On the other hand, at times I try too hard. The mental pressure to treasure the moments can actually have a reverse effect on my ability to do just that. If I’m consumed with the fleeting value of these moments then I’m often not fully present in the moments themselves. Sure, there will be a day when my son is not jumping into my arms at the pool and asking me to throw him for the thousandth time that hour. There will be a day when my little girls don’t fight over who gets to sit in my lap to read a book. I know these days are coming. But right now those days are not yet here. I must learn to treasure these moments by living fully in them today rather than hitting the mental fast-forward button.
I can put so much pressure on myself to take advantage of these days that I manipulate the moments rather than enjoy them. My efforts at creating fun for our family often feel like trying to get us to pose for a group picture. In spite of my best efforts, someone is always staring aimlessly into space or crying after being forced to quit having fun so we can take another family picture. I’ve heard the message: dads should work as hard to create fun and joy in their homes as they work on creative endeavors in their jobs or at pursuing their hobbies. I get it. I’m a detail person and wee-bit obsessive, so I’m quick to heed this counsel. Yet, my perfect plan for a day that the family will always treasure is short-circuited every time. About ten minutes into the perfect day, someone needs to be disciplined, another kid blows out a diaper, and the other two think my plan is dumb in the first place. I must learn that memories are made in the chaos of life and not when my plan is executed to perfection.
This temptation is compounded by the Insta-culture in which we live. Now the effort is not simply to create moments our family will treasure, but to create just the right moment for others to see on our social media platforms. Neither my wife nor I currently live in our childhood hometown. We don’t even live in the same town as any of our close family members. As a result, we share a ton of cute pictures and funny stories via text messages or social media. It allows family and friends who may not get to see us all that often to have a glimpse into our lives and to meet our kids (who we think are pretty awesome).
Yet, if I’m not careful I’m prone to use social media as a way of promoting a fictions image of our family—one free of pain, frustration, sin, and failure. I’m prone to run to the comments section to find validation that I’m doing a pretty good job as a dad because, more often than not, I’m not all that sure that I am. I must learn that flaunting my family for public praise may cause me to treasure the moment more than the people in the moment,
Somewhere between these extremes seems to be where I need to live in order to treasure these fleeting days. I know that it will be here before you know it, well, before I know it. For now, it is today, and I need to experience it fully, or I may miss it completely.