Friday, October 18, 2013

A Time for Everything {Part 4}: How Cancelled Plans Can Make You Wise

The middle school football game was rained out last night and that meant no cheerleading. I drove to the middle school and picked her up, glum and disappointed. The rain had "ruined everything." No team meal, no fun half-time stunts. The spirit pins were damp and smeary and the straightened hair had turned frizzy. You know, stuff that stops the world from spinning on its axis when you're in 7th grade.

To make matters worse, the band room was locked so she couldn't bring home her instrument and use the evening to catch up on some practice. 

No homework, no game, no ability to practice. Whatever would we do?

Whatever we wanted to do. Or not do. A rare luxury indeed for a Thursday night in the middle of October. We came home and put on fuzzy pants. The kids played with neighbor friends and I visited with one of my own friends while I cleaned the kitchen and prepped for dinner. 

We ate at 7:30 and had leisurely conversation. Ever since the kids started public school, we try to use dinner time to share about our day with one another. My husband chooses who gets to go first and he keeps things moving along so that each kid has opportunity to share. 

But last night he did something different. 

Okay everybody, it's Mommy's turn to share about her day. I think it's good for you to know what she's doing and learning while you all are at school. 

So I told them about my morning at Bible study. I know, exciting stuff that my kids were totally dying to hear! I tried to keep it short and simple but I took the opportunity to tell them how much I love this study of Matthew and how God's Word really is our food. 

We had a brief conversation about the Sermon on the Mount and what the setting must have been like. And then I shared with them about God's kingdom being so completely upside-down compared to the values of this world's kingdom. We talked about how only Jesus can make our values different from the "right-side-up" kingdom that the world promotes.

They actually listened. 

All of this was maybe 5 or 6 minutes. Not long at all but long enough to share truth in a way that felt natural and organic instead of forced and formulaic.

The conversation then shifted to our normal suppertime topics: fourth grade boys getting in trouble for peeing on the bathroom walls; the youngest one singing his song about letters; the oldest one fretting over a math grade.

Before we even left the table, I realized the significance of an evening in which all the plans had been cancelled and we were left with the gift of unexpected time and togetherness. 

Though I definitely long for more evenings like last night, it didn't make me want to cancel every extracurricular thing in our lives and pursue a cloistered existence. {Well, it did a little bit.} God is clear; we are to be salt and light and that means we actually need to get out there. 

We're not planning to say no to all of our kids' endeavors because we think some of these opportunities are fruitful, both for them and for us as a family. There is no formula for when to say yes and when to say no, but I'm learning that there is certainly wisdom if we know where to look. 

I've made more than a few bad decisions concerning good opportunities. I've made pros and cons lists instead of being still in prayer. I've relied on my own knowledge and discounted my husband's wisdom. I've sacrificed my sanity and the good of my family in order to please others. I still struggle to prioritize. 

But. God is teaching me. I am slow but He is sure. In the midst of my bumbling and blundering, He is faithfully showing me the path of wisdom. Here's where I find it:

  • I look to God's Word. What does he have to say about family, about time, about the values of this upside-down kingdom my family belongs to? His Word is rich and I'm only beginning to scratch the surface.

  • I look to the leading of the Holy Spirit and that usually comes through prayer, though it sometimes comes through other means like a divinely-appointed conversation, wise counsel, fresh realization, or a timely book.

  • I look to my husband. He sees things I cannot. He is learning to make difficult, unpopular decisions for the good of those in his care, me included. I trust his wisdom and discernment, not because he's perfect but because God is perfect and He's ultimately the One in whom my trust is placed. Allowing my husband to make difficult decisions provides rest for my spirit and security for our children.

  • I look to each child and their individual needs, quirks, and limitations. If a child shows increasing anxiety, stress, and exhaustion because they can't keep up with everything, it's probably time to remove something from their plate. Conversely, if a child finishes all of his primary responsibilities and is bored, restless, or lonely, he may need the physical and / or social exertion of a sport.

  • I look to past mistakes. So often we learn by getting it wrong. We remember how we snap at our kids and are irritable with our spouses when we're frazzled and rushed. We recall how we came to resent something we never should have said yes to in the first place. We reflect on past missteps and resolve to make decisions that are more life-giving for everyone involved.

  • I measure space. In his book, Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson defines margin as "the space between our load and our limits." It doesn't take a genius to know that most of us don't have a healthy amount of margin in our lives. The unexpected will happen. Interruptions, inconveniences, and crises thwart our best-laid plans and filled-up calendars. Furthermore, we, as human beings need time to breathe and be still and be together. Our children need time to explore and imagine and experiment. When we've committed all of the space in our lives to outside endeavors, we suffer. Our bodies suffer. Our souls suffer. Our creativity suffers. Our relationships with those who matter most suffer. Some days are just crazy. That's life. But when I write out our weekly calendar and survey the next 7 days, I mentally measure margin for myself and for my family. If it's in short supply, I see what I can cut out. It's not easy. Just last week I cancelled a good thing because the week was over-scheduled and I needed to reinsert margin. When you're a people pleaser like me, this is a tough thing to do, but I'm learning that I can't afford not to. Safeguarding margin is one of the ways I serve and love my family. It's also one of the ways I take care of myself.

  • I look to real life. Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage." I say, "All the world's a classroom." I'm learning that every day holds all sorts of lessons if we pay attention. Real life taught me something yesterday. God hid a timely message within the simple events and exchanges of an everyday Thursday with cancelled plans. As my family shared both significant and silly things around the dinner table, as we enjoyed a leisurely evening, I thought about how I want more of this as a family and how we'll have to make complicated decisions in our effort to preserve a simple thing: unhurried time together to teach and to live the values of the upside-down kingdom. See how this simple realization provides wisdom for future decisions?

Again, there's no formula. But God is faithful to lead us as we seek answers to the tough dilemmas we face as families living in a fast-paced, overbooked culture. 

I so enjoyed the simple encouragement that one of my real-life friends, Anita, left on this blog post recently:

Why does this line of thinking have to sound so radical? While I am certainly no parenting expert, I can tell you we were once in your same place and declared "no" when it was quite unpopular more than a few times. Despite us and primarily by God's grace, we think our children turned out OK. Kids need "sand box" time to learn to rest, think, and imagine. It is never too early to begin to learn how to "Be STILL and KNOW that I AM GOD."

That comment was rich to me. We all need more sand box time, don't you think?

Saying yes to too many great opportunities doesn't guarantee anything...except maybe an over-scheduled, over-stressed life. And to be honest, saying no doesn't guarantee anything either. There are mixed motives and misplaced affections either way and this is why we need wisdom and courage whenever we speak either one.

There is so much to learn and consider regarding this topic so I'll continue a post or two next week. In the meantime, I'm going to finish reading a pretty incredible little book on this very subject. I'm not quite finished but already, I highly recommend it. The timing has been a gift. 

Crazy Busy: A {Mercifully} Short Book about a {Really} Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung.

DeYoung is an admittedly overcommitted pastor, author, husband, and father of five kids. With humor and grace, he writes from a well of experience, not because he's got it all figured out but because he's trying to. 

It's not a how-to book. You won't find a list of dos and don'ts. But it will challenge the way you think about opportunity and obligation, busy-ness, parenting in this crazy age, and the motives behind our yeses. I especially love the title of Chapter 6, "A Cruel Kindergarchy, Diagnosis #4: You Need to Stop Freaking Out about Your Kids."

We really do need to stop freaking out, don't we? This book is no cure but it's really helping us think more clearly about the ways we obligate ourselves and our kids and what really matters.


I welcome your comments and concerns as you face these challenges too. What's it like for your family? What informs your own decisions about time and commitment? Do you feel the tug to say yes to too many good things?

This post is the fourth post in a series: 

*all book links are amazon affiliate links

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1 comment:

  1. This series has been making me think so much and I'm on a quest to find more margin.

    As for cancelled plans - last Sunday after Sunday School our son was being really fussy, begging to go home and eat and drink. Not like him. So, we gave in and our whole family went home. And since the kid's program we are a part of in the evenings was cancelled for communion, we stayed home in the evening too. (I sort of feel guilty about missing communion...but my son obviously wasn't feeling that well and we needed our own family communion time.)

    We rested. We watched Stuart Little. We took naps. I ran a few errands. And it was perfect! So I know what you mean about cancelled plans and how sometimes, it's for the best.


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