Many years ago, back when we were just homeschooling our two older boys, I was walking with my wife through the book fair of our state convention. In a corner booth, I saw an old friend—the Bible flannel-board set I remembered from Sunday School.
If you didn’t grow up in that kind of church, this was a favorite visual aid in the younger grades. There was a background scene, printed on fuzzy felt, which showed a band of sky over a deep blue ocean. Overlays could change the landscape to a lakeshore, a riverside, or even a desert. The teacher could then illustrate the Bible lesson with figures and props, printed on the same material, which she’d stick up on the background as the story unfolded. And here they were, just like I remembered them!
Since we had four kids under 8 years old, I thought this would be a great addition to our family devotions and morning Bible times. The booth even offered a smaller-scale set for home use.
Then I had a brilliant idea. There were actually two options; you could sign-and-drive the whole set for about $150, but if you bought the printed material uncut, you could take it home for just $90. All you had to do was trim the figures before you needed to use them.
Not only was this an immediate saving, but I was in the middle of a job change and living away from my family during the week. I could do this little bit of finishing work in the evenings in front of the TV, since I was by myself anyway. The timing was perfect.
So I bought the set, proud of my economy as well as my forward-thinking spiritual leadership.
Do you have any idea how many people there are in the Bible?
Or how many objects they handled?
Oh my word.
Those four little boys are all licensed drivers now, and three of them have left home for college, but there are still Bible figures imprisoned side-by-side in their fuzzy felt sheets. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but when I got home, I found I’d bit off more than I was prepared to manage. I’ll cheerfully set off to read a 400-page book, but I didn’t have the patience to cut out 400 fabric people.
It was an important lesson for me. My time and attention are worth something, and sometimes worth more than money. It would have been a better investment for me to spend another $60 and have a usable tool for our family, than to launch a project I was capable of doing but which didn’t match my temperament and motivation.
And here’s the rub: the same thing is true for our wives’ time. We might be able to point to our paycheck and say, “My time is worth $15 or $25 or $150 an hour—I really shouldn’t be doing this particular task.” But my beloved friend who stays home to care for our children, without a paycheck to brandish, has valuable time and attention as well. Who else will nurse our babies? Who is going to train up our children? Who will make this house a home and a safe harbor for our whole family?
If I can put out a few dollars to free up my wife’s time, it’s a good investment. It may mean buying paper plates or installing a second-hand dishwasher I found on Craig’s List. It might mean running by McDonald’s on the way home from work on the really busy day of the week. Or it might mean encouraging her to buy curriculum and workbooks which make school time go smoother for her and the kids—even if it isn’t the cheapest alternative.
Reducing the frustration and drudgery in her life may give her more time to exercise her unique gifts, whether it’s cooking, or counseling, or investigative journalism, or managing a business … all of which my wife has done.
Meanwhile, I look at the charming young daughters God gave us, now about the age those little boys were then, as they cut out their paper dolls and folded snowflakes. I wonder … can they count to 400?