Investing In Time

Investing in Time

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.

Ahem.

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?

Listening For Unwelcome Advice

BoyDads Donkey MemeOne of the principles I try to teach my sons is to take criticism and advice well. We guys tend to be proud and self-reliant, and since we all fall short at different places and times, we can use some humility.   We definitely need the help. Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem “If …” holds out a standard – “trust yourself when all men doubt you / But make allowance for their doubting, too.”

More often, I think of the case of Balaam’s donkey. If you’re not up on Old Testament history, Balaam was a supposed prophet during the conquest of Canaan. The leaders of the Canaanite nations of Moab and Midian saw the crushing defeat of their Amorite neighbors, and they hired Balaam to curse the incoming tide of Israelites. After some dithering and negotiation, Balaam saddled his donkey and rode to the front.

“Then God’s anger was aroused because he went,” the Bible tells us, “and the Angel of the LORD took His stand in the way as an adversary against him.” Three times, the donkey balked at a heavenly presence which Balaam couldn’t see, turning off the pathway, squeezing the prophet’s foot against a wall, and finally laying down right in the middle of the road. When the frustrated rider began to beat the animal, a remarkable conversation occurred:

Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”

And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!”

So the donkey said to Balaam, “[Am] I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since [I became] yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?” And he said, “No.”

Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the LORD standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face.

And the Angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because [your] way is perverse before Me. The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.”  (Numbers 22:22-33)

What do I take from this? Two important lessons:

First, we can’t always see the dangers ahead of us. It pays to listen to someone else’s perspective.

And second, sometimes God sends good advice through unwelcome sources.  A mature man will consider the advice for its own worth, not get angry and defensive with the person who gave it. Think of him as a donkey if you like, but still, pay attention – it might save your life.

(You can read the whole account of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22 and 23. The rest of the Bible tells us Balaam was a truly bad character, but in this case he eventually blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them. These quotations are from the New King James Version.)

Dads, how do you help your boys (and yourself) see past the one giving the advice so you can truly examine the advice being given? Share some insights in the comments!

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Hal Young is the father of six sons, aged 11 to adult. He and his wife Melanie are the authors of Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys, and the upcoming My Beloved and My Friend: How To Be Married To Your Best Friend Without Changing Spouses (Great Waters Press). Visit their website at www.RaisingRealMen.com or their Facebook page www.facebook.com/raisingrealmen.

Sharing the Glory of the Mundane

Gloryofmundane

I sometimes look around me and wonder how in the world I can communicate a concept to my sons. I have a great batch of guys here, two adults and four younger sons, and I am humbled and delighted by the men they are growing to be, every one of them. God has blessed our efforts to raise them to know their Savior and their duty, and to embrace them both.

But there’s something I recognize in myself that I never expected when I was younger, and no one ever really spoke to me about. Like most young guys, I had visions of the different roles I hoped to play. The childhood dreams of military glory and academic honor moderated to the actual achievements of a decent education and an honorable four years as a lieutenant.  My late-high school decision to pursue an engineering degree led to a useful twenty years in government and industry service, before striking out in a different direction as an entrepreneur (and occasional consultant) – not as chief engineer of a large industrial site, but as CEO of a tiny company of my own.

More intriguing than those kinds of vision changes—after all, who hasn’t changed careers or employers, or recognized their boyhood fantasy wasn’t the stuff of reality—more interesting to me is the change I found in my daily outlook.

When I went to college, my parents gave me a monthly allowance for incidental expenses—a massive $100 a month. Yes, it was a few years ago, but not that long ago. It was sufficient for someone of conservative tastes living in the dorms. I remember my dad remarking, a bit wryly, “You know, I think you have more disposable income here than I do.”

No way, I thought. Dad was always truthful, but surely that couldn’t be accurate.

As an adult, I realized that he was probably right. I’d still like a hundred dollars a month to just spend “however.” But what I never expected was that as an adult, I would look at that and say It’s okay. I would consider the money we had tied up in our house, groceries, taxes, electricity, and say, “It’s the cost of being a grown-up and having a family, and I accept it.” I would see a more affluent friend and not envy the BMW he drove to work, but admire his new 15-passenger van instead.

Recently I read an article by a professor at Liberty University, arguing for the value of marriage as a cornerstone of our adult lives – not a capstone, to add once we achieve our career plans and financial goals, but as a foundational part of our lives that we build upon with those other dreams and aspirations. One phrase leaped out at me: she spoke of learning “to luxuriate in the quotidian.” In other words, we discover satisfaction, and really, delight, in the everyday duties and responsibilities of marriage and family. I never expected that, but I’ve found it to be true. And that is an idea I hope I communicate to my sons—sure, dream, aspire, work hard for noble and ambitious goals, but realize that at the end of the day, there is a treasury of happiness in the simple and profound calling of husband, father, and householder.

What A Man’s Gotta Do

WhatamansgottadoMy wife, weak from the stomach flu, came out of the bathroom where she’d been hiding out—hiding by my request, I should say.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, shakily. “I feel like I shouldn’t have left you out there to do that.”

She had just stepped into the bathroom for the bedtime rituals when one of our younger children stumbled to the door of our bedroom and was gloriously sick—on me, on the laundry beside the door, the surroundings generally. Knowing Melanie was in a dicey state already, I had called out to her, “You stay where you are—we’ll take care of it.” Two of my sons scrambled for towels, trash bags, all the stuff needed to get the situation at least stabilized, and in a few minutes we got the sick child off to a different bathroom, the first load in the laundry, and Ground Zero restored to a more hygienic state.

It made me think about my father, who passed away while I was in college. Dad was a strong man with a weak stomach. My mother used to tell me that if my sister or I were sick, or even needed a serious diaper change, Dad would take care of the cleanup without hesitation or complaint, and when the crisis was over, excuse himself to the bathroom and be privately ill. Mom tried to spare him that indignity whenever possible, but the thing that she remembered and shared with us was that, even so, he went ahead and did it.

I’ve often thought that most Christians are not likely to face lions in the Arena – we brace ourselves up for that – but more often, we’re pecked to death by chickens. My dad never took a bullet for any of us, he never took newsworthy public stands or did remarkable feats of heroism, but he lived a life of quiet faithfulness to the needs of his family. I’m sure he would have run into burning buildings for any of us, but he answered the call of marriage and fatherhood by doing the routine, boring, even nauseating stuff, just as a matter of course.

The old Western-movie cliché is “Sometimes a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do.” I learned from my dad that most of what a man’s gotta do is not the stuff of movies or newsreels, but the simple willingness to sacrifice his own desires and comfort for the needs of someone else. I hope my sons are learning the same lesson from me.

 

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From The Fairway To The Freeway

We knew it was a gamble that we’d make it to South Bend, but we didn’t plan on breaking down right in the middle of the toll booth.

My family and I were on a 4600-mile loop through the upper Midwest and into central Canada, and when you take a trip like that with seven children, a box trailer, and an 11-year-old van, you expect to have some unscheduled adventures. This time, it was a failing alternator on a cold and blustery Saturday four days into our trip. As bothersome as a toll plaza breakdown may be, what made it worse was that we had just replaced that alternator two days before, in a truck stop parking lot in North Carolina.  We were about to meet our third and fourth tow truck operators within a week.

Occasionally I have to remind myself of a simple rule from the golf course– You play the ball where it lies.  On the course, it means that even when the ball has gone where you wish it hadn’t, the game goes on. You can complain and make excuses and point fingers all day, but eventually you either continue the game or give it up.  It’s better if all your drives are straight, long, and true, but sooner or later you’ll have to recover from a sand trap or some other hazard. Figuring out how to recover is part of the game.

From the Fairway to the Freeway

I find I have to apply this rule to my daily life on a regular basis. Being an engineer by training, I tend to analyze things to death, and sometimes I can get distracted trying to find the explanation (or fix the blame) for a problem. Granted, if a problem keeps repeating in your family, you do need to get to the bottom of it. If the family car always seems to have an empty gas tank after a certain teen borrows it, that’s a cause-and-effect problem which needs a remedy!

But more often, the important thing for the moment is not who’s at fault or even what went wrong, but rather, how we get past the immediate problem and keep moving forward. Sitting on display in an Indiana toll booth, I had to make some decisions. Maybe we made a mistake when we installed the first alternator; maybe there was a manufacturing defect in the new part; maybe something else entirely was at fault. The important point there on the outskirts of South Bend, though, was getting the van and trailer out of the traffic lane, and then repairing the alternator. And that’s what we did.

Later, we might look over what happened and whether it was something that could have been prevented then, or possibly some way to avoid it in the future.  At the point of the crisis, though, it’s time to play the ball where it lies. We dads need to keep that in mind ourselves, and we need to demonstrate it to our sons.

Balancing Hard Work and Talent

“You know, I really don’t like it when they use the word ‘prodigy,’” my 15-year-old said, just out of the blue, one afternoon.

He had been watching a news story about a young boy who had uncanny technical skills. “People were calling him a genius and trying to bring him to America to study,” he explained, “but I think there was as much hard work as there was ‘native genius.’ I think we make too much of ‘giftedness’ sometimes.”

I thought he had a good point. There’s no question that God gives certain gifts and talents to people, from the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, to the ability to make wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). I have a son with a natural musical ability; another who is able to handle animals; one who has a scholarly bent. The Bible says that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father …” (James 1:17), and we can (and should) rejoice in the generosity of the Lord who gives His gifts to men.

But while we might enjoy  God’s gifts to us, the Bible warns us to keep these things in perspective. A strong man may rejoice to run his race (Psalm 19:5), and that’s okay – he’s delighting in God’s gift to him–but he’s not allowed to boast about it.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty [man] glory in his might, Nor let the rich [man] glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, that I [am] the LORD … ” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

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That’s a problem we need to face: too often, we receive these gifts from God, then imagine that we somehow created them ourselves. Or we think we’ve identified the seeds of greatness in our children, and secretly whisper, “He got that from me.”

And that’s what my son was pointing out. On the one hand, a person with a real giftedness is simply enjoying the generosity and providence of God. “For who makes you differ [from another]?” Paul asked the Corinthians. “And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 12:7). A true gift is not earned or deserved, so there’s no room to boast. All the glory is due to the person who gave the gift, not the one who received it!

On the other hand, too much focus on “genius” and “gifting” of this sort can also be an excuse for our own laziness. Maybe we look at an athlete’s form and say, “I could never be strong and graceful like him, because he has a natural athletic gift”-both of which may be true statements, by the way-and then we continue in our hearts to say, “and since I’m not a natural athlete, it’s no big deal that I’d rather sit on the couch than exercise my own non-gifted body.”

Or we look at the class leader and say, “He has an intuitive grasp of this subject; in short, he’s a genius. And since I’m no genius, I don’t need to feel uneasy that my failure to do the homework and my lack of study might have something to say about my disappointing grades.”

For that matter, the truly gifted person may be weak in crucial areas. I was proud as could be when I received an academic scholarship for the college I had chosen. Although I thought it was challenging at the time, looking back I realize I was able to breeze through many of my high school classes because I liked to read, I had a good memory, and I could write reasonably well. What I didn’t have were good study habits, or the self-discipline I would need to really excel in college. Oh, I was able to make it through the university with decent grades, but I realized before I left that some of my friends who weren’t as “brilliant” as I had once imagined I was were learning more-and scoring higher-because they took the talents they had and built on them, rather than relaxing in the head start they’d been given.

They knew how to work, and they knew it better than I did. Instead of the prodigy I had hoped I might be, I ended up feeling more like the prodigal who wasted many opportunities that had come to his hands.

So that’s the tricky balance I want to teach my sons: to rejoice in the gifts which God has given, to praise Him for His generosity rather than puffing themselves up with unrighteous pride. But while accepting the honest truth that they are good in one skill or another, I want them to see whatever gift God sent as their call to work just as hard as the next guy-or even harder–for God’s glory.