Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter. — Deuteronomy 5:13–14
A grandfather in Yona Zeldis McDonough’s novel The Four Temperaments reflects on having grandchildren:
People always said you enjoyed your grandchildren more than you did your children. It was true. When the boys were little, Oscar was still so consumed by anxiety about his career, still plotting and working to shape the trajectory it would take. Looking back, he saw himself as constantly worried: about money, about his music, about Ruth’s happiness, about his own. Not that he ignored or neglected his boys; quite the contrary, they were a large part of his thinking and activity. But they were also a part of his worry, woven tightly into the scratchy fabric of his anxiety. He worried about where they went to school, their musical education, their choices in friends and girls, their various annoying or alarming habits. Accidents, choking, drowning, drugs, cigarettes — the worries, no less troubling for their being so common, shared by so many parents. With Isobel [his granddaughter], however, he discovered that he was much less worried. He had no program for her, no agenda. Instead, he was able to live in the present with her much more fully than he could with his own children. And, to his surprise, he was happy there.1
One reason grandparents enjoy their grandkids so much is that they’re not always trying to fix them or correct them. They take the time to enjoy them, and that makes all the difference. They live in the present, with no resentment about the past and less obsession about the future.
In his classic book Pensees, Blaise Pascal gave this wise counsel:
Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.2
Why is it that when our kids are young, we can’t just sit back and enjoy the here and now? To forget about how small our house is, how frustrating the job is, how expensive everything is — and just, for once, to enjoy the moment, making it last by savoring each minute of the day? Why do we spend hours as though they were in limitless supply rather than the very finite number they are, each one bringing the day of our children’s departure from home ever closer, bit by bit by bit?
I returned to northern Virginia for a speaking engagement. Two of our children were born in Virginia, and one year, we took a Christmas picture on the Manassas battlefield, with the three children seated at the end of a stone bridge. At the time, they were seven, five, and two years old. Lisa has that picture somewhere in the house; I’ve seen it many times.
As I walked alone by that bridge almost ten years later, I sat where our kids sat, and I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I cried. I’m not a big crier — my son is fourteen now, and he says he doesn’t know if he’s ever seen me cry — but I couldn’t stop the tears on this occasion. I thought of the decade that had passed and how much my kids mean to me, and yet how fast time is flying by. I thought of the lost weekends, the wasted evenings, the times when I acted like my kids would always be young and would always be with us, and I mourned the loss of each moment I had so carelessly allowed to slip by.
I walked away from that bridge determined to live in the present, eager to capture each moment God gives us, now fully aware and acutely sensitive of how very valuable the present is.
If we lived more in the present, we might not be so utilitarian in our attitudes. So much of parenting is taken up by correcting grammatical mistakes, taxiing the kids back and forth, cleaning the counters, vacuuming the floors, making sure homework gets done. Here’s the danger of this approach: when kids feel always under review, always a work in progress, always on their guard, they start to feel like projects instead of deeply loved and accepted children.
In the same way that a body has to be nourished before it can be exercised, so a relationship must be nurtured before it can withstand rebuke, correction, and instruction. Some parents focus so much on what needs to change that they neglect to pause and enjoy what is good and healthy. At times we need to take a step back and rebuild the relationship by going out for a cup of coffee and talking about a topic that won’t cause a fight, watching a movie together, playing a game, rooting for our favorite team — whatever it takes to live in the present.
Every now and then, I want to be a grandparent, setting aside certain occasions when I’m just going to enjoy these children — sort of a spiritual Sabbath where I won’t do the “work” of parenting but rather just rest and enjoy them. I’m not going to tell them to sit up. I won’t bug them about their grammar or ask them if their rooms are clean. Instead, I’ll recognize the treasure we call time, the gift of living in the present, the spiritual joy of walking in Sabbath.
One afternoon or evening this week, why don’t you join me and do the same? Treat yourself and your kids to a parenting “Sabbath” in which you live fully in the present moment, leaving future anxieties and concerns in God’s hands and drinking deeply of the joy of living for the here and now.
Heavenly Father, help us to appreciate the wonder of the present the way we will someday when active parenting is a distant memory. In the midst of training our kids, help us to enjoy them and embrace the treasure of an ordinary day. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Questions for Reflection
- Talk about the difference between grandparenting and parenting; see if there are any insights in that discussion about how you could increase the joy of parenting by taking on the attitude of a grandparent from time to time.
- How far away are you from being an “empty nester”? Let the reality that parenting is a finite season help you treasure every day with your children as the gift that it is.
1.Yona Zeldis McDonough, The Four Temperaments (New York: Doubleday, 2002), 293.
2.Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penguin, 1966), 43.
Excerpted with permission from Devotions for Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas, copyright Gary L. Thomas.
* * *
Enjoy your kids today! Take a Sabbath rest. Leave the laundry and the budget for tomorrow. Set aside frustration and stresses and pause and enjoy today! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog!