The following is a short excerpt from my new new book Addicted to Busy, Recovery for the Rushed Soul, which releases in September.
I notice that my best conversations with my kids—and in Callie’s case, the only conversations, really—occur either right when they get up in the morning or right before they go to bed—during typical periods of rest.
Abram is always the first one up at our house. After I woke this morning, I made my way to the kitchen in search of a cup of hot coffee, and there sat Abram—still groggy and with sleep in his eyes. Pam and Callie still were sleeping, which is generally the case around the Boyd household, and as I waited for my coffee to brew, I asked Abram how he slept. It was a benign question—really, I was just filling the silence until my cup was full. But it turns out he slept great, and that he had this amazing series of dreams he was all too eager to tell me about, and that one of the dreams featured a new invention he has been thinking about inventing, and that it really was true, he was sure, just as we’ve talked about for years and years, that one day he would create something that would absolutely change the world.
Abram’s body may have still been weary, but his brain was crystal clear. This came as no surprise to me. Abram’s brain is always clear at six a.m.
My daughter, Callie, is her brother’s polar opposite. She is virtually mute until noon and even then keeps her cards close to the vest. But check back in with her before bedtime, and you’ll have a veritable chatterbox on your hands. At the close of the day, Callie’s thoughts are lucid; she finally calms down enough to look you straight in the eye and string together sentences that let you in.
It’s no coincidence that my kids come alive early in the morning and late at night; God predicted this would be true. In Jewish tradition, the centerpiece of morning and evening prayer services is a passage of Scripture known as the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It reads:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
I loved this passage even before I became a parent, and even more so after Abram and Callie were ours. There is such insight here! God says, in effect, “Love me, and then teach your kids to love me. Enjoy me, and then teach your kids to do the same.” This is what we do when we become people of peace. We reside in the rest of God, and our kids learn to reside there too. And we do this, says the Shema, by using our downtime to instruct them in truth. We are to talk about the Word of God, the truth of God, when we’re hanging out at home, and when we’re traveling across town, and when we climb into bed at night, and when we get up the very next day. You’ll notice that this Old Testament passage assumes we actually have downtime to fill. It assumes that we’re actually talking with our kids each day.
Personal experience has taught me that if I don’t carve out time for relaxed conversations with my kids, they will take the pressing questions all kids have banging around in their brains to someone else. All the curiosities that come with adolescence—who is God? what am I here for? what is sin? why does it matter? what is success? what do I do with failure? does anybody really see me or care?—don’t cease to exist because we as parents are too preoccupied, too busy, to answer them. No, the questions persist. We just won’t be there when they’re finally asked. If we are always at the office and always exhausted when we get home, our kids will stuff their questions until they can’t stuff them anymore. And then the next time they’re over at a friend’s house, they’ll ask that pimply teenager their pressing questions instead. Similarly, if our kid is always at lacrosse practice and barely has time to breathe outside of that, then guess who is going to be answering that child’s pressing questions? The lacrosse coach, probably. Or else a teammate’s mom, the one who always gives your kid a ride home.
God placed our kids in our specific families with the expectation that we will train them in righteousness and truth. We are responsible for teaching them how to think critically, how to behave morally, how to put their faith and trust in a loving God. But we can’t do these things if we aren’t living these things first. In one author’s words, “If you want your teenager [or pre-teen, or toddler, for that matter] to have an understanding of Sabbath, and to understand time as more than a container for text messages and soccer tournaments and term papers, then start with yourself.” It really is true: We can’t give away what we ourselves don’t have.