Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The quest for balance

James 1:16-18 (NIV)

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
Balance is difficult for most people. Doing a good job at work tends to take plenty of focus and energy. Then there are hobbies or a social life between work and sleep. People who aren’t parents still have families and connections to maintain. Even folks who seem to have it all together most likely don’t, and I contend anyone who goes out of their way to express just how well they have their whole life compartmentalized is probably trying to convince themselves more so than their audience.

For me, and perhaps most other folks, this is a big-picture challenge manifested in daily struggles. Today it played out more or less the moment I got home from work. Jack and a friend were in the back yard, Kristie and the younger boys were blowing bubbles in the driveway. After a few minutes of chatting up Max and Charlie, I headed inside to drop off my stuff.

Straight away I could see a pile of dishes that needed my attention. But then I noticed the answering machine blinking, so I listened to the message, which was not for me. So I turned back to the dishes. Kristie came inside to talk to me about the day, bringing Charlie with her. Max, who does not like to be outside “alone,” came and asked if I could play baseball with him.

I told him we might be able to do that once I finished the dishes. But before I emptied the sink, Jack asked me if I could get him something for dinner. Knowing all three boys needed to eat, I fired up the oven and — culinary wizard that I am — opened a box of frozen chicken nuggets.

(Side note: these nuggets are shaped like of dinosaurs. Charlie likes to look at them and roar, then proclaim one of them to be a choo-choo train that drives along the table. If he is particularly inspired, he also allows it to take flight while he makes airplane sounds. Then he bites off the head or tail and moves on to the next one.)

Max still wanted me to play baseball, but by now I had “dinner” in the oven, was still finishing dishes (and then remembered I needed to fill the ice cube trays) plus I had to eat something. I felt bad I couldn’t just drop everything and play — the way I gave up weeding Sunday afternoon in favor of blowing bubbles — but sometimes being a good parent involves taking care of the things that need to get done and not just engaging in all the fun stuff.

At least everything got resolved nicely. Jack’s friend went home right about the time food was ready, so he and Max ate dinner together and spent most of the rest of the night with each other while I gave Charlie a bath and got him to bed. I got a much-needed reminder that I am on duty the second my car pulls in the driveway and that even if I don’t promise I can do something “later,” my kids will take anything but an outright refusal as a glimmer of hope.

This isn’t one of those evenings I’ll regret when we drop Max off at college 13 years from now. Sometimes you need to do the dishes, and I’ve already had too many nights this year where I put off all chores until the kids sleep, which is why I need a caffeine infusion about 90 minutes after I wake up each morning. We spent lots of good time together this weekend and I have chances almost every day to just enjoy each kid. I couldn’t play baseball tonight, but I read at least six bedtime stories.

The challenge isn’t being able to drop everything to play with the kids, it’s about the elusive quest for balance. I could argue it’s important for me to show the boys how a dad can be involved in housework and preparing food. I could suggest kids need to not be given everything they want whenever they want it because the adult world doesn’t work that way. Or I could beat myself up for skewed priorities.

But I’m not doing any of that. Instead I’m going to look at these few verses from James, remember my children are both gifts from God and also the marker of my most important responsibility. And I’m going to continue to ask God to show me what it means to be a good dad, both in the wide-angle view and also the extreme close-ups., then try (but not always succeed) to heed that advice.

For me, the thing about balance is remembering I can’t do it all on my own. I need help, and I know where to go to find it. And that has made all the difference.

A prayer for May 7:

Lord, please help me keep my life in check. I know if I am able to build on you as the foundation, instead of try to fit you in to open spaces, then everything else can fall into place. I have so many people and things that demand my attention, so many responsibilities that must be addressed. Please don’t let me lose my grip on my priorities or forget the lessons learned through trial and error. Open my eyes to see what you would have me hear, and help me to love as you would have me love. Amen.

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