"What do you think is the most important gift you can give to your family?" A couple years ago two friends of mine, Jim Cofield and Rich Plass, asked me this question. I sat their in silence contemplating what might be the "right" answer. I knew it wasn't knowledge, or provision, or special presents, but I couldn't come up with a good answer so I just sat there thinking. Thankfully they interrupted, "We are convinced that the most important thing you can give to your family is your transformed and transforming presence." To be transformed means to be changed. As humans we absorb the presence of others. That's why you've said something before and thought, "Oh my gosh, I just sounded like my mother/father." Our kids are absorbing us too, whether we like it or not. That's why the best thing we can give them, is our transformed and transforming presence.
To be transformed, is to be changed. And as absorbent beings, when we have an encounter with God, it changes us. Bits of the way we live, think, and act literally become transformed. This is great news because God is good. He is infinitely loving, wise, compassionate, patient, joyful, truthful, just and forgiving. And the more of his presence we can absorb, the more of his goodness we can give to others.
In other words, the best thing we can do to disciple our kids is this: hang out with God and then hang out with them. This is how God himself chose to disciple us. He didn't just shout from heaven and tell us how to live. The fullness of the Bible tells us that he gave us himself in the person of Jesus. John 1:14 says he dwelt amongst us, or as Eugene Peterson says, "He moved into our neighborhood." God knew that in order to have an impact on our souls, he had to give himself. That's why Jesus came to Earth, to give us his presence. To transform us by spending time with us.
As parents, we are to follow God's lead. This is simple, but with our busy lives extremely difficult. Here are a couple of ways to give your kids the gift of your transformed and transforming presence.
Personally spend some unhindered and uninterrupted time with God.
Take 15-20 minutes a day to quiet your soul and be with God. You can't give your transformed presence if you aren't taking time to be transformed. Read a small piece of scripture, pray, and simply be still in the presence of God. Do whatever you need to do to block this time out in your schedule. It can be a early morning, during lunch, after work, before you go to bed, or whatever works. Simply put down the phone, get to a quiet place, and be with God.
Create a regular rhythm of giving unhindered uninterrupted time to your kids
Because life with kids is so ridicoulously busy, these must be planned an protected rhythms. The only way to give your presence to your kids is if you create space to be with them. Here are a few ideas.
- Eat dinner with your family at least 4-5 times a week. - Turn off the TV, put away the phone and email, and enjoy a meal with your family. If your schedule makes this difficult, figure out a way to make it happen. For example, have snacks early and eat late. It will be worth it.
- Take your kids out on Daddy or Mommy dates. - Once a month, take each of your kids to do something fun. If you got a lot of kids, put them on a weekly rotation. They need this one-on-one time with you to be reminded that you are for them, not against them. This doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. Right now, I take my kids to Scheels to ride the ferris wheel ($2) and then Wendy's to get frosties ($4). It is simple, cheap, and it gets us hanging out together. When your kids are older, you may think they don't want to hang with you, but trust me, they do. Get to know their interests and do something they would like. Make sure to plan it, or it won't happen.
- Do spontaneously fun things. - As parents, our job is to cultivate joy in our kids life. One way we can do this is by spontaneously doing something fun. Pick them up early from school and take them to a movie. Wake them up in the morning and take them to get doughnuts. Go on a surprise trip out of town. I really believe that simple fun and spontineity can be a huge gateway to our kids' hearts.
- When you're home, be home. - Put down the phone, the remote, social media, and even the chores. Give yourself permission to not be busy all the time. If you are a stay-at-home or work-from-home person, be clear with your kids on time you need to work, and time you can be with them. Be present with your kids.
Remember that Jesus lived 30 years of his life before he started his public preaching ministry. This means that before he gave us his sermons, he gave us himself. It would be wise for us to do the same with our kids.