Does This Family Look Familiar? (Part 2)

fracturedfamily.jpgI wrote yesterday regarding tired and exhausted families.  This is something I am very concerned about.  In particular, our children often pay the price for such a lifestyle (several mentioned this in their comments yesterday).

Our lifestyles are often fast, furious, and exhausting.  We are like speed boats, moving quickly but not traveling very deeply.  Consequently, we are conditioned to merely skim the surface of experience and then move on to something new.  Eventually, however, such a pace takes it toll on our relationships, our bodies, and the human spirit.  In quieter moments we may finally realize how stressed we are, how alone we feel, and how exhausted we have become.  Our mania for keeping busy has left little time to pray, to think, and to meditate on God’s Word.

We live in a culture in which the effective use of time is often judged by speed and productivity.   How much can we get done in the allotted amount of time?  How many activities can we do?  Our children may want to be on a particular team, be involved in a particular program at school, and/or participate in a special production of some kind (perhaps drama or music).  How much is good for our children and when do these activities become overwhelming to them individually and to our family as a whole?    

Just a few years ago, our children were school-age and we were faced with many time-related decisions.  Our children were involved in sports and a few other activities at school.  Charlotte and I saw that we needed to be a buffer between our children and these activities or our family could just be consumed by the busyness.  Most of these activities and opportunities were good and constructive.  Drama.  Plays.  Team sports.  School clubs.  Student government.  Band.  Choir. 

What we learned was that saying "yes" to one event, team, etc. often meant that we were then faced with new decisions about how involved our children would be in this sport or organization.  For instance, one of our children played basketball and the other played volleyball.  At one time that meant: "Are you going to be on the team or not?"  There was a clearly defined season.  These days, if my child plays basketball or volleyball, that may mean that we (parents and children) will be facing new decisions.  Will she play on an "off season" team?  Will she play in a summer league?  Will we (as a family) now be traveling on weekends for these games?  Will she now be playing on Sunday mornings?  Will she still be connected to our church family even though she/we are gone much of the time?  Will she go to a specialized camp?   

I use our experience in these two sports as an example.  The issue is much larger than sports.  Rather, it is about a variety of activities and how much we commit to as a family.  It is not my intention to offer any quick and simple solutions here.  Nor am I even remotely suggesting that our children should not be involved in these activities.  Rather, I raise this issue to encourage us to think about the overall impact that our decisions have on our family life.

However, the place to begin grappling with this issue is not with my children.  The place to begin is in reflecting on my own life.

1.  Am I overcommitted?  Every "yes" to one opportunity is a "no" to something else.  Why do I continue to say "yes" when I am already overcommitted?  Do I genuinely wish to do this or do I fear their displeasure and disappointment?  Do I continue to say "yes" out of my own insecurity?     

2.  Am I leading the way in modeling the kind of lifestyle that I believe to be wise for our whole family?  In other words, it is difficult for me to communicate to my children that we are too busy as a family when they see that I have a problem with saying "no" to other people.  What kind of pace am I modeling before them? 

3.  Am I attempting to build a family or just a collection of individuals?  There are many activities that might be good or enjoyable for me individually that may not be that helpful right now in building our family.  For instance, I can work more hours and this may be better for my career.  I’m not sure it would help us build our family.  I may like to fish or play golf every Saturday.  This kind of lifestyle, every weekend, may not be the best thing in building our family as a group.  Do I model these concerns before our children? 

Does This Family Look Familiar? (Part 1)

familystress.jpgSeveral years ago, I sat at a table in the faculty dining room at Baylor University.  At the table with me was a man who had served as the academic dean and eventually as the president of a seminary.  He was now "semi-retired."  Most weekends, he preached at a church somewhere in the country.  I met him in a class that I was auditing.  We went to lunch and I began asking him questions about what he was seeing in these churches.  His reply?  

"Jim, I am seeing many, many very tired people."

Wow.  How interesting that this would be his immediate response.  Yet, I think I know what he is talking about.  I see them in our church as well.  Many, many people who appear to be exhausted.

Some of them are like "John and Susan Bailey."  You might have a difficult time getting to know them because it is very difficult to catch up with them.  Their schedule doesn’t allow much time for friendships.  Oh they have a few friends.  However, they spend little time relaxing with these friends.  Usually when they see one of their friends, one of them will shout, "Hey we need to have lunch sometime."  But of course, no one follows through.

John Bailey belongs to a civic club, coaches a softball team, works out several times a week, teaches the high school Sunday School class and maintains a beautiful yard.

Besides her regular part-time job, Susan Bailey finds herself juggling an exhausting schedule.  She is always creating new projects or volunteering to help someone else with theirs.  She serves on committees and volunteers at her children’s school.  If she is not taking her youngest to the dentist, she is driving her pre-teen to the store for supplies for a science project.  

At first glance, it might appear that the Bailey family spends a lot of time together.  Yet, when they are together they talk on the phone to other people, constantly check their e-mail on their phones, text their friends repeatedly and overall just seem very, very distracted.  They don’t seem to be really focused on one another.  They always seem — hurried.

Do you recognize this family?  Do you see families who seem to be in constant motion?  Do you know families who do not seem to be really listening to one another?  Do you ever wonder if they are missing the experience of the present while they are anticipating the next event?