Children Grow Slow and Leave Fast

These are difficult days for parents. And not simply because of the world’s onslaught of deceptive claims, but also because of its pace.

Increasingly, the clocks of modern society are synced to technological innovation and the pace of unmarried men and women idolizing their careers. Biblical childrearing, and the investment of quality time it demands — and the pace it takes — often feels at odds with our modern desires for efficiency and productivity. Even this very moment, is some anxious voice in your head whispering, Hurry up and finish this article so you can get productive?

Parents are caught in a tension: while we cannot hurry the development of children, neither can we remain indifferent about their need for growth. Regret looms on the horizon if we ignore the future consequences of allowing immaturity to linger in these young disciples we love. We cannot microwave their progress; fruit is produced slowly, almost invisibly. But we can unwittingly hinder their headway. Parental permissiveness, coldness, or preoccupation can trip up a child. While all of our children have parents with flaws, we can mitigate the effects of our imperfect parenting.

Walk of Parenting

Paul gives modern parents help in this hurried age:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17)

“We cannot microwave our children’s progress; fruit is produced slowly, almost invisibly.”

The rapid growth of children serves as a reminder that today is all we have. Just when it seems like there will be no end to diapers, the children are leaving home — and what did we do with those years? What pace did we establish? Yesterday is in the books, and tomorrow may not materialize the way we envision. But today was given to us so that we might take care of eternity. And God has appointed a customized, tailor-made grace for today, including grace to slow down and do less when less is more — a pace that Paul describes as walking, not sprinting.

If there is no greater joy than knowing that our children are walking in the truth (3 John 4), why are we huffing and puffing to accomplish projects far less satisfying? A sense of frazzled urgency is a great enemy of spiritual growth — in us, and in the children we disciple.

Pointers for Hurried Parents

Opportunities with our children don’t last forever. Time passes, moment by moment, unimpeded. It does not stop. Does not slow down. Does not rewind. We cannot manage time; we can manage only self. We cannot collect time and spend it as we choose. Therefore, “we must work the works of him who sent [us] while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). How can we do this?

Define Your Aim

Define the aim of your parenting: beholding Christ and becoming like him. Like Paul with the church in Galatia, we ought to groan “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed” in our children (Galatians 4:19). To this end, we ought to strategize accordingly. Place the superior qualities of Jesus continually before your children. Keep coming back to him.

Schedule Your Parenting

As you strategize, schedule parenting on your calendar. Block out unhurried time to invest in the discipleship of your children. Make a list, prioritize the stuff on it, and do what’s most important.

And begin now. Have you been thinking about writing a note to your child? Praying for her? Discussing an excerpt from the Bible? Taking him for lunch and a talk? Do it now. Have you been spending too much time on something of lesser importance? Stop doing it now. A busy schedule doesn’t set your priorities, but exposes them. Corrie Ten Boom famously said, “If the devil can’t make you sin, he will make you busy.” Prune some unnecessary involvements. The idea is to liberate minutes, hours, and days for priorities.

“A sense of frazzled urgency is a great enemy of spiritual growth — in us, and in the children we disciple.”

Learn to say no to encroachments on your calendar. Not every opportunity is a calling. With God’s help, it is possible to avoid idleness and proactively pursue your God-given priorities with your children while avoiding over-commitment. To speak this way is not to advocate for laziness. To hike the entire Appalachian Trail with your sons, having meaningful campfire conversations along the way, would take a lot of time, but it would not be lazy.

Stay Close

Stir in lots of healthy touch and proximity. Make time to sit together on the couch, on the dock, on the boat, in stadium seats. Bedtime conversations can be golden. Discover the wisdom in slowing down. I learned to leave the briefcase (or computer case) closed, and engage with the family — fixing supper together, kissing my wife, asking about school projects and neighborhood friends, kissing my wife again.

Let Priorities Interrupt

Practice the principle of preemption. The importance of something can be measured by what it is allowed to interrupt. Jesus’s priority was spending time with the Father, so he interrupted time with his disciples and healing opportunities in order to have Father-Son time.

Determine what can wait. Write that letter to your daughter at college; the lawn can wait. Play catch with your grandson; catching up on the mail can wait. The wise man has said, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Ask, “Is this the right time?” I deeply delight in the memory of my dad coming home tired from work but still playing catch with me — because this was the right time for a game of catch.

Are your family interactions over the Bible rushed and abbreviated? Or even squeezed out altogether? My dad used to interrupt whatever else we were doing in order to have family Bible time. He wasn’t just exposing us to God’s word, but was demonstrating something about its importance. The less important must yield to the more important.

Acquire Carefully

Finally, be careful about what you acquire. Whatever you own owns some of you. Own a dog? Dog chores. Own a boat? Boat chores. Own a yard? Yard chores. They all take time and resources. Are they accomplishing your most important aims in life enough to justify the time and money they take?

Now Is the Time

Parents, both wise and foolish, have discovered the longer you wait to disciple (or discipline) your kids, the harder it gets. Wisdom does something today and prioritizes what is most important.

The days are flying past. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Have you ever tried to actually number the days you have remaining to influence your children, Lord willing? If your child is 8, you have only 3,652 days until he is 18. From one standpoint, that’s a lot of time. From another, it will fly by.

Now is the time. In the strength God supplies, stop reading this article and go interact with your kids.