A Parent’s Reflection on Planning For a New Year
Sometimes God smacks with you a question at the most unexpected moments, like when your dune buggy-ing along the Oregon sand dunes.
We just returned from an Oregon Coast vacation. Many of you will know already that the Oregon Coast is absolutely beautiful. It has everything from rain forests to long white beaches to – a real favourite for me – 54 miles of sand dunes. You can rent an ATV or take a dune buggy ride through the sand dunes, which is exactly what we did. I realize that sand probably doesn’t seem all that impressive, but these sand dunes were massive and breath-taking. I was in awe.
It was also SUPER fun!
Beautiful moments in nature often turn my heart to God as I enjoy His amazing creation. This day, however, it was something else that God used to challenge me: ocean grass.
On our tour, we saw a lot of ocean grass. I actually think it’s kind of cool looking. But then the tour guide explained the history. The ocean grass (it’s actually called European Ocean Grass) was planted in the early 1900s as a means to prevent the sand from blowing into the local settlements. People wanted to build near the coast, and the blowing sand was a daily frustration. Locals came up with what they thought was a wise solution: they planted this very hardy grass along the edge of the dunes, hoping to create a barrier that would prevent the sand from blowing. Unfortunately, not only did it not prevent the sand from moving (turns out it was the tides, and not the wind, that caused this to happen), the ocean grass became a real menace. It proved as strong as they had thought and it grew…and grew…and grew. By the 1980s, 80% of the dunes were covered in ocean grass. And they can’t get this to stuff to stop. It’s very resilient and even when they burn it off, it just comes back. Although they are working for solutions, the tour guide said that if they can’t find a way to deal with this, it is estimated the sand dunes will completely disappear within 150 years. This made me feel very sad.
I thought about the people who had planted that grass many years before. I’m sure they had good intentions. But I wondered if they took the time or did the research to consider the impact of what they planted in the years to come. A little part of me felt annoyed with them. After all, didn’t they know that planting without considering the future can be dangerous?
Then I felt this question, this little tug, a small voice that said: “What are YOU planting?” And I knew God was reminding of something important.
I think of this particularly as a parent, and especially this time of year. For many of us as parents, August is sort of like “planting season.” We are making all those decisions about what activities our children will do in the fall. We are planning the schedule. We are determining what will be most important for them. Often as I’ve made those decisions, I’ve found myself making them based on simple ideas. I don’t want my kids to fall in a pool one day and drown, so I put them in swimming lessons. I think learning music is a great life skill so I put them in piano. I flip through program books and choose things based on what nights work best for our family. And I admit I feel the pressure of all the voices in our culture that say things like: “You HAVE to give your child every opportunity.” “What if you don’t put them in something and it turns out they would have been great at it?” “If you don’t put your child in ______, they may fall behind other children. Then they might not get in good classes….and then they might not get into University…and then they might not get a good job…so you will basically ruin their life…” etc.
Rarely do I ask myself what I should be really asking: “What do I want to reap?” Because as we know, and as the Bible teaches, we reap what we sow. I don’t throw random seeds in the ground of my garden in spring and see what turns up, but plant the seeds of the vegetables and fruit that I hope to enjoy later. Shouldn’t I do the same when it comes to my children?
For me, the deepest desire of my heart is that my children grow to know God, to understand they are a part of a bigger story and to see their place in it. I hope they will be people of character – that they will be kind, have integrity and look to help others. I realize that if THAT is what I want to sow, then it begins with what I plant.
It begins with what I plant this August, and every August.
It begins when I say what will be most important for our family, and when I make decisions about what they will do based on that.
I spoke on this in church on Sunday. It’s not an easy thing to say. There’s a lot of pressure around us to sign our kids up for a lot of different things, and making sure that we are planting time for them to learn about God or practice their faith often falls lowest on the list. After all, the team is ONLY practicing on Sunday mornings!! What can other choice do we have?
But we ALWAYS have a choice – it’s just a matter of what we want to plant.
This isn’t meant to be a judgement of the choices you make as a family. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to think a little differently as you start the “signing up” process this year. I put together a handout with a list of questions for any parents to consider as you select how your family will spend its time. The handout is at the end of this post.
For now, I am signing my kids up for music (it teaches them discipline and uses their brain in creative ways – seeds I want to plant), but no swimming lessons this fall. I felt guilty for a while, but with all the changes in our family I knew two things were too many if we wanted to also make time for us to do things as a family and enjoy Sabbath rest. Maybe in the winter we can manage swimming…or maybe not.
When I doubt myself about this choice, I remember that incredible ocean grass – planted with good intentions, but ultimately damaging to what was most beautiful around it. I remember that I am making space for what I most want to plant. I breathe. I pray. I trust. I plant. I hope.
Here is the handout from this Sunday. I recognize many of you may not share that desire for your children to know God. You can still consider these questions from the perspective of your own family’s values and what matters most to you. I also think these questions are helpful for not just parenting but for any area of our life.
What are You Planting?
Our children’s time is precious. As we/I consider signing children up for activities, ask:
- What “seeds” do we/I want to plant in my child?
What activities would help plant these seeds?
If having a relationship with God is something we/I want for my child, what are we/am I doing to create space for that?
- Is this activity God’s best for our family?
How does this activity align with our families’ values?
Why do we/I want our/my child (ren) in this activity?
What character traits will it help develop?
How will it impact my child(ren)’s relationships with others?
Will this activity teach values or ideas that conflict with the teachings of Jesus or our values?
Will this activity put an unhealthy strain on our family (financially, time, emotionally)? If so do the benefits outweigh the consequences?
Is my desire to “keep up” as a parent driving my decision to sign my child up for this activity?
Will this activity consistently distract from our family’s spiritual or church life?
Is this an activity driven by a desire for our/my child(ren) to have fame or wealth? Why is this important?
Is this activity an attempt to re-live or fulfill my dreams or missed opportunities?
If there is more than one parent, are parents in agreement about doing this activity?
- Have we/I taken time to pray and seek wisdom about this decision?