Those of you who have been here for any length of time know that the inspiration for my Sunday morning reflections come not only the Bible and from what I understand of the Biblical witness, but also from the headlines in the news and from the books I am reading and…from the commercials I see on TV. I like watching the commercials. They provide a lens through which I catch a glimpse of the culture in which we live and the values that compete for our loyalty. As I watch commercials I pay attention less to what they are trying to sell and more to the assumptions and the values behind what they say and show.
One commercial has a tag line which has caught my attention. It is the commercial for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company which ends their commercials with this: Responsibility. What’s Your Policy? I am not a Liberty Mutual customer, and, I don’t know whether they are a more responsible company than any other insurance company, but I like the tagline. And, I have found myself thinking about the question they ask.
As a Christian…
As a pastor…
To the extent that I am seen as a leader in the community…
As a parent…
As a spouse…
As a son…
What is my policy when it comes to how I live and to what I do and to the choices I make? And, because I have been thinking about it, I decided it might be worth it to think out loud about it with all of you. So for the next three Sunday’s I decided to plunge into three different topics:
The Common Good.
And, to borrow the tag line from Liberty Mutual and ask, “What is your policy?”
So, this morning, as we think about families, two readings from two very different sources, but which speak with a similar voice. First, this verse from the book of Proverbs which is a collection of short saying and teachings found in Hebrew Scripture. Reading from Eugene’s Patterson’s paraphrase version of the Bible:
Point your kids in the right direction – when they’re old they won’t be lost. (22:6)
And, then this…
From a speech President Obama gave on Father’s Day a couple years ago. President Obama was speaking particularly to fathers, but I have changed it slightly so it speaks to all of us as parents.
“Here’s the key message I think all of us want to send to [parents] all across the country: Our children don’t need us to be superheroes. They don’t need us to be perfect. The do need us to be present. They need us to show up and give it our best shot, no matter what else is going on in our lives. They need us to show them – not just with words, but with deeds – that they, those kids, are always our first priority. Those family meals, afternoons in the park, bedtime stories; the encouragement we give, the questions we answer, the limits we set, the example we set of persistence in the face of difficulty and hardship – those things add up over time, and they shape a child’s character, build their core, teach them to trust in life and to enter into it with confidence and with hope and with determination.” (Promoting Responsible Fatherhood, June 21, 2010)
Point your child in the right direction…
I am not sure I realized it at the time.
At least not enough to put into words.
Maybe I was just too busy doing it or life was too full for me, like it often is for you, to really stop long enough to think about it, but looking back on it now I realize that once Shodie and I decided to have children my most important job was to be a parent.
It was more important than being a pastor.
More important than serving on a committee or being a volunteer board member.
More important than my endless To Do list and the countless meetings I added to my calendar.
But, sometimes I confused my priorities and it took someone else to remind me of my responsibility. I remember a conversation I had with Phil Bailey probably 10 years ago or so. Having said yes to too many things and so finding myself rushing around like crazy, I was torn between what just had to get done and leaving work a bit early to watch my son play in a high school soccer game. Phil happened to be walking through the church at that time and stopped to ask how I was. With a smile, I hope, I responded. He replied saying something like this:
“You have maybe a half dozen more times to watch your son play soccer. The church will be here when you get back.”
He left and I left to go watch my son play soccer.
While I can’t be Phil Bailey what I can do is offer this reminder.
For those of you who are parents remember what your most important job really is.
Write it down.
Tape it next to your calendar as a reminder so you see it as you fill in dates.
Tape it to the mirror in your bathroom so you see it when you get up and before you go to bed.
Put it on your refrigerator door.
Write it down and put it where you will see it and so be reminded because I know that in the push and pull of life and work and trying to figure out life for ourselves, it is easy to forget or to allow other pressures to push job one to second, third or fourth place.
And to that, add this.
Repeated studies indicate that in households that regularly have dinner together children are healthier and happier and more well-adjusted. Knowing that to be true, I worry about parents who, too often, have to be out the door in the morning before their children are up and who take the late train home arriving just in time to kiss children good night. Or, who allow emails or phone calls that just have to be responded to interrupt book reading or soccer games or a walk together.
How many of you have smart phones?
As you think about job one and how you spend your time consider this.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review sighted a survey of nearly 500 executives, managers and professionals and found that those who carry smart phones are connected to their jobs 13.5 or more hours/day, and about 5 hours on weekends for a total of about 70 hours a week.
Which means there is less time for those dinners together or walks together or playing a game together. Yet, it is those activities – dinners, walks, games – which create the time and space for conversations to take place and for sharing to happen. Conversations, that if you begin them at age 5 or 6, come to feel normal and may be more needed at 15 or 16 than they were at 5 or 6.
And, on a larger scale…
Knowing what we do about the hard work it takes to keep families together and to raise healthy children, and how stable families and healthy children benefits not only our individual families, but also our communities in both the short term and the long term, I wonder…
Can we shape or reshape our culture, including our corporate culture, to reflect what we know. To the extent that we are decision makers at some level in the places where we work, what if we modeled family first behavior and let co-workers know that you were leaving work a bit early or turning off your phone for a while because you had committed to spend time with your son or your daughter? And, what would happen if a co-worker’s child had a sporting event or a concert or was receiving a special recognition and you told them to go home because parenting was a priority?
What would happen?
I am sure some would probably abuse the opportunity.
But, most, I think, would not.
And, I wonder about the difference it might make.
And, finally this…
For most, if not all of us, our homes are usually the most formative places in our lives.
It is where your children learn about relationships.
And about how those who say they love each other actually treat each other.
It is where your children learn about values.
About how adults treat children.
And, how children are to treat each other.
About how what we say matches what we do.
And, about who we are and how we are in relation to the larger communities in which we live.
Home is where we learn what it means to face and to solve problems.
And, how to handle challenges and hardships.
And, what it means to celebrate accomplishments together.
All of that, and more, happens each day around your dinner table.
And, each evening when you carve out time to talk about their day and about yours.
“Point your kids in the right direction,” the sage reminds us.
“So, when they are old they won’t be lost.”
What’s your policy?