It happens twenty times a day, or perhaps more. As I bustle through my daily routine, a little voice interrupts with, “Hey, Mom, watch this.” I turn to watch my son throw a plastic ball in the air and cringe as it crashes onto our hard wood floor. “Cool,” I comment absently and turn back to my dirty sink. “No, Mom, watch again,” he interrupts for another failed attempt to catch that noisy ball. “Yeah,” I respond, but he’s persistent. We continue this four or five times until I feel myself tensing with frustration. “Hey, bud, why don’t you go practice that in your room.” He obediently turns and walks away while I try to pretend that I didn’t see that dejection in his face.
I sigh and busy myself with the remainder of the kitchen and then gather pen and stationery to write some notes—important ministry stuff, you know. I’ve just phrased something in my mind and bend over the paper to write it down when—”MOM-M-M-MY! Look it!” My four year old stretches her lips into a face she thinks is hilarious and peals into laughter at her own ridiculousness. Then, she reaches for my face. And I have a decision to make.
The decision seems simple enough, doesn’t it? I mean, I have lots of work to do. My work is necessary, important, sometimes spiritual and often urgent. On the other hand, playing with my kids is just—well, playing. And work comes before play, you know. “Mommy’s kind of busy right now. She has more important things to do.”
But the words stick in my throat as I say them. I picture the disciples pushing the children away from the Savior with similar words: “Christ is kind of busy right now. He has more important—” And then Christ steps in to correct these well-meaning disciples with a lesson we like to bring up when we need nursery workers, but fail to remember in the day-to-day.
My agenda is filled with tasks that need prioritizing, and so often its easier to prioritize the glamorous “spiritual” tasks above the everyday family ones. After all, mentoring young girls, leading souls to Christ—isn’t that what the Christian life is supposed to be about? Well, yes—and not quite. Titus 2 had very specific instructions for women about the Christian life, including to love their husbands, to love their children, and to keep their home. As a matter of fact, the caution is to do these things “that the word of God be not blasphemed.” Playing with my children happens to be an important part of loving them.
1. Children learn by play.
We’ve all heard this, and we know it. But often we fail to use this to our advantage. By playing with my children, I’m taking advantage of a crucial opportunity to teach them character and habits of living. From learning to share to dealing with frustration and failure, to learning how to trust God with the small things in their lives—an abundance of timely opportunities can be found in just a few moments in the playroom. Then second, we all are more willing to listen when we’re having a good time. Some of those lessons that you’re not sure they’re listening to during times of correction could very well be reinforced with a puzzle or a set of LEGOS.
2. Children bond through play.
And we get a chance to bond while enjoying our children. When the only times we interact with our children is after they’ve done something wrong, the relationship can easily turn sour. Even we don’t want to spend time with someone who’s always critical. Enjoying my children helps me to have a vision for how I want them to behave instead of merely reacting to something that annoys me. I can positively train behavior, even by “playing” and pretending situations with my children that give them a chance to practice how I want them to act. A pretend “picnic” where we practice our manners, a “bad guy” we pretend to love—whatever it is you might be having trouble with, try “play” as a tool to reinforce those lessons. Then, laugh and just enjoy the time smiling at each other.
3. Children remember times of play.
In women’s studies and Bible classes that I’ve been in, one of the classic statements is that you make a difference in people’s lives by spending time with them. “Mentoring” is the term that is used. By building a relationship and a reputation with someone, you build a trust that will create opportunities for ministry in the future. Somehow, mentoring my children is something I don’t think of on a daily basis. But when I make a point to create positive memories for my children, I am laying the foundation of influence that I hope to have in their lives when the going gets tough. My children are young, so “mentoring” seems almost laughable sometimes. But I hope that by practice, it becomes a habit in the lives of my children, continuing on into the days when a shopping trip with my daughter or a camping trip with my son provides those welcome times of discussion and mentoring that every parent dreams of. It’s not merely that “children grow up so fast,” it’s that the harvest is ripe—and I’m the primary worker the Lord has chosen for this field.
It is a weighty decision when “Hey, Mommy” interrupts my day. Because one day, when I stand before Christ with my life’s work, will he understand that I had notes to write and a house to clean? Or will he beckon a little child before him and remind me, “Didn’t I tell you, this is what my kingdom is all about.”