There he stands at the top of the stairs resplendent in his full chef’s regalia. He had spent hours creating these masterpieces which he now displays precariously in his hands. A voice announces this culinary genius’s grand entrance – “Ten chocolate layer cakes!” Proudly, the baker extraordinaire takes one step forward, but as he does the cakes start sliding in his arms. He shifts and jukes and juggles trying to regain control, but to no avail. This hopeless dance causes him to take one step too many sending the sorry chef tumbling down the stairs with cakes somersaulting through the air. When he finally lands, covered in his creations, a chorus of children sing out, “And that’s the song of 10!”
The problem that Sesame Street chef had was that he was trying to carry too many things at once. He had lost sight of what his primary objective was – delivering his cakes to the bottom of the stairs. Now, being a guy, I understand exactly where he was coming from. Instead of making two or three quick trips, I will spend twice as much time figuring out how I can loop the grocery bags over my hands and arms just right so that I can carry in the whole load at once. Why do I do this? I don’t know. You might as well ask why the sky is blue and the French are yellow. I’m a guy – it’s how I roll.
If this “I can balance it all” philosophy is limited to cake-carrying and groceries, it’s not that big a deal. The worst that can happen is you end up with crushed confectionaries, a loaf or two of smushed whole wheat, and maybe a few torn bags which scatter a trail of canned goods to the kitchen like bread crumbs to a gingerbread cottage. It’s when we take this Superman approach toward life that the stakes get much higher.
We can’t do it all – or, at least, we can’t do it all well. When we put the same level of attention and commitment to our work as we do toward fixing things around the house as we do toward shuttling our kids around to their various activities as we do toward serving in the church as we do toward building into our family, then something is going to suffer. And that something is typically everything.
We’ve got to prioritize our lives. If that chef had focused all his attention on one of the cakes, carefully balancing it on his hands, gingerly walking down the steps, then delicately placing it on the display table before making his way back up for the next, then eventually every cake would have been safely delivered. It may take longer and it may not be quite as flashy, but it gets the job done.
For the sake of time, I am going to take a relationship with God as a given in this discussion. Seeking God’s lead in your life through reading His word and spending time in prayer is not one of the cakes that we are trying to balance. It is the arms that hold up the cakes – it is the legs that walk us down the steps. A close relationship with God is not a priority – it is THE priority.
As for the rest of the priorities in your life, you’re going to have to figure them out yourself – except for the first. That top-of-your-list priority must be family. Ensuring that your marriage is healthy and that your children are being reared to love and follow God have got to take precedence over anything and everything else in your life. It must be the one cake that you pick up first – gripping it tightly with both hands – because it is the most precious and fragile responsibility that you have.
In order to safely deliver our family down the flight of stairs, there are a number of things that we need to keep in mind. First, a healthy home takes a lot of intentional work. A healthy family does not just happen. We’ve got to be constantly thinking, evaluating, reworking, and communicating. Our children need to know that they are number three in our lives after God and their other parent. This commitment to them is communicated not just through words, but through the time we spend together.
One of the greatest gifts that we can give to our children is an environment where they can safely say whatever is on their minds, knowing that we will sit there and listen and that we will actually care. We listen even if what they are saying is juvenile and silly, because they are silly juveniles and these things are important to them. Training your children to speak freely to you when they are young will pay huge dividends when they reach their teenage years and you really need to know what’s going on in their lives. We can’t just expect that our kids know how important they are to us – we’ve got to be intentional in showing them.
Second, your kids need you more than they need a comfortable life. Solomon writes, “Better is a dry morsel with quiet, than a house full of feasting with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1) I love that! I would much rather just be getting by if that means that my family is healthy. A good marriage and kids who love the Lord are priceless treasures. Yet they are treasures that so many people sacrifice for a bigger house or a nicer car or more exotic vacations. “I want my kids to have more than I had,” they say. “I don’t want my children to struggle the way that my family struggled.” I get that. Those are good aspirations – as long as they are prioritized properly. If a bigger bedroom means dad is working seventy hours a week, then that’s not a good bargain for a kid. Most kids would gladly take the smaller bedroom if that meant that dad was in there with them reading stories or wrestling around or building LEGO star cruisers or agreeing that the guy who just dumped her is a worthless loser who never deserved her to begin with.
Third, remember that you are always being watched. Kids have amazingly heightened senses. They can see through walls when mom and dad are fighting. They can hear whispered conversations from across the room. I can’t tell you the number of times that Nancy and I would be having a hushed conversation in the car while Madeline was asleep in the backseat with earbuds in, when suddenly we’d hear her pipe up, “Who’s thinking of leaving the church?” or “Why was that person mad at you?” We can never lose sight that we are always on display in front of our kids. And months of intentional building into them can be lost in a few moments of uncontrolled emotional recklessness.
Fourth, grace needs to be the key word in our households (with a lot of mercy and forgiveness mixed in). Don’t feel that you need to correct every mistake or misstatement. Pick your moments. Choose your battles. The line between teaching and nagging can often be razor thin. Be the first to apologize (yes, even to your children). Always be ready to forgive, sometimes even without the accompanying lecture. You are the one who is responsible for the tone of grace in your household – embrace the challenge.
Finally, pray. Every day. Throughout the day. Pray for your spouse. Pray that your marriage deepens and never falls into the bottomless pit of apathetic familiarity. Pray that God keeps you sharp, so that you don’t give into me-ism, what-ifs, and the grass is always greener. Pray for your children (grandchildren, great-grandchildren). Pray for God’s protection for them in a cesspoolic web-world. Pray that they are able to find their affirmation from home and from above, so that they don’t have to go seeking it from whomever’s around. Pray for their future spouse (as heart-wrenching as it may be to think about), that they may also be protected from entering a marriage with a mini-van full of sinful baggage. Pray that God gives you wisdom to focus on the right cake at the right time, so that you never lose the “vital” to that which is simply “important”.
Like a precious set of silver, our family needs to be protected and cared for. If we neglect it, it will tarnish and deteriorate. However, if we give it the care and attention it needs, it will become one of the most wonderful gifts that God blesses us with.