Yesterday evening I was feeling like I ought to spend a little quality time with my sons. As much as I enjoy those guys, it was really kind of a spontaneous, guilt-motivated decision. I knew it had been too long since I set everything else aside just to be with them. Bed time was rapidly approaching, so I needed something fun, engaging, and…quick. Fresh out of inspiration, I consulted random “fun family activities” links—the majority of which were provided by Mormon authorship. I only noticed this phenomenon after one of them suggested taking a walk around the “temple” grounds together.
I finally settled on turning off all the lights in the house, blasting some instrumental music, laying on the living room floor with our eyes closed, and taking turns telling the stories the music prompted in our imaginations.
Kids like to use their imagination, right?
A lively fiddle tune was first up. When I asked the boys what they thought was going on, my four-year-old piped in right away.
“I think Pandora is going on!” (I was, in fact, playing a Pandora station.)
“Can I be done now, Mom?”
That left just me and the eight-year-old—in the dark, on the living room floor, engulfed in a deafening jig. He decided to go next.
“I think it sounds like a fiddler playing his fiddle and hopping around. Your turn, Mom.”
Okay, I guess I’ll show ’em how it’s done, I thought.
Enthusiastically, I launched into an enchanting description of a dancing grasshopper and his joyful anticipation of the ripening midsummer grains. At the crescendo of my imaginary insect musical, the warmth of the sun caused the grains to pop right out of their husks like popcorn. The grasshopper then leaped about, blithely gathering the delicious fireworks that were everywhere exploding around him.
My son was quiet for just a moment, and then he said,
“Interesting…well…uh…I think I’m done now. You can keep going if you want…but…um….”
The boys were polite, and they humored me, but that wasn’t really the idea. They certainly weren’t delighted. There was no magic. Little eyes did not dance.
So, aside from choosing a really awkward activity, what was the problem?
Well, I had decided that a mom ought to be spending quality time with her kids, so I impulsively chose a random activity that fit the criteria of “doing something with my kids”. I didn’t try to connect with them where they were at. I didn’t try to do their things with them. I didn’t try to enter their world and share it with them. In short, I wasn’t really doing it for them. I was trying to fulfill my perceived obligation to them with little or no consideration for who they are or where they are at.
I’m not all down on myself as a parent or anything. Sometimes we do silly things. But it made me think about my relationships in general.
On a personal level, I wonder how often I go out of my way to offer myself to people in a manner that is meaningful or engaging for them. When I think about it, I have to admit that it’s more often the case that I invite people to enjoy what I enjoy with me, giving very little thought to what might be best or most comfortable for them. I’m only too happy to cuddle up and watch a movie with my husband when he surprises me by picking up a movie I’ll enjoy. I can’t remember the last time I tried to find a “man movie” to watch with him. I’ll make the effort to get to know someone if they want to relax, sip coffee, and talk about life in my living room…but they’ll just have to find someone else to connect with if they really enjoy having a pleasant chat while window shopping together. It can be a very positive thing to open my home, my life, and my interests to others, but much depends on the motive and the circumstances.
On a corporate level, this same pattern can sometimes be seen in churches, ministries, and Christian organizations. We get the idea that we ought to be doing this or that for one group of people or another. Then we come up with a program or an event that fits the general description. A shockingly small amount of consideration or research goes into determining the actual needs, interests, or cultural peculiarities of the folks we are targeting. And if the thing flops, we might just be offended that people didn’t take more of an interest, or show more support. I think the problem is that, although we are trying to do a good thing, we aren’t really trying to serve the people in question. Rather, we are scrambling to find some way to offer something we think we ought to be offering.
It’s a good thing to think about. I really don’t want the culmination of my life and ministry to look like a grasshopper story, in the dark, on the living room floor.