What I’ve Been Learning About “Father Wounds”

Married mom and dad best for children

I’ve been mildly obsessing over this topic for the past few months.

Recently I went to an intense and unusual men’s conference. There was almost no verbal teaching there. Instead it was very hands-on and experiential. That weekend I saw man after man experience emotional release around the issue of his relationship with his father. Some of these were mature Christian men who had been stuffing their feelings down for decades. Since then I feel I’ve been noticing the father wound issue everywhere, in friends, family, and strangers, and in seemingly every movie I see.

On the ride home from the conference, our carload of guys debriefed each other and compared our experiences for 12 hours. When I got home I wanted to learn more. I began meeting with all of my adult children to be sure I hadn’t wounded them as I had seen so many others wounded. I thought I’d share with you some encouraging thoughts that have come out of all of this.

First, it would be more correct to speak of “parent wounds,” because it’s not only dads that mark their children with unmet relational needs. But it is true that it is more often dads who are absent, whether physically or emotionally, from the lives of their children. However, I want to hasten to add here that the point of this post is to encourage you! Whether you are a parent, or whether you aspire to be one, I would like to hold up the following vision before you:

It is not unusual in Christian circles to think of children as a gift from God. In fact, the scriptures explicitly say this (Psalm 127:3-5.) I don’t know that Mollie and I would’ve had 5 children if not for believing this. However, I think it is also true to say that we as loving parents are a gift to our children. If this was too obvious to point out in earlier generations, I would suggest that is no longer the case. As a parent I hope that you can see yourself this way. If you fulfill your parenting role well, your children will certainly grow up to see you as among the greatest of their earthly gifts. More importantly, they will have a much better chance of entering adult life without the emotional baggage that weighs so many people down.

What a parent wound is and is not
As I’ve talked with other dads about this, I’ve sometimes sensed some uneasiness around the topic. Perhaps this is because we are all aware that none of us are perfect parents. We all know it is inevitable that we will let down or hurt our children. But when I speak of parent wounds I am not referring to the occasional mistakes that we all make. Parenting well is not about being flawless. Furthermore, sometimes we’ll intentionally need to make decisions that will disappoint our children. But our children can understand and forgive these hurts if they occur within an overall context of love and affirmation in our family culture.

Rather, when I speak of parent wounds I’m referring to wounds that occur as a result of a regular pattern of deprivation; the withholding of good, healthy, emotionally rich relational expression from parents. If parents do not give their children a secure sense of being loved, accepted, and valued, those children will very likely seek these things elsewhere in a variety of unhealthy ways.

Since we all do make mistakes, humility is an essential part of loving, in both marriage and parenting. A parent who will admit a wrong to a child, and ask forgiveness from that child, is an amazing role model! Apparently there are a lot of people in the world who have never heard the words, “I was wrong” from a parent.

What was your “normal” as you were growing up?
To a great extent, much of family culture seems to be passed down, for better or for worse. For obvious reasons, we tend to repeat what was normal in the home in which we were raised. Think of your own upbringing. If you had a parent who rarely or never verbally expressed his or her love to you, it is likely that parent grew up in a home where love was never verbally expressed. For such a parent, verbally expressing love may feel awkward, forced, or perhaps unnecessary.

Realizing this can help us break the cycle of deprivation with our own children. We can learn from our own parents either way – whether their example was great or poor. Rather than conforming to a poor example, we can commit to be conformed to the image of God in our parenting. I would like to think that parents who are followers of Jesus would naturally excel at creating a family culture of love and acceptance, but unfortunately, dysfunctional patterns from our upbringings can easily assert themselves if we don’t keep our heads in the game.

It IS possible to do this well!
I recently finished a book by PhD psychologist, John Trent, and Gary Smalley entitled, The Blessing. It’s not a new book but I think the message is timeless. The authors contend that children naturally look to their parents to confer a blessing on their lives. If this blessing is withheld for whatever reason, those children will almost certainly feel a deficit in their being, and may spend a lifetime seeking to compensate for what they feel they never received from their parents. Trent and Smalley describe the parental blessing as consisting of 5 parts:

  • Meaningful and appropriate touch
  • A spoken message (because silence creates uncertainty)
  • Attaching high value to the one being blessed
  • Picturing a special future for him or her
  • An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

Do these things resonate with you as they did for me? If not, imagine withholding one of these things from your child. Think of your own upbringing. Can you think of ways that your parents expressed these things to you? My parents were better at some of these than others, but I can clearly remember feeling, for example, their “active commitment,” not only to me but also to my three siblings. One of the ways they did this was by attending our events and involving themselves in the things we enjoyed.

My daily reminder
Over the years when our kids were still young, Mollie and I attended several parenting conference with our church. During one of them in particular, I consciously chose to take home a practical suggestion from one of the speakers. He said,

“Every day, give each of your children a loving look, a loving touch, and a loving word.”

I figured even if I only managed to do this once a week for each kid, the cumulative effect would be very great. So I wrote out a small reminder in abbreviated form and kept it on my nightstand where I would see it. It’s been there now for years. I felt a little sheepish that I needed a written reminder to express love to my kids, but I know I am prone to getting busy and forgetting things. I wrote it in abbreviated form because I was afraid one of them might wander into our bedroom someday and see my reminder, and feel like my expressions of love were items on a “to do” list and not from my heart. I still have my note, now a bit worn:

reminder to love every day

Do whatever it takes to remember. I wish you all the best in creating a rich culture of life and love for your kids! You can do this as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or caregiver as well.

I can testify to the power of parental blessing. My dad was an “uneducated” construction worker, while I was a skinny, weird, sensitive little artist kid. My mom was only schooled as far as the eighth grade and never even learned how to drive. I doubt if my parents ever read a parenting book. Nonetheless, they created a home environment that met my and my siblings’ relational needs as small human beings created in God’s Image. That truly is a profound gift.

Soon I’ll share some research on how wounded people have shaped our culture.

If may offer a postscript that might appear to be just a wee bit self-serving, reading storybooks to your kids every day is an enjoyable way to cover at least 3 of the 5 aspects of blessing our kids.
(They don’t even have to be my books!)

Storybooks as Gifts? Yes! (Time to Order.)

watercolor-Scott Freeman

Three years ago I launched a kids’ storybook company. As an artist, writer, and father of five I became very excited about the possibility of producing beautifully illustrated storybooks that would help parents and grandparents instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the children they love.

One thing that is different about my company is that it is all online, through my website. Books are printed “on demand,” as they are ordered, which means I’m not selling my books through stores. (I tried that with my first book, Naomi’s Gift, and it wore me out!) I hope ordering through my website will be more convenient for you as well.

I’m sending this post out now because Christmas is coming, and if you are thinking of giving a storybook as a gift, now would be a great time to order to ensure delivery in time for Christmas! (The official ordering deadline for my storybooks in hardcover is December 3rd.)

My newest book is called, The True Story of Christmas. I wasn’t able to deliver this book in time for Christmas last year, so if you passed on it then, it’s ready to go now.

The concept behind The True Story of Christmas:
Our family has accumulated a nice collection of Christmas books over the years. But I saw a place for a beautifully illustrated Christmas storybook for kids that would
1) place Christmas in the context of the bigger picture and explain why Jesus was born, and
2) tell the Christmas story in fidelity to the biblical narrative.

The True Story of Christmas is the result. The book begins with the story of God’s good creation and the subsequent fall of man, and frames Christmas as part of God’s plan to “fix His broken world”:

“The story of Christmas is about how God still loves us.
Christmas is about His good plan to create a way for us
to receive His love, light, and life again.”

The story continues, briefly introducing children to the nation of Israel and the Hebrew prophets, building anticipation for the coming of a promised child who would grow up to bring salvation and establish a good and eternal kingdom.

prophets watercolor storybooks bible

As for fidelity to the biblical narrative, much of our understanding of the Christmas story comes to us from extra-biblical traditions, Christmas carols, and greeting cards. Without sounding picky or pretentious, The True Story of Christmas aims to remain true to the biblical account while retaining the excitement and charm of the Christmas story.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of an extra-biblical tradition would be the Magi arriving at the manger on the night of Jesus’s birth, rather than at the house of Jesus as a small child in Bethlehem, as the scriptures say.

Watercolor-The True Story of Xmas

Watercolor illustrations of the shepherds, and the wise men, from The True Story of Christmas.

Here are a couple of customer reviews that made me happy:

“This is a remarkable book. It is a children’s book and his presentation of the Christmas story is presented in a way that will be very engaging for children. But the book is also a simple, powerful summary of the whole theme of redemption. It is a good read for anyone. I also love the illustrations, and the Christmas Carol at the end. Really, this is a book every Christian could read through at Christmas to get a reset on what it is we have to celebrate.” – JM

“This book is wonderful and the very best Christmas storybook I have ever read or seen! Everyone should have a copy of this. The script and the artwork are amazing!” – CT

CLICK HERE to order The True Story of Christmas!

Some other Christmas Items:
For those interested, this year I was able to upload some new designs for Christmas cards on the Zazzle site that Mollie and I share. This is a site that takes our original artwork and puts it on nice quality cards and other products. Visit our site and browse around. Also, as a gift idea, I will mention that I have ordered coffee mugs from Zazzle, and they came out GREAT! You can check out my coffee mug designs on the site as well. panda-mug

As you will see, some of the Christmas cards (as well as some everyday cards) use imagery from my kids’ books. Below are some of the new Christmas cards:

scotts-christmas-cards

CLICK HERE to visit our Zazzle store.

An update on my storybook business:
If you’ve been subscribed to my BigPicturePublishing.com site for long, you may have noticed that I did not release a new storybook this year. The reason is that 2015 was an unusually trying year for Mollie and me as we both lost very close family members and experienced a number of other difficulties. Consequently we’ve taken a break from the stress of self-employment for a while, and are both working full time for the first time in 15 years. This has been a great time of catching our breath and catching up, but unfortunately has not allowed me much time to work on new books.

However, my next title, The Friendly City, is written and ready to illustrate. I’m quite excited about it and I’ll keep you posted as the painting begins. I think I’m getting close to being able to start the artwork. If you haven’t already done so, please visit the BigPicturePublishing.com site and sign up in the blue box to receive notification of when new books are ready, as well as an occasional blog post. Signing up does not obligate you purchase anything.

As the world grows more confusing for children and more hostile to followers of Jesus, it’s more important than ever that we instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the kids that are in our care. I would love to play a part in that task by providing great tools for parents and grandparents. CLICK HERE to see descriptions of all my kids’ storybooks.

Thank you again for your interest and support!
Love rules,

Scott Freeman

How and Why to Not Be Postmodern

Throwing the

Recently I had coffee with one of my adult sons. I wanted to hear his insights about his spiritual development growing up. One unexpected comment came to light as he compared our family’s culture to that of a close friend’s. He observed that Mollie and I had modeled a faith that permeated all of life, and that our values reflected this. By contrast, for some people, faith is something added on, like an extra-curricular activity.

He said, “For you guys, a biblical worldview was like a pair of glasses through which you viewed everything. For my friend’s family it was more like a pair of binoculars that they would pick up now and then.”

This got me to thinking about postmodernism – the cultural state of society that distrusts the very idea of objective truth.

What is Postmodernity?
Philosopher and author Paul Copan describes postmodernity this way:

“French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard said that, simplifying to the extreme, postmodernism is suspension toward a metanarrative, which is a ‘world story’ that’s taken to be true for all people in all cultures and ends up oppressing people…”

So, postmodernity is a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are many horrific examples in history of people oppressing others over strongly held beliefs – both religious and secular – postmodernity seeks to solve the problem by getting rid of the notion of truth altogether. It’s like John Lennon’s song, Imagine. Copan continues:

“…When people are so certain that they’ve got the truth and believe their system explains everything, then people who disagree with them are on the outside. They end up in Auschwitz or the Soviet gulags. So instead of metanarratives, postmodernism emphasizes mini-narratives. In other words, each person has his or her own viewpoint or story.”

Postmodernity attempts to address a very real problem in the world. It’s true that there are many metanarratives, ideologies, worldviews, and religions in the world that are coercive. But in making all truth relative, postmodernity does the world the ultimate disservice if there is, in fact, an objective Authority who has communicated a true story that includes all of us. Followers of Jesus should confidently and joyfully ignore postmodernism and instead, prove the life giving nature of the story and message of Jesus in our own lives and families.

“All Truth Claims are Wrong!”
Copan points out that the relativism that stems from a postmodern worldview is self-refuting. It simply doesn’t work as a worldview.

“…the relativist believes that relativism is true not just for him but for every person. He believes that relativism applies to the nonrelativist (‘true for you’), not just to himself (‘true for me’). The relativist finds himself in a bind if we ask him, ‘Is relativism absolutely true for everyone?’…There’s no reason to take seriously the claim that every belief is as good as every other belief, since this belief itself would be no better than any other.”

But having noted the self-contradictory nature of postmodernity, what about the problem of metanarratives being necessarily oppressive? Specifically, does the big picture presented in the Judeo-Christian scriptures necessarily marginalize those “on the outside”?

Self Righteous and Holier-Than-Thou?
I don’t buy that. The Bible specifically teaches that self-righteousness is not even possible (Ps 14; Ro 3:10-18.) Salvation is a gift from God and something none of us can claim to have earned (Ro 3:23,24; 6:23; Gal 2:15,16; 3:2-5; Eph 2:8,9; 3:7-9.)

From a biblical worldview Jesus is the only human being who could rightfully claim to be without sin, claim to be righteous in-and-of-Himself, and claim to be unerring in His knowledge of truth. Yet He was the perfect picture of love and inclusivity. His life was characterized by loving, healing , and reaching out to the marginalized: those on the fringe of respectable Jewish culture, women, lepers, the sexually unchaste, traitors, servants, children, Romans and other non-Jews, and so on. He typically did this even though it was inconvenient for Him and often got Him into trouble with His critics.

Not only His actions but also His teachings explicitly taught that following Him must mean reaching out to and welcoming the marginalized in a broken world. Several parables come to mind:
The parable of the Samaritan
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector
The parable of the prodigal son
The parable of the wedding feast and the uninvited guests
The parable of the widow’s offering
The story of the rich man and Lazarus

Rather than oppressing the marginalized, a biblical worldview acknowledges our common humanity. It roots human worth in the idea that all people bear the image of God, and yet it humbles human standing in the idea that all people “fall short of the glory of God’s ideal.” It is notable that two of the most combative personalities in the New Testament repeat the quote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.) Humility invalidates oppression and marginalization. A quote attributed to D T Niles rings true to me:

“A Christian witness is not like a rich man who has a lot of bread which he hands out to the poor beggars who have nothing. He is rather like one beggar who tells another beggar where he has found bread.”

A Bedtime Story
Accordingly, this all affects what we say to our children. As a young father it was my job and privilege to tuck my children in at bedtime. I would sing and pray with them each night. I remember a brief period of time when one of my boys was very troubled. He would tearfully express that he was a “bad boy.” Those are the words he used. He was probably 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was a bit taken aback by this because Mollie and I made a point of never telling our children that they were “bad,” even when correcting them.

He didn’t seem to be trying to confess a specific hidden offense that was troubling his conscience. Instead, he seemed to be expressing a recognition that there was something generally wrong within himself. I remember thinking carefully and prayerfully before answering him, because he expected an answer. Should I assure him that he wasn’t all that bad? Should I point out how favorably he compared to serial killers and drug dealers? This was my first impulse – to minimize his feelings and build up his self-esteem by pointing out all the things on the “good” side of his scale.

But a biblical worldview compelled me to say something different. Instead, I essentially agreed with him. And, holding him close in the dark, I sympathetically let him know that I was also “bad,” and so was every one else in the world; that what he was feeling was accurate. I explained that this is why God sent Jesus to us, because we all need a Savior. My son’s recognition of his own brokenness was simply the first step toward the spiritual rebirth that Jesus offers to us all. Jesus promised to give us His Spirit to live inside of us, and after that we help each other to live a new life in that Spirit.

I’m certainly not recommending that we as parents teach our children that they are pure evil. The truth is more nuanced than that. I think the Bible’s description of the fallen human heart as “inclined” toward evil is helpful (Gen 8:21.) When I think of an incline, I notice it’s possible to roll a ball up an incline, but it takes deliberate effort. A ball naturally will roll down an incline. So it is with our hearts.

There is a world of difference between telling a child that he or she is a “bad person,” and teaching a child that all human beings struggle with corrupted hearts.

Speaking the Truth in Love
I assume there are those who would say it is appalling to say such things to a child. I imagine that a time may come when a secularist government will see fit to intervene in cases where parents teach such things. But truth is that which corresponds to the way things really are. What if a child is taught that he or she is naturally good and perfect? Where does that leave the child when he or she sees within himself or herself a tendency to lie, cheat, and hurt others? I contend that it leaves the child in a truly hopeless place.

The fact of human brokenness should never be used to shame or manipulate others. But neither does a biblical worldview indulge secularist, utopian, wishful thinking about the natural goodness and perfectibility of humanity. In fact, ironically, this kind of thinking is actually dangerous when it comes to granting human beings governmental power over others. This is why we have a dystopian genre in film and literature.

I would like to hear about your experience as a child or a parent. How did you understand the state of the human heart? How was it communicated to you, and what effect did it have on you?

Announcing My New Youtube Channel & Intro Video

 

Scott Freeman artist author illustrator

My profile pic for my Youtube channel: Dad the Storyteller…

Instilling, reinforcing, and normalizing a biblical worldview in the children you love has never been more important. Stories are still one of the very best ways to do this as they engage the intellect, the emotions, and the will of a child. As a father, artist, and author my hope is to provide parents, grandparents, and other caretakers of small children with beautifully illustrated, engaging storybooks that will express a view of reality that is true:

…A worldview that won’t need to be traded in later for something truer, better, and more compatible with the real world…

Rather than rant on about this I want to present a few quotes that I find to be fascinating. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. First, a couple of quotes with which I largely agree, from Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong, by William Kilpatrick (1992) :

…for some reason we have come to believe that one can be a good person without any training in goodness. We have succumbed to a myth that claims that morality comes naturally, or at most, with the help of a little reasoning…

But reasoning must begin with premises that come from a worldview. As we will see shortly, different premises will lead to different conclusions.

...But the worst utopian temptation is the desire to shift the focus of responsibility from the individual to the institution. Like the idyllic imagination, the utopian imagination denies that tragedy and suffering are inherent in the human condition, and like the former, it hopes to relieve individuals of the burden of personal morality. It is the habit described by T. S. Eliot of “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” An individual governed by the utopian imagination doesn’t see moral problems, he sees technical problems, and as a result, his solutions are technical: clean needles, safe-sex kits, and improved communication skills…

‘Sound familiar?

…When a society fails to develop character in its young people, it is forced to adopt all sorts of poor substitutes for it when they grow up. In colleges and workplaces across the country, we are now seeing the creation of draconian harassment codes which spell out in minute detail exactly how men and women are to behave toward one another (codes that are in many cases unconstitutional)…without such self-discipline, learned at an early age, we are only inviting more control of our adult lives by governments, courts, and bureaucracies (p 238)…

I could go on. But now compare some quotes from a different (atheistic, materialist/evolutionary) worldview. These disturbing quotes are from Shulamith Firestone, author of the 1970 feminist classic and seminal postgenderist work, The Dialectic of Sex :

…By now people have forgotten what history has proven: that ‘raising’ a child is tantamount to retarding his development. The best way to raise a child is to LAY OFF…[from the chapter, Down with Childhood, (p 82)]…

Some thoughts on the sexual repression of children:

…Sexually, too, ghetto kids are freer. One fellow told me that he can’t remember an age when he didn’t have sexual intercourse with other kids as a natural thing; everyone was doing it. Those who teach in ghetto schools have remarked on the impossibility of restraining child sexuality: it’s a groovy thing, the kids love it, and it far surpasses a lesson about the Great American Democracy (p 91)…Children are repressed at every waking minute. Childhood is hell (p 93)…

Her thoughts on marriage and the evils of the nuclear family:

…For unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biological family – the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled – the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated. We shall need a sexual revolution much larger than – inclusive of – a socialist one to truly eradicate all class systems (p 12)…

And this:

…And yet marriage in its very definition will never be able to fulfill the needs of its participants, for it was organized around, and reinforces, a fundamentally oppressive biological condition that we only now have the skill to correct [referring to female childbirth and nurturing.] As long as we have the institution we shall have the oppressive conditions built into it (p 202)…

One’s worldview matters. In September of 2014 I launched an online children’s storybook company because so much is at stake for the next generation. Yet, in many ways, as Eric Teetsel once said, the culture wars is a beauty contest and evangelicals have been thinking of it as a boxing match. Let’s work on that.

Here is my first video for my new Youtube channel. If you support what I do, please give me some Google luv and view my video and like it on the Youtube page. Also, if you haven’t already done so, visit my WEBSITE and sign up in the blue box to be notified of new storybook releases:

Thanks for viewing!

 

 

 

 

My New Kids’ Book: The True Story of Christmas

Blg full spread

After 30 years of marriage and raising 5 kids together, Mollie and I have accumulated a beloved little collection of illustrated Christmas storybooks. When I worked at Hallmark Cards, the Creative Library there would bring in some of the best Christmas books on the market, and I ordered a few of my favorites for my kids (and for Mollie and myself!)

Some we bought for the great artwork, some we bought for the story. The best ones combined both. An important part of our Christmas season included slowing down, snuggling up, and reading Christmas stories to the kids in the evenings in December.

But I could never find a book like the one I’m making available to you and your family today.

Special care has been taken in The True Story of Christmas to remain as true to the biblical narrative as possible while still keeping the story accessible and engaging for children. The book seeks to reinforce the biblical narrative rather than the extra-biblical traditions that have grown up around the Christmas story.

For example, the scriptures do not say that a blazing star led the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. (The Magi arrived in Jerusalem, where Herod eventually sent them to Bethlehem to search for the child. Bethlehem was just a few miles down the main road.) The scriptures also indicate that the Magi visited Jesus as a toddler in a house in Bethlehem, not in a stable on the night He was born.

Magi wisemen house gold frankincense myrrh

The Magi visiting Jesus in Bethlehem, from The True Story of Christmas.

While these details may or may not be significant, to me it seems best to be in accord with the scriptures regardless of how harmless such extra-biblical traditions may seem. Learning the true narrative at a young age will help to keep faith in the reliability of the Bible intact when such extra-biblical traditions, (and there are many,) are debunked later in a child’s life. The biblical narrative stands up to scrutiny – the extra-biblical traditions do not.

Perhaps more importantly, The True Story of Christmas gives the big picture context of the birth of Jesus according to the Bible.

The true story of Christmas begins at the very beginning, when God created the world. God is good, and everything He made was good. In the beginning the whole world was filled with God’s goodness and light…” (pg 1)

The book begins with God’s perfect creation, followed by the tragic consequences of the fall of humanity – the reason we are all in need of a Savior in the first place. After Noah’s flood, God’s restorative plan begins with His choosing of Abraham and the people of Israel. Kids are introduced to Israel’s prophets and their foretelling of a special child who would be born to Israel to set up a good and eternal kingdom. The Christmas story is the beginning of the fulfillment of this long-anticipated promise.

Following are some of the book’s illustrations and copy:

old testament jewish prophets messiah malachi

“The very last prophet to speak of the promised Messiah was named Malachi. After Malachi there were no more prophets at all in the land of Israel until it was time for the Messiah to be born. Israel had to wait 400 years after Malachi for God’s promises to come true. That is a very long time! But then, it finally happened!”…

Here’s an example of how the type appears on the page:

first christmas stable manger bethlehem swaddling clothes

To Order:
The True Story of Christmas is now ready to order, but PLEASE NOTE: Order by Dec 3rd to ensure that your order arrives in time for Christmas. The True Story of Christmas is not available in stores. You can only get it on my website! (And on Amazon, but I don’t tell people that because I want them to go to my website and sign up on my email list.)

To order now CLICK THIS LINK

Holy family warned in a dream egypt massacre of innocents

The flight to Egypt, from The True Story of Christmas

Thank you so much for your support!
May you and your family have a joyous Christmas season!

Special thanks to my 3 favorite teaching pastors – John Meyer, Pat Sokoll, and Jonathan Williams – for consulting with me on this book.
All images copyright Scott Freeman, 2015

Guaranteeing Time for Family in the Midst of Busyness

Sabbath Keeping-Big Picture PublishingI admit that I might be a work-a-holic, just a wee bit.

Perhaps this is partly because my work tends to be enjoyable and meaningful, and partly because I’ve rarely made enough income for our large family. Or maybe it’s just the way I am wired. I don’t really know.

At any rate, my wife once had a come-to-Jesus talk with me about this that proved to be a turning point for our marriage and family. Had she not called me out, I think I would’ve been too oblivious to make needed changes. After all, my time-sucking pursuits were good, and so were my intentions. I wouldn’t have guessed how important an intentional “work-free” day would turn out to be for all of us.

What started out as an experiment turned out to be a practice on which we have never looked back. In fact all five of our kids came to think of our practice of Sabbath-keeping as an expectation. My wife and I now consider it to be a weekly blessing that we wouldn’t want to do without.

Since it’s the beginning of a busy new school year for many of us, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my story, and hear from others on what works for them.

Before our experiment, here is how my life went: I worked full-time at as a Hallmark artist, and also did free-lance illustration work on the side. I also created a monthly comic strip for an alternative, free newspaper. Nights and weekends were a chance for me to work on my on-the-side stuff. So, on weekends, I would look around the house, and if everyone seemed to be occupied, and no kids were crying or poopy, I would tend to sneak off to my drawing board and get some work done.

Eventually my exasperated wife would come looking for me, usually holding a kid or two. She felt abandoned. We searched for a solution. We had already been toying with the idea of observing a formal Sabbath, but I had pretty much balked at the idea because I was too busy. (What a waste of time. A whole day – shot!) But I remember Mollie telling me, “If I knew I would get you for a full day on Sunday, I think I could live with you working the other six days.”

We decided to try it for one month. Sundays would be solely dedicated to church and family, and I wouldn’t do any paid work at all. Even if no one was poopy, I would be fully present and focused on Mollie and the kids. That was something like 20 years ago. Looking back, I shudder to think of what I almost missed.

Our Sabbath has taken various forms over the years. Mollie and I are interested in the Hebrew Roots of our faith, so for a time we observed a traditional, Saturday Jewish Sabbath as best we could, complete with the lighting of candles at sunset, challah bread, and citing a blessing over each child over dinner, (which my kids thought was weird.) At other times we tried formal family devotions on our Sabbath. But mostly, our Sabbaths have been very unstructured, with the focus being on taking a rest from work, eating together, and, at some point, doing something together as a whole family, usually playing games.

We have tried to not be religious and legalistic about this. As our kids grew older, sometimes they would have homework that had to be done, or there would be a birthday party or a meeting that had to be attended. But for the most part, our kids’ friends knew not to ask our kids to get together on Sunday because that was our family day. Eventually, our kids didn’t even mind that their friends thought our family was weird because they were having too much fun with us.

At times we had fight to keep our Sabbath set apart. We’d make an occasional exception, but we had to say “no” even to some good things. Once, our church’s youth group leadership was considering moving youth group meeting day to Sunday. We felt we had no choice but to decline participation should that change be made. Our Sabbath had become a non-negotiable priority. One parent argued that Sunday youth group could count as our family time, but I knew the dynamic would be different. Fortunately the change was never made.

Today all but one of our five children have left home, but they are closer now to each other, and to Mollie and I, than ever. We attribute this partly to regular, face-to-face time every week. Now that two of our kids are married, some of them decided that we should all get together every other Sunday; whoever can make it. On the off Sundays Mollie and I still observe a Sabbath, and we sometimes use this time to get together with people that we want to “get together with sometime.”

We believe that life is about relationships, and our Sabbath observance has become a practical application of this. (Though honestly, sometimes we’re too exhausted to entertain people!)

For those who may be wondering about my loss in productivity, I believe that observing a Sabbath has actually made me more productive, because I’m never burnt out, and I hit the ground running on Mondays. But even if it hasn’t made me more productive, if I could have all the money I lost because of keeping a Sabbath, I wouldn’t trade it for the wealth of relationship I have today with my family.

If you find yourself frazzled and frustrated by an overfull schedule, why not try keeping a weekly Sabbath for one month, just to see what good might come of it? I’d also love to hear your stories of how you ensure regular family time.

My latest book, Bear Island, reinforces family-time and our need for loving relationship. CLICK HERE for easy ordering!