My Father-in-Law’s Advice to Me
I’m blessed to have a godly and wise father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, who is known for his translation of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. I so much value his wisdom in that whenever I need to make an important decision I always seek his counsel. Recently, I asked him if there’s any advice that he could give to me as a father of now four children. He said (and I’m sharing his advice with his permission)
Make sure you spend enough time with your children! Life is a one-way street, and you get to spend each day with your children only once. Time not spent with your children can never be relived. When I was a young father, I was a very busy man. I was the principal of a Christian school and also served as elder in the church. In hindsight, I should not have had this double commitment. Even though I did my utmost to spend time with my oldest son David (now forty-three), he still vividly remembers that often I was too busy for him. Once he called me in the not too distant past, and at that particular moment I could not talk to him. He responded, “Dad, are you too busy for me again?” What a painful moment this was for me! My son still remembered that thirty-plus years ago I was too busy for him. Therefore, young fathers, do not make the mistake I made by overcommitting yourself. Each day in the lives of your children is a day that cannot be relived!
Indeed, one of the most common things that fathers regret before they die is this: “I worked too much and did not spend enough time with my family.” God wants us to work diligently to provide for our family. But when we work at the expense of our relationship with our family, our work becomes harmful rather than helpful. In his 2011 Father’s Day message, former President Barack Obama expressed his regret for not spending enough time with his children when they were younger. Listen to what he said:
When Malia and Sasha were younger, work kept me away from home more than it should have. At times, the burden of raising our two daughters has fallen too heavily on Michelle. During the campaign, not a day went by that I didn’t wish I could spend more time with the family I love more than anything else in the world.
But through my own experiences, and my continued efforts to be a better father, I have learned something over the years about what children need most from their parents. They need our time, measured not only in the number of hours we spend with them each day, but what we do with those hours.
The late American evangelist Billy Graham expressed a similar regret. When interviewed by Christianity Today about anything he could have done differently, Billy Graham said:
I’d spend more time at home with my family, and I’d study more and preach less. I wouldn’t have taken so many speaking engagements, including some of the things I did over the years that I probably didn’t really need to do—weddings and funerals and building dedications, things like that. Whenever I counsel someone who feels called to be an evangelist, I always urge them to guard their time and not feel like they have to do everything.
Fathers, before it is too late, let’s spend quality time with our children. Some fathers think that their duty is only to provide for their children’s material and physical needs. That’s only part of our duty as fathers. We are also called to provide for our children’s spiritual and emotional needs. Interestingly, when our children develop sinful habits or patterns of life, we quickly ask, “Why is my son or daughter behaving this way? What’s wrong with my child?” But perhaps we could also ask ourselves: “Am I taking time to also provide spiritually and emotionally for my children? Do I spend time with them? Do I play with them? Do I read God’s Word and pray with them? Do I discipline them when necessary? Do I encourage them? Do I assure them of my love?”
Fathers, our children need our presence, not just our pockets. I remember this touching story: “A little boy who had been begging his father for favors all day came once into his daddy’s office. ‘What do you want this time?’ asked the weary parent. ‘I don’t want anything,’ was the astonishing reply. ‘I just want to be with you.’”
Fathers, if we are honest with ourselves, we all fail to spend time with our children as we should. That’s why we need to pray earnestly to God for his grace to be able to balance properly our work and family responsibilities. We also need to pray daily that we may be able to model God’s fatherly character to our children, always pointing them to him, who, for Christ’s sake, will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). And when we do fail in our calling as fathers, let us not despair. There is always forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9).
Rev. Brian G. Najapfour (ThM, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) has been a minister of the gospel since 2001 and has served both in the Philippines and in the United States. He is the author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Tongue. He blogs at biblicalspiritualitypress.org