Families, especially large ones, need space. Not necessarily space in terms of square-footage, but space in terms of Unscheduled Time.
Our family seems to crave this, and so we try and make it part of the rhythm of our lives. While the activities and requirements of existence must be factored in, after all is considered, we take our hands off and allow everyone to simply BREATHE.
Let me illustrate the need for this with a description of what I will call, “The Tourist Syndrome.”
Anyone who has traveled overseas has probably experienced this in one form or another; when we plan to visit cities like Rome or Paris or London, we try and get the most for our money. This is why we seek out a packaged tour, and our tour is usually loaded up with one attraction after another.
This may mean that we will be scheduled to visit the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine all in one day, traveling at break-neck speed, with just a pit-stop for sustenance. We can’t afford to spend too much time in one place because then we might “miss out” on something spectacular.
Then there are the fated trips to Disney World (or Land). How many, many dear, wonderful parents have sacrificially ponied up the plane fare, the tickets, the food, and everything else only to find out the children were disappointed with the park and begged to go to the beach instead!
Yes, we can exhaust ourselves whirling through time and space so that we can check the boxes on our “bucket list,” but in the end we will not feel enriched; we will feel poor and cheated.
Shuffling everyone around from one activity to another might look good on Instagram or sound good when we are gabbing in a circle of acquaintances, but it isn’t satisfying.
I’ve been to some pretty important cities (like Berlin and Brussels and The Hague), and I can tell you that my fondest memories were not at all the “sites.” I do remember things like shopping for lunch stuffs in a regular supermarket, or sitting waiting for a tram and watching the people as they interacted, or getting lost and finding out that people really are nice pretty much everywhere you go. One of my all-time favorites was jogging to the beach bordering the North Sea through the streets of The Hague at nine o-clock at night and hearing the waves as they thundered on the sand in the darkness. Another was when we traveled downtown on the Metro in Brussels to watch a movie (in English with French and Flemish subtitles) with some friends while they mimicked with their own special brand of French each announcement of a coming stop.
Family life should not be a rushed tour. It should be the profound enjoyment of the prosaic; the collecting of a museum of memories made during breakfast and while folding laundry.
But if we aren’t careful, we can turn our homes into a pit stop on the way to the next round of activities; just a place to shower, sleep, and grab a bowl of cereal.
Loading up our days with “experiences” keeps us from the finer things in life, things like:
- Sitting and watching the baby discover her ears.
- Snuggling on a porch swing and listening to the crickets.
- Running around in the drenching rain while screeching and giggling.
- Telling stories about when you were a youngster.
- Building castles and tunnels and roads in the sand for tiny dolls and cars.
- Watching just what ants do and where they go.
- Practicing the fine art of butterfly kissing.
- Building tents with furniture and blankets while thunder rumbles outside.
- Listening to a newborn sigh in his sleep.
- Listening to preschool stories and jokes carefully enough to genuinely enjoy.
- Taking a whole afternoon to actually finish a game of monopoly while you sit and enjoy popcorn and iced tea.
- Sitting on the back porch slurping fresh cut watermelon and spitting out the seeds.
- Planting a garden and then eating from it.
- Lying on a blanket in the yard at midnight and trying to find the constellations.
- Playing freeze tag in the yard at night during a full moon.
And we can run so hard chasing after the recommended or expected that we forget the necessary:
- Time to sit and really listen to the retelling of a night’s worth of dreams
- Time to sit and cuddle instead of just giving a quick hug
- Time to smile and take in the wonder of each person
- Time to do a family project like painting a fence or a room while taking turns playing each person’s style of music
- Time to play “Tickle Monster”
In our family we try and make sure we schedule in days that are not scheduled. Except for the basics like fixing three simple meals, cleaning ourselves up, and keeping things generally tidy, the day is up for grabs.
Someone might decide to sit and read, someone else will grab a sibling or two and strike out on a walk. Another group will head for the toys’ room, and still another clutch will watch a documentary or an old show together (with Daddy handing out movie candy).
Sometimes the kids will sit and draw or watercolor. Other times they crowd around a computer screen and share pins or video clips and laugh or cry together.
They scooter and bike ride, or they sit and play board games. Someone might even be moved to bake some cookies or whip up a bunch of smoothies, and then everyone congregates so that the kitchen is a cacophony that makes me wish for earplugs.
I don’t think it strange that we crave these times; I think all families probably do, but we feel so guilty just “staying home” that we don’t take advantage of the wonder of simply enjoying each other’s company.
To my understanding, this is a true “sabbath rest.” No, it is not like those described from times past where children had to sit and stare or read only the Bible, but it is rest nonetheless. I believe it is intrinsically God-honoring because it expresses the core of the commandments; that we were created to love and enjoy God and each other.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.