One day when my daughter Sammy was three, I was holding her on my hip. We were standing in the dining room of our home, and she was trying to tell me something important—but she could tell that I was looking away at something else. So she grabbed both of my cheeks with her little hands, jerked my head around to look directly at her, and said, “Daddy, I am talking to you!” I wish I could say that I learned my lesson that day, but my adult daughters and my wife still tell me sometimes that I’m not paying attention when they talk to me.
Nor will I forget the time when an older gentleman firmly rebuked me for my lack of attention to my own family. Rees Bryant, a professor in the graduate school at the university where I teach, was the consummate southern gentleman. Because he was such a kind and gentle man, his conversation with me took me off guard. He started by asking me how things were going in my local church in Mt. Pulaski, Illinois, where he knew I had been serving as an elder. I responded that I had been working hard as an elder and told him that things were mostly going okay, with a few bumps here and there. He then looked me in the eye and said, “Mike, I think there are probably a lot of other men in Mt. Pulaski who could do as good a job as you—or a better job than you—as an elder.” His statement surprised and confused me. Then he asked me how I was doing as a missions professor in the undergraduate school. I told him that I was working hard and that the number of students in our program was growing. He looked me in the eye again and said, “Mike, I think there are probably a lot of other men who could do as good a job as you—or a better job than you—as a missions professor.” Shocked by his words, I wondered what in the world was he trying to tell me. His next statement hit me right between the eyes: “Mike, there is only one man in all the world God has called to be Julie’s husband and Sarah, Jason, and Sammy’s daddy, and that is you. And you can’t be replaced!” He had set me up for the punch line, and indeed—it felt like a punch in the gut. The brevity of life should remind us to be fully present with others in life, especially our family.
When I was looking at some old photos of my kids the other day, I felt a twinge of sadness and regret come over me. I realized how often I hadn’t been fully present when they were growing up—and I had no way of going back and doing it again. I want my sadness to be a wakeup call, calling me to be fully present now in their lives. No time is too late a time to start paying attention or to be fully present. Moreover, I am trying harder to be fully present when I talk with people. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.” I am ashamed when I think of all the times when I have caught myself trying to think about what I am going to say next in a conversation instead of being fully present and listening to the other person.
Right now, you are somewhere and you are with someone. Are you fully present?
REFLECTIONS: What can you do to remind yourself to be fully present, especially with your family? Make a habit of looking at people when you talk to them. Stop yourself from thinking about what you are going to say next while someone else is speaking to you and focus on what they are saying.
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.