How life changes when you have children! There isn’t an element of life that’s left unscathed by arrival of a chubby, pooey, nocturnal little person into your life. It’s wonderful, but it’s also quite an upheaval! It’s not uncommon for parents to feel like they’ve lost some (or all?!) of their identity, capacity and sanity.
Before our eldest was born, we both worked in Christian ministry as staff workers for UCCF: The Christian Unions. It was a brilliant job. We got paid to help students reach out to students with the good news of Jesus on their university campuses. This involved lots of things: doing training seminars at regional and national conferences; giving evangelistic talks; running planning meetings with Christian Union leaders; discipling a recent graduate in the “relay” programme; and doing bible studies with students in coffee shops. As with any job, it had its pressures, but really, what’s not to love about that as a job description?!
Before our son was born I (Cathy) would rock up to Starbucks/Costa/Nero (or another haven of caffeinated bliss) ready for intentional conversations with a student about the gospel. Armed with Bible, beverage and brain we’d delve into a passage, have an edifying chat and then wrap it up with a round of prayer. There was plenty of time and space to reflect on the gospel and apply it deeply to life, with the Spirit’s help.
They were wonderful times, which I look back on with nostalgia.
Nostalgia, because they seem to be a distant memory.
Now when I rock up to a café (which is far less of a frequent occurrence for a start), our son is in tow. I’m armed with different things these days; a bottle, bibs and baby-brain are more likely companions.
Now don’t get me wrong – lunch outings with mums and tots are great fun. I really love them. But it’s tricky to have a complete conversation about anything while you’re trying to stop your child from dipping the toy train into his yogurt, or throwing his lunch on the floor, or from shoving 4 segments of orange into his mouth at once (yes he actually attempted that!)
Children are just so distracting.
So I might not be able to give you eye contact, ask you interesting questions or answer your questions using complete sentences when we’re out for lunch. Never mind have a decent gospel chat. Conversation usually revolves around one of these things instead: the contents of nappies; the latest milestone; childhood ailments; eating habits; or (increasingly commonly!) that embarrassing moment in the Supermarket yesterday.
It’s quite a change from the theology-rich chats of just a few of years ago.
But the other day I felt like I had the best lunchtime conversation that I’d had for months.
Here’s what happened.
We’re out for lunch. I have the little man with me. The other mum has her two little ones with her. We’re having general chit-chat about various snippets of our lives (when we’re not preoccupied with feeding our young in a half-civilised manner). And then my friend comes out with this corker: “So, how can I be praying for you?”
It was a game-changer.
Such a simple question.
Nothing heavy. Nothing complex. Nothing weird about it.
Just a simple question which could have a simple answer.
But here’s what’s happened…
It forced me to think about my life. To actually stop for a moment and think. What is happening in my life at the moment? In what areas of life do I need to be more dependent in prayer? How’s stuff actually going at church?
It was revolutionary! Not only was I stopping to reflect (something I rarely do now) but I was reflecting in light of the gospel. As it turns out, I need prayer for lots of things.
Then I asked my friend the same question back. “How can I pray for you?” And that, alongside some follow-up questions, led to chats about different areas of life: her marriage; her husband’s job; family life; and evangelistic efforts.
There were still plenty of moments when the conversation had to pause because we were distracted by caring for our little ones – but the general train of thought wasn’t lost. Rather than an insubstantial conversation where we flit here, there and everywhere, it actually felt complete. And it was edifying.
I went away from that lunch time elated! Hooray! I’m still capable of chatting about spiritual things. Not only that, but I was thrilled about what it demonstrated to my little boy.
Quite often my “spiritual times” are when I can get a bit of peace and quiet from my son. When he’s at the children’s group at church and I can engage with the Bible talk, when I’m reading the Bible with someone during his nap time, or when he’s in bed and I can be a part of our mid-week Bible study. But this time I was engaging in gospel thought and conversation in front of my son, despite of my son, alongside my son. What an exciting thought!
I’d like my parenting to be more like this. I want our children to hear me chatting about Jesus in ordinary life – in the middle of a messy yogurt-smeared lunch. I think this kind of thing is maybe what God had in mind when he said this:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
So from now on, if you’re hanging out with me and my boy, you might just hear me ask the question, “How can I be praying for you?” As far as questions go, it’s a pretty good one.