These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up.You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. -Deuteronomy 6:6-12
I stood at the podium, absolutely stunned, as 150 people jeered and booed.
Don't get me wrong. I've given plenty of bad speeches that deserved to be booed. In one case I just know the audience was pleading for the Rapture (the time when Jesus returns to take His people to heaven). Another time, I was teaching a fifth grade Sunday School class when a fifth-grader spoke for audiences everywhere as he sighed and said out loud, "This is going even slower than usual!"
Not this time, though. Up to that moment in my speech I knew I was connecting. They laughed heartily at my opening joke, smiled when I poked fun at my profession, and even clapped when I described the problems facing lower income workers in Vermont.
But lightning struck the room when I said these words: "Of course we all know that the best choice for children is to be home with one of the parents."
That was it. A once-friendly room now turned raucous and decidedly unfriendly.
If experience has taught me anything, those same words have just angered many of you. Before you cancel your subscription though, I beg you to hear me out.
I was on the podium that night because I and three other human resource managers had raised the funds to build a child care center for our workers. At the time, Vermont offered only one licensed child care slot for every four children needing care. With single parents in our firms, and low income families working two jobs just to have food, the four firms we worked for did more than bemoan the fact: They acted.
Not everyone was happy. My pastor at the time, a young man in his first church, severely chided me for "contributing to the breakdown of the family." Some of our workers without children criticized the fact that their coworkers were now getting a benefit they didn't, and wanted something to balance the scales. Still, the overall reaction was that we'd done a good thing.
I tell you this so you know I'm not impractical when I say these next words: Many working Christians in this culture are sacrificing their children's fates on the altars of provision, prosperity and success. In fact, I think an argument can be made that the more successful a culture, the more likely it is that the children of that culture will not hear what they need to hear about God.
If you doubt me on this, then accept this one challenge, and I'm speaking to men (fathers and husbands) as well as women (wives and mothers). Take a pad of paper and your Bible and look up all the passages that tell you how important it is to provide for your family. List them all on one side of the page. You'll find them, I promise you, because the Bible does indeed want us to provide for our families. But you won't find many! Then take the same paper and the same Bible and look up all the passages where the Bible tells us parents to teach our children what they need to know about God. You will need more than one page.
So where do you think God places the priority?
Some among us have surely mastered the ability to pursue careers and still be in our children's lives intimately and intensely enough that they know us and know God. Some among us have surely mastered the ability to teach them God is always with them, even when we're seldom with them. Some among us don't have a choice, pressed by circumstance, or even specifically called by God, to sacrifice time with our children.
But some of us are leaving our children to learn life's most important lessons from people who don't share our faith. Or we're leaving them to think that accomplishments are more important than relationships.
You and I exist to be in relationship with God. God is not impressed with our labors; He's impressed with our attention, our worship, our faithfulness. Though He expects us to work, He never values that work more than He values us; never values our labors more than our time and attention. When He blesses us with children, He expects us to teach them about Him; He expects US to teach them.
No parent has the right to second-guess any other parent's priorities. Circumstances unseen by outsiders may indeed force us to sacrifice quantities of time with our families, and the criticism of meddlers only enhances the pain.
But every parent needs to seek the mind of God when it comes to choices about careers and children. Careers are temporal, often temporary, even fleeting. Children are eternal.
No passage of Scripture endears me more to Jesus than that moment when He says, "Suffer (allow) the children to come to me."
We must not let our work keep that from happening.