I was wrapped in the metallic blanket, my legs already turning to jello. I had hugged my husband, my girls, my sister, my parents and in-laws. Then this man, who four-and-a-half hours ago had been a stranger, walked up to me and said, “Congratulations! You did it!” With all the strength left in my exhausted body I said, “Thank you for everything. I couldn’t have done it without you.” This person I had not met prior to the race helped me cross a finish line that once seemed impossible. All because he set the pace and kept me to it. He kept my nervous, jittery self from running too fast in the beginning and not having the strength to finish. He kept my weary self from slowing down during the hills on miles 20-24 when it would have been easy to give up.
Runners know how valuable pacers are, but do we as parents know it? Do we recognize how our pace affects those within our home, those little lives we are entrusted with? A couple weekends ago, we pulled in the garage late Sunday night, and I told Matt I needed a weekend to recover from the weekend. Like I’m often prone to do, I had filled our weekend with my to-do list and pushed us all too hard. We had gone from one thing to another for three days straight, and now our van seats were a mess of tears and weariness and grumpy moods.
After that weekend, I was reading in Genesis and noticed a little passage I’ve never paid attention to before. Tucked in Genesis 33, Jacob has brought his family and herds to reconcile with his brother Esau. Esau suggests Jacob go with him, but Jacob tells Esau, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children … .”
There’s no such thing as “hurry up offense” for children. Rather, the moment I try to make mine go faster we enter some weird time warp where it seems like everything but the clock stands still. This is the moment one decides she doesn’t like her hair up and wants it down instead. This is the moment the sparkle shoes that are absolutely necessary cannot be found. This is the moment the car seat buckle must be buckled by herself even if it takes 39 attempts. This is the moment I remember I haven’t eaten a single thing all day. And thirty minutes later we have moved the vast distance of three-and-a-half feet, and the back door is still eight feet away. At this rate, I should have packed a lunch and maybe dinner too.
One of the hardest lessons for me in parenting has been learning to roll with the punches and adjust my expectations. The truth is children move at a slower pace. Jacob recognized it when he was making his journey to reconcile with Esau. Jesus recognized it when the people brought their children to Him so He could lay hands on them, but the disciples became upset because they wanted to stay on schedule.
And when I examine my calendar with honest eyes I see the source of all that doing and running and achieving. I cram the calendar full of events and parties and RSVPs because I want to be liked. I stack the day’s agenda so I can prove my worth. I drag the kids from one place to another so they can do and run and achieve just like me.
There is a time to push yourself in a marathon, but there is also a time to restrain yourself. As parents we have to strike that balance too. In our family I am usually the one pushing, and Matt is usually the one slowing. Both are vital. Sometimes we need a push to serve in a new way or take on more responsibility so that our children know they are capable of doing big things for God’s kingdom. But sometimes, and especially if we have young children, we need to slow our pace. We need to say no to good things that aren’t our best yes right now. We need to quit some things that we really enjoy–not for forever but for this season–so that we can enjoy the relationships within our home.
I’m taking a semester off from leading Bible study with our ladies ministry. This decision was so difficult for me because those women have been my midweek sanity for two years now. But God has been whispering this message about pace to me over and over recently, and I can’t ignore Him. With homeschooling and potty training and feeding a newborn, our mornings just go much better if we aren’t trying to rush out the door by a certain time. With margin, there is more room for grace and peace and spilled sippy cups. With an empty morning on the calendar, we can move a little slower, read that book they’re begging for, and bandage that invisible boo-boo she’s certain she just acquired. With a little less on the day’s agenda, we can all take a deep breath and maybe get a second cup of caffeine.
Like everything else, this is a season. Their little legs will one day run everywhere. Their little hands will one day move faster than ours. Before we know it, their feet will be pushing the pedals of a car and walking down the aisle. They won’t be this small for long, and one day it will be time to pick up our pace, time to surge ahead. But this race called parenting is a marathon, and it’s one I want to finish well. And right now, we must slow our pace. For the sake of our children.