Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Theme Park Vacation

During a recent family vacation to a theme park in California, I was shocked at how many fathers were conducting business while standing in line with their children. It seemed in every line where we stood, fathers were on their cell phones talking about business deals, or on their Blackberry’s doing e-mail. Sadly, there were many times where I looked at the children standing next to their father, and saw sad eyes searching desperately for attention, but which received nothing back. Children asked questions or made comments and were answered with nothing but silence or a sharp shush.

I’ll admit that I find it hard to “turn off” work at times, and more than once I have checked my Blackberry at the wrong time while on vacation. I’m trying to do better. My family tells me that I am. But I wonder sometimes if our nation has lost touch with what vacation is really about. Can we truly not get away from work and enjoy our families for a few days without interruption? Does Dad think he’s done enough by simply buying his child an entry ticket to the amusement park? Does his responsibility to his family end there? Perhaps no father would answer a straight “Yes” to those questions, but his actions may say otherwise.

Interestingly, I observed another phenomenon while at the park. Nearly everywhere we looked, kids were complaining to their parents that they weren’t getting enough. “Daddy, when are you going to buy me something?” was asked more than once. My own kids saw this and were saddened by both the selfishness we saw in the children and the permissiveness we saw in the parents. Parents were buying toys and theme park paraphernalia just to quiet their children for a short time. One little girl appeared to be out of control, and my daughter observed the father telling his wife, “Let’s just buy her something, so she’ll stop acting this way.” And they did.

Our family returned to the hotel afterwards, and we talked about these things during our daily family devotional (yes, we conduct devotionals even when we’re on vacation). I was so pleased that all three of my children were able to talk about what they saw around them at the park, and they did it in such a way that they didn’t denigrate the other people, but expressed sorrow in what they saw. I shared with them how proud I was that they would not behave in the manner they had observed, but also how important it was that they could notice the permissive behavior in other children (and parents). I was able to tell them about the qualities that I admire in each of them, overcoming these childish tendencies, and progressing onto maturity. Finally, I told them how important it will be to share these views with their own children. It’s all part of the multi-generational vision that my wife and I have for our children. If we can teach our children about godly behavior and also teach them to teach it to their own children, then the behavior perpetuates for more than just a single generation. The idea comes from Proverbs 13:22 – “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children.”

Colossians 3:20 sums up with “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” It is written directly to children, which means that children should be reading the Bible and seeking understanding from God. This may seem extreme to some in our society, as many have purged the expectation that children could possibly be expected to understand the wisdom of God’s nature or spend time with Him pursuing a deeper relationship. And yet the Bible gives us the example of Samuel, who “was ministering before the LORD - a boy wearing a linen ephod” (I Samuel 2:18). Thousands of years ago, this little boy was learning to be a priest, in piety and obedience, at a very early age. Was he special in some way that cannot be duplicated in today’s world? I doubt it. It is more likely that he was simply expected to behave this way, since he was dedicated to the Lord at an early age (1Samuel 1:24-28), and so he simply fulfilled the expectation.

This is the point – our children will mature at the rate that we expect. If we raise the bar for them at an early age, work patiently with them, and show them piety in our own lives as parents, there is no reason to believe that we can’t raise our own little Samuel before God. Give them a godly goal and a parental example, and they will follow it into maturity. Young parents – now is the time to set this family goal and begin the journey for your children. And for parents who have already started raising their children and wish to make a course correction, please realize that it’s not too late. My wife and I made a change while raising our first child, and we could not be more proud about how her heart has turned to the Lord. It will require a life change of your own to show them that you are serious and intent on following God’s purpose for your family. It may require that you start doing things differently than you have in the past, but you should understand that it’s all worth it. Satisfying theme park vacations (and special blessings every day) are the reward for godly parents who wish to raise godly children.

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