Disclaimer: A lot of days I feel like I stink as a parent. I regularly have regrets about things I do or don’t do as a dad. So the following is not coming from a place of trumpeting success. Rather, it’s really just celebrating the grace of God that showed up and helped me to get one small thing right. And it wasn’t even my original idea. In fact, it was God’s grace through another man growing up that is completely responsible for this practice in my parenting.
I have three boys, ages 10, 7, and 3. We have lots of wrestling matches at our house. I have often said, it doesn’t matter what an activity starts out as, it ends up in wrestling. Legos, board games, watching a movie…all merely warm up activities for wrestling.
All three are crazy and wonderful in their own unique way. And I love them more than just about anything in this world. I would jump in front of a bus for any of them. But most days I confess that I don’t know how to be the dad they need. I don’t know the best ways to point them to Jesus. Rules and discipline seem like some kind of trial and error experiment. To my frustration, there is just no set parenting formula.
And after being a dad for nearly eleven years now I have even less concrete principles about parenting than I did when I started. When I try to think of any key principles for parenting that I feel perfectly confident in, here are the only things I can come up with for certain. First, my boys need see me love my wife well. Second, my boys need real un-distracted quality time with me.
When I was growing up a man in my church gave me perhaps the greatest gift I have ever received…weekly, uninterrupted, quality time. Mr. Zechman was a busy guy. He had four busy and successful daughters of his own. He was involved in our church and community in all sorts of ways. He had a demanding job and was a public figure in our town. He was the kind of guy who should not have had time for a goofy ninth grade boy like me. And yet he made time.
After hearing that I had committed my life to pursuing pastoral ministry in 9th grade, Mr. Zechman asked to take me to breakfast before school. Surprised that he wanted to spend time with just me, and because anyone who knows me knows I love free breakfast, I quickly consented. Little did I know at the time that one breakfast would turn into countless breakfasts and coffee meetings for years to come.
For the rest of my high school years Mr. Zechman picked me up for breakfast once a week before school. Sometimes we read a book together. Sometimes we talked about a scripture together. But mostly we just talked about life.
To be honest, in all those early morning meetings I don’t remember almost a single thing he said to me. I couldn’t give you one quote or specific piece of advice. But I learned just from being with him. I learned what it looks like to love your wife well. I learned what it looks like to point your kids to Jesus. I learned what it looks like to integrate your faith and work life. I learned what being a Christian man can look like. And it didn’t take a fancy program, curriculum or retreat. It just took one man, actively living for Jesus, who was willing to say, “That 9th grade boy is worth spending quality time with.” My life has never been the same.
Fast forward back to the present. A year or so ago I had a revelation. One day, like a ton of bricks it just hit me. Why can’t I be a Mr. Zechman to my own kids? And so I made what I think has been one of the best decisions of my parenting life. I said, “Nolan…Grady… can I take you to breakfast before school one day this week?”
So we started something we just call “Breakfast with Dad” at our house. (I know, you are blown away by the creativity of the name.) On Mondays I take turns taking our two oldest sons to breakfast before school, one at a time.
Right now in my ministry with Spirit & Truth, I am getting to do a lot of cool stuff. I get to speak at places around the country. I get to see God do amazing stuff on the streets as we share Jesus with folks. I get to meet amazing people. But to be totally honest, can I tell you what I look forward to more than any of that? An hour in a local diner each week with one of my sons before school.
We started taking our Bibles and reading some Scripture together. We usually pray a short prayer together, but honestly it’s nothing fancy. We talk about what’s going on in school. I don’t look at my phone. I don’t force anything. I’m just there. And somehow, as they sip their apple juice and I drink my coffee, that silly booth becomes a holy place. Every week. Every time. God shows up.
I think I am discovering, that much like the Christian life in general, there is no silver bullet to parenting. There is no magic formula. 99% is just showing up and being fully present…simply living your love for Jesus and for your spouse authentically before your kids. Holy smokes, do I mess up sometimes! But I give God praise for this one practice I said yes to. I felt the nudge of the Spirit and I said yes. Mr. Zechman did that for me and it changed my life. Maybe God is nudging you to be a Mr. Zechman for your kids, or someone else. Just do it. You will never know the eternal consequences of the simple, yet profound gift of intentional quality time.