We have become a people obsessed with attaining the elusive condition called “happiness,” and nowhere is this fixation more evident than in modern day families.
For example, a while back, my husband and I became acquainted with a couple who seemingly lived solely for the happiness of their children. If any of their three children wanted to try something — anything — the answer was always a resounding yes.
Karate? Yes. Dance? Yes. Softball? Yes. Art? Yes.
Horseback riding? Football? Track? Yes, yes, yes.
Girl Scouts? Science class? Theater? Yes, yes, yes.
And on top of it all, both parents engaged in hobbies of their own: one month it was dance lessons, the next a salt water aquarium.
One would think that this family would have been the picture of happiness, right? After all, each child possessed the freedom to chase after his/her every dream! Each parent enjoyed the liberty to pursue personal hobbies in addition to maintaining fulfilling careers!
But soon, it became obvious that this family’s pursuit of happiness led them in a direction opposite of bliss and contentment.
Mom, dad and kids were a harried, hurried hot mess. Eating fast food in the car on the way from one activity to the next was the norm. The mom had to pick up more hours to help cover the bills, and in order to make transportation and schooling work for all of the kids’ activities, mom and dad had to work different shifts.
No one was happy — neither the parents nor the kids. The parents had no time together, the kids had no time with the parents, and slowly, their family unit unraveled.
Divorce ensued. Sadness lingers.
An extreme example? Perhaps.
But what we saw happening in this family is a pattern repeated over and over again: parents finding it impossible to say no.
I make this observation with no ounce of judgment whatsoever as I could easily become the mom who always says yes. Because if it sounds like fun? And there are people involved? And there is learning and excitement, or exploring and competition, or travel and diversity?? I. WANT. IN.
You see, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that a calendar filled with no margin leaves no room for impromptu dates with my husband, long bike rides in the park with my 13-year-old, trips to the zoo with the grandparents, extended walks in the woods behind our house, time to play with caterpillars found on the curb in our neighborhood…
But it is during those sweet, unscripted moments where we most naturally and authentically “impress [the Lord’s commandments] on [our] children. [We] talk about them when [we] sit at home and when we walk along the road, when [we] like down and when [we] get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
And so I’m learning to guard our calendar carefully. Thankfully, I have a husband who has grounded me in this area; and to be candid, it hasn’t been an easy task for him, this holding me back from saying yes to every activity, opportunity, club, sport, etc. that comes our way — for both our kids and for us.
But because of his patience and diligence, I’m learning better how to say no to my children and to others — for the sake of our marriage, our children, our family.
And when it comes right down to it? Often, saying no is what propels us most forward in our family’s pursuit of happiness.
Paul probably says it best:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).
P.S. If you’re like me, and you sometimes struggle with saying no, you might find help in Lysa Terkeurst’s The Best Yes — a very practical guide exploring not only the saying of the no, but also the picking and choosing of, you guessed it, the best yes.