By Tyler Wheeler
The Gift of Presence
I knew he was swamped with a to-do list three mountains high. I knew he wasn’t sleeping much as he raced against time to stay on top of everything he was responsible for, yet he stood there and listened to me as if that to-do list didn’t exist, as if he had nothing else to do that day, as if he’d been getting a full night’s sleep for a month straight. He listened to me as if listening to me was the most important thing he could do at that moment. He, a priest from my parish, gave me the gift of his presence in that moment, which is to say, he loved me. He gave me the gift of Jesus’ presence through his attentive listening.
A Gift Not Given
My list of things to do is much smaller than his. I sleep many more hours than him, yet my children (and my wife) stay at the peripheries of my attention far too much. I don’t give them the gift of my presence, which is to say, I don’t love them the way I should. Thus, they are unable to experience the loving gaze of the Father through their father as fully as they deserve.
The Primary Gift
“One of the great crises of our day is that people are no longer capable of finding time for one another, time to be with one another. Here is something that causes many deep wounds…because parents never learned to spend time with them, with nothing else to do except be with their child. They look after the child, but they are always doing something else or are preoccupied, never entirely there, never totally available…”
Fr. Jacques Philippe, Time for God, pg. 30
Our kids need many things. They need food, education, security, boundaries, friends, discipline and the list goes on, but above all what they need is us. I won’t even say they need our time. What they need is us, all of us. Many things compete for our time and our kids’ time. Many things compete for us and for our kids. In the midst of all this competition, in the midst of all the noise, we must make sure that our kids get the best of us, the “first” part of us – not our leftovers, not our crumbs, not our “seconds”, but our attentive and loving self.
As a father who was working a more than full-time job that asked for all of who I was, I struggled mightily with this. I was not alone, I wasn’t an extreme case. As far as I can tell, this seems to be the norm now. How can we reverse this? How can we give our kids the best part of us? How can we fulfill our primary vocation of being the presence of the Father in their lives while honoring the work that we need to do? Our window to do such is really fairly small. Our kids need all of us.
Here are a few suggestions for ways to give your kids the gift of your presence, the gift of the Father’s loving gaze, which is the gift God wants for His children.
- This seems counter-intuitive but take time for yourself. Take 20 minutes after the work day to prepare yourself to be available to your children. Pray, ask the Lord to make you the parent your child(ren) need tonight.
- While your child is talking about Pokeman cards for the 100th time, pray for the Lord’s eyes and heart for them. Pray to see and love them the way He does. Pray that your child will know this love through your presence. Pray in the midst of the conversation.
- Seek moments to be one-on-one with your child – possibly set up “date nights” with each child, time where they get you all to themselves and you can completely focus on them.
- Put away distractions and temptations. Turn off the TV, hide the cell phone, shut down the computer. I’m weak and need to remove temptations just as I would when I pray and want to give God all of my presence.