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Parents, don’t waste your time looking forward or backward

Embracing each season of your family life

For the last 28 1/2 years, more than half of our lives, my wife and I have had at least one child in our house. All of that changed recently. And as life changes go, this is a pretty big one. It has led to me reflecting on time and how we either use it well or waste it. 

I hate to waste time and money. The kids had a joke around the house: When dad is home and mom is away, efficiency is up; happiness is down. And when mom is home and dad is away, efficiency is down, but happiness is up, way up. I love efficiency and just don’t like to waste my time. It is a very limited commodity. There are two lessons that I have learned and observed about wasting time, especially over the past 28 years. 

First, don’t waste your time looking forward. 

I am all about planning, and a good plan helps us not waste time, but many people waste so much of life looking forward—to clocking out, the weekend, vacation, or retirement—that they don’t spend life in the moment. It is easy to live life in the moment when the baby is smiling, when we are on vacation, or enjoying our favorite meal. 

But if we believe that God is truly sovereign and orders every step, in good times and in bad, not wasting time includes spending life in the moment—when the baby does not sleep, when we are wiping snotty noses, or even sitting by the bedside of a dying family member. Those times are part of God’s divine plan, and we should embrace them. When Scripture says to not be anxious about tomorrow, that it has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6), part of that application is learning to live today, on this side of eternity, and not always looking for a brighter day to come.

So, when you find yourself longing for another day, eager to get past a stage of your child’s life, remember that today is your gift from God. Put a reminder to be present in the moment on your mirror, in your Bible, on the breakfast table, or as a reminder on your phone/device/calendar. Make sure you have a friend (or two) that help you keep a healthy focus and challenge you when you need a little reminder.

Second, don’t waste your time looking back. 

This is the message I need most right now. We have thoroughly enjoyed parenting in every stage. But one lesson I have learned and need to repeat to myself in this season is to not waste my time looking back to what was. Instead, I need to celebrate today, this moment, this season. 

When children start toddling, some bemoan the loss of the baby stage. The first day of preschool, kindergarten, or first grade (and onward) bring tears to many. Starting high school is big, and then, before you know it, they are out of the house and off to college. One day, it may be marriage and handing them to another image-bearer to begin their own homes and lives together. All are life steps that should be embraced and celebrated, not mourned. 

One of the things we will do as we move forward is have healthy times of reflection, going through old photos or videos, remembering trips we took and experiences we had when our kids were younger. We will also have intentional conversations about how our kids are doing today, celebrate their victories, pray for them in their struggles, and thank God for his mercy and grace. We will also talk about what new things we can do in this next chapter and how we can serve others. We may even finish some projects we have been putting off. 

When Louise and I woke up without a child in our home for the first time since 1991, we tried to thank God for what has been, trust him for what will be, and set our minds to live every day as it is— God’s perfect gift to us with new mercies just for that day. Life is made up of many seasons and is full of changes. Whatever season you find yourself in, I encourage you to not waste your time reminiscing about the past or longing for the future. Instead, embrace what God has for your family today, for his glory. 

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