Reflecting on 2018, I’m recalling 7 things that made a big difference this year. I’m writing as a note to my future self – but they might be of help to you too.

I used to have Gold status membership with Virgin Airlines.  This meant I could access their airport lounges, get priority boarding etc.  I used to take great pride in having it – after all, I was travelling for ministry/work frequently. Embarrassingly, I used to leave the gold tag attached to my laptop backpack all the time like it was a badge of honour – you know, just so people knew. [faceplant]

But this year, I began to despise what it really represented – lots of time away from family and home. Because the truth is, I seriously like being with my family.  Sure, intentional and present fathering is a lot of work and requires you to die to yourself daily – but it’s incredibly rewarding.

So, this year I made some large adjustments. Some by choice. Some by circumstance.  It all started with saying NO to many, which allowed me to say YES to some.

The Why
My daughter turned 14 this year.  She may only be home for another 4-5 years.  My youngest boy turned 8.  Who knows, he might leave home in a decade to carve out a future for himself.  After all, his parents (Nat and I) left home before they were 20.  Elders would always say to us, as young parents, “Cherish your time with the kids because before you know it, they are moving out.” There is a pending truth to this. I’m experiencing it.

Life with a young family is full-on.  I don’t know about other 40-year-old dads, but it is a challenge just to make the days, weeks and years work. Providing financially, emotionally, physically, intimately etc. is all output and time-consuming.  I can’t say I really started growing up till I started parenting. Parenting and marriage, by design, requires a lot of YESes.  And you just can’t say YES to all needs and wants; both in the home and outside it, without lots of NOs.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve been practising my NOs with ferocity. I’ve even overdone it a few times.

Some NOs are easier than others.  As a recovering rescuer, my most difficult NOs have been to friends, ministry leaders, and even extended family.  Most requests are for my time and presence.

You see, I’m the sort of guy who is present when we are together. I don’t do chit-chat very well. As a HSP, I’m the one at the party who’ll be found in the corner with one other in deep conversation about some deep things. My empathy is very high, so people often feel safe enough to keep sharing. And before you know it, the quick chat after a church service has turned into a 20-minute conversation including tears etc.  Meanwhile, my disappointed (and ever forgiving) family is waiting by the car to go home after I announced, ‘let’s go home’ half-an-hour earlier.

The How
I’d like to remember who said this originally, but it’s a phrase Natalie and I have been enforcing and living by. Especially over the last year. Here it is “When you need to disappoint someone, be sure to disappoint the right people”. Read it again.

We could flip it around, “Don’t disappoint the wrong people.”  The wrong people, for me, is my wife and kids.  Now, in my last example, I should have disappointed the person wanting a chat on the way out of the church service.  Instead, I disappointed my family… again.  The right person to disappoint was the person wanting a chat. A simple, “Sorry, I have to go. My family is waiting at the car.”  Then walk fast, don’t turn around. Walk.  Which was hard for me, for many years.

This, my friends, is called having boundaries, and communicating value to those I’m in covenant relationship with. Here are some examples:

  • I’ve said lot’s of NOs to travel, so I can say YES to being at home.
  • NOs to private prayer ministry requests, so I can say YES my own emotional and spiritual health.
  • NOs to eating food that doesn’t nourish my body, so I can say YES to longevity and good physical health.
  • NOs the anxiety that drives me to overwork, so I can say YES to recovery and graceful living.
  • NOs to ‘Hey, let’s catch up for coffee’, from well-meaning acquaintances, so I can say YES to more solitude and time with those who matter to me most.

So, to clarify, some of these NOs are not absolute.  I will still catch up for the coffee or visit extended family etc, but the frequency is far less.  It’s more of a NOT NOW in interpersonal circumstances.

The Value
Time comes as a gift from God in this life.
Time is a great revealer – and concealer.
Time is a great governor – and stressor.
You can’t make a minute pass faster. It is always going to be 60 seconds.
When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Once it’s invested, the seed is sown for another today.

I only have so many YES’s to give out every day.  Reserving them for those who (should) matter most is not always easy, but it’s worth it – and it builds a better world.

The Outcome
With a sense of confidence, I can say I’ve disappointed a good number of people this year, but they are not my wife and kids.   I’m happier, healthier and wealthier for it. I’ve simplified and minimised things to a more sustainable level.  A level where all good things don’t come at my expense.

Note to my future self:  Dave, you need to keep practising these NOs. It’s better that you have a reserve of YES’s than and a deficit of them. So be fierce if you want. Remember all the times Jesus withdrew, said no, and disappointed others with agendas for Him.  Take His lead. Disappoint the right people. Love those closest to you and those committed to honouring you and extending the dignity you seek to give them.