Photo found on Unsplash, Credit to Kelli McClintock
What I learned during Shared Parental Leave…
I haven’t written on here for a while for a number of reasons (moving house being one!) but mainly because for 6 weeks I became a full-time Dad! This was such a privilege and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to give it a go. Harriet went back to work for the last half-term of the academic year and I let go of one type of work and embraced an entirely different one altogether (thanks to the governments shared parental leave scheme – less than 2% percentage of those eligible have undertaken this, many simply because they are unaware that it exists but it is well worth looking into!)
I have been spending my days attending parent/baby groups, discovering soft play areas and multi-sensory rooms, walking around parks and picking food off of the floor. The result was not only that Harriet got to go back to work but I had the opportunity to really bond with my son. During this time however he quickly became one of my best teachers.
The biggest lesson I learnt was that he required my full attention.
At first when I had work on my mind still or if I found myself browsing instagram in his presence he would very quickly demand my attention and affection. He taught me the importance of being present. In our age of technology and information overload it seems easier to settle for the quick and the convenient rather than the slower and deeper. We “surf” the web or “browse” through instagram rather than “taking the plunge”. But what the little one taught me was the human craving to be truly known by another who makes themselves present to you. Isn’t this what we all crave regardless of our age?
In youth ministry it is easy to fall into the trap of surfing through a programme without taking the plunge. Mark Yaconelli writes that “unfortunately, for many young people the last place where they find people open and available is within churches. Instead of a listening ear, they find advice. Instead of a witness to their lives, they’re offered programmes and activities” (2006: 5). Later as he reflects on Jesus’ ministry to people he notes how Jesus made himself “Open and available. Present and trusting. Patient and waiting, confident he didn’t need to control, or manipulate anyone. Trusting that his presence – his prayers, words, silences and acts of love – would be enough” (2006: 36). If my aim was to be present to young people as Jesus himself is present to them I wonder what difference this would make to those I work with? If I listened before I assumed what needed to be taught or if I was present rather than busy running things. I can’t help but wonder if I would discover the new way of being human, of being God’s family together, that Jesus himself embodied and lived.
The little man has also been teaching me a lot about my character and integrity and the importance of these. He got me all day, character flaws and deficiencies and all. I learnt that who I am as I spent my day with him was more important than what I did. Sure, I needed to change his nappy and feed him and play with him but I realised the importance of the way I went about those things as he watched me ever so closely. Again, as I look to Jesus I see a fully alive being who was more interested in the heart and the motives than the exterior actions. The exterior actions if anything only reveal what is going on inside (See Mark 12).
This time on leave reminded me of the importance of ensuring that I am the kind of person who should be working and ministering to young people. Am I someone who enjoys being in God’s word and presence, being transformed by him from the inside out. Am I actively repenting of my flaws and deficiencies and finding joy in His forgiveness, freedom and new life or am I burnt out on delivering programmes? Is prayer the thing I do briefly before a session or is it how I choose to live my whole life? Is who I am in secret the same as the person who ministers? Am I living the kind of life I long for the teenagers I work with to live themselves? Cloud writes “you have heard all your life that character counts. You have desired integrity in yourself and in the people with whom you work. You have felt its effects, suffered when it has not been present, and benefited when it has. You know that it is real (2006: ix)”.
“In my heart and my soul, Lord I give You control, Consume me from the inside out”.
Lord may I be a father and a youth worker who is present and full of integrity.