A friend of mine came home one afternoon and noticed a long scratch down the side of his one-week-old minivan.

"What happened?" he bellowed.

His daughter confessed that she had ridden her bike into the garage and scraped the brand new vehicle with her handlebars. Matt got a bit heated; his wife came out when she heard the "conversation" and immediately took the daughter away, saying just three words: "It’s a car."

Those three syllables were enough to chasten my friend. "My daughter had scratched metal," Matt admitted, "but I crushed a person."

Forgetting what matters most

It’s impossible for any kid to live in a house without occasionally making a mess, breaking something or leaving a permanent mark behind. Yet it’s so easy to make them feel guilty for inconveniencing us with their carelessness. It’s also easy to forget what matters most (scratched metal versus a crushed person).

During his induction ceremony into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Harmon Killebrew recounted how one day he and his brother were playing in the yard, and their mother got upset. "You’re tearing up the grass!" she complained.

Harmon’s dad replied, "We’re not raising grass; we’re raising boys."

Don't let busyness distract you

When our kids are young, life can be a blur. We struggle to balance competing demands, and in the midst of this blur, secondary aims – a clean house, an unscratched vehicle – can become enemies of our ultimate purpose.

I’m not saying that a clean house doesn’t matter, but I think Harmon’s dad was on to something. Let’s be careful that we don’t value a spotless floor over a positive, nurturing and encouraging relationship with our kids; that we don’t make them feel guilty that it’s impossible to live in a house without leaving some kind of mess behind. The "empty nest" will come all too soon, when our kids won’t be around to soil the floor, touch the walls or create mountains of laundry – and I suspect we’ll miss the good old days when the yard showed traffic and the house revealed children.

Few of us with kids around will ever qualify for a Better Homes and Gardens spread. And our lawns may not get gawked at by passersby.

But we’re not raising grass; we’re raising kids.

Gary Thomas is the founder and director of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, a writing and speaking ministry that integrates Scripture, church history and the Christian classics. He is the author of many books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Cherish, The Sacred Search and A Lifelong Love.

© 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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