Presently Engaged

By Emma Sumrall

“Mommy, can you PLEASE look at me?” I looked up with distracted eyes, trying to quickly remember what my son had been telling me about. He’d caught me looking at my phone. Again.

He'd asked for some one-on-one time with me, and after I put the baby to sleep, I joined him in his room to play. But before I knew it, I was only half listening to my son while getting lost in social media. 

Instead of paying attention to who (and what) was in front of me, I wanted an escape, and I took it. I could see the hurt in my son's eyes and hear the exasperation in his voice. That's when I realized that the minute or two of “escape” was not worth it.

While only a brief interaction, it left me convicted on multiple levels. First, I dropped the ball on modeling what I'd been trying to teach my son about good boundaries with technology. Second, I was not being present with him - the exact opposite of what I said I would do. Finally, there wasn’t even a good reason for me to ignore him! I’m sure all of us face times when our child’s idea of fun does not match our own, but in this instance I chose to focus on my desires, not his.

As much as I was tempted to forget what happened and quickly move on, I'm learning how important it is to stay a minute in the uncomfortable space of conviction. Acknowledging our failures (whether they are an area of sin or not) is not a sign of weakness, but instead can become a doorway to freedom and growth. Apologizing and repenting that day was a turning point for me. 

God has been teaching me a lot about my heart and priorities since that experience. While I still struggle sometimes with staying present with my kids and not looking for an escape route (especially when I’ve been up throughout the night with the baby and just want to relax instead of play with cars), I am much more aware of the struggle. God is helping me to take a minute to think through my attitude and actions. Sometimes, I really do need a break! But a lot of the time, I just need to remember to think of others’ interests, not just my own (Phil. 2:4). 

I’ve been learning to go through one or more of these questions to help me evaluate and prioritize when I start to struggle to stay present:
  1. What is necessary, and what is secondary during this period of time?
  2. Is it time for a break so that I can refocus on something else important? 
  3. Am I staying true to my boundaries and values, or giving in to something I would regret?
  4. Am I letting ____ (my preferred destination of escape) be my #1 source of comfort, or remembering to find refuge in the Lord?
What about you? Do you ever struggle to remain present with your kids? How do you react to failure in this area? I pray that God gives us all the courage to face our failures with His conviction and truth in order to find healing and growth.

Emma and her husband, Mark, have been on staff for the last four years, serving at The University of Georgia. They have two sons, Daniel (4) and Ezekiel (infant). Emma is passionate about raising up disciples, learning about different cultures and pouring into her family.

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