On the Monday before New Year's Day, I had to work for part of the day to meet a few clients, tie up loose ends for the year and do some preparation for 2014. It was challenging to be pulled away from my family over the holidays, especially with my easily bored sons out of school during the break. I felt guilty, but I needed to be a good steward of my business and financial responsibilities and get some of my work done.
The last meeting of the day was to be a late lunch with a new client prospect that had been scheduled several weeks prior. He called me 30 minutes before our appointment to apologize and say he could not make it. Suppressing my mild irritation, we rescheduled our meeting for another day. I found myself with an unexpected extra hour. What to do? Well, I had a pile of paperwork back at my office to be handled. Perhaps I could leave messages for some of my clients or send them emails in an effort to start filling up my meeting calendar after the holidays. Maybe I could find a quiet place and write that new business blog post that has been on my mind for weeks.
I did none of these things and went home instead.
Maybe it was my guilty conscience speaking to me, but nothing at that very moment seemed as important as going home to my wife and sons. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw my 12-year-old practicing his jump shot with the new basketball he received for Christmas. Without any words being exchanged, we took turns shooting baskets for half an hour. We were simply a father and son having fun together and enjoying each other's company.
Then, he broke the silence. "Dad, why did that kid commit suicide?" My son's jarring question was referring to a local high-school student who had killed himself several weeks ago -- our family had recently discussed the tragedy. After talking about the possible reasons why this young man had chosen to end his own life, we talked about how difficult it is for kids today to deal with the enormous pressure schools, peers, society and even their own families place on them. I think he was relieved to talk about this topic as he said it had been on his mind for days and seemed reassured after we finished. I was very grateful that he felt comfortable talking to me about this painful subject rather than tackling it on his own.
Maybe only other parents will understand, but I was even more grateful to be there for my son at that moment when he needed to get something off his chest and hear guidance and an explanation from someone he trusted. He is at the age where he doesn't always respond to my frequent invitations to talk and usually only opens up on his timetable. I would have missed this wonderful opportunity if I had opted for one of the various non-critical tasks I could have chosen instead. There is a profound lesson here that really hit home for me, and possibly many of the readers of this post: we need to be more mindful of the choices we make about where we spend our time.
With 2014 underway and the new year before us, I encourage everyone to put more thinking and discernment into our busy schedules and recognize that we may need to reset our priorities. Are we letting the unimportant crowd out the important? Are we missing opportunities like the one I was blessed to have with my son because of paperwork, catching up on emails or returning one more phone call? Do we control our calendars or do our calendars control us?
Not long ago in this conversation with my son, I witnessed for myself in a simple choice I made the incredible difference an hour can make. As we look forward to another year, what difference will our choices about how we spend our time have on our relationships with God, the time we spend with our loved ones and the important causes in need of our assistance? Remember that one of the most meaningful gifts we can give to others doesn't require fancy wrapping and a big red bow. This gift is simply called time.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.