Author’s Confession: I play and coach competitive ultimate. During the summer, my own team practices and competes on Saturdays and Sundays. For the team I coach, tournaments also span Saturday-Sundays, albeit less frequently. Yet, I also believe deeply in the importance of the gathered body of the Church, and serve in the youth ministry at my own church. I write as one personally touched by these time conflicts.
No matter their age, you want the best for your children. When they are young, it may mean introducing them to sports, to music, to art, to other activities to help them gain valuable social, cognitive, or physical skills. As they grow older, it may mean helping them achieve in their academic studies, or supporting them as they pursue their athletic or artistic dreams. Many times, as parents, you are thinking about your children’s futures—whether high school, college, career, or adulthood—and how to help your children be the best adults they can be.
If parents are working 70 hours a week without having a time for rest, children absorb that message about the value of busyness. If parents take time for a Sabbath rest, children also recognize that there is a time for work, and a time for rest.
When your children are young, as parents, you have the ability to set limits on their involvement in extracurricular activities, based on whatever boundaries seem best for your family. Yet there is immense pressure for families and children to be committed year-round to their sport, with unspoken goals of high school varsity spots and college scholarships. You may have seen or felt how this pressure is leading to a culture where children are no longer able to enjoy the fun of sports and play for play’s sake. Recently, The Washington Post posted an article titled, “Why 70 percent of kids quit sports by age 13” addressing these concerns. Perhaps a question for involved parents is whether this dream of sports excellence is yours, or your child’s? To what extent is your child living into your dreams for them, versus their own dreams?
As your children become teens, they want to self-differentiate from their parents and make choices about their own priorities, and the value they put on activities, especially when they are able to drive themselves. For some, this may mean quitting sports that they no longer enjoy, and for others, it may mean immersing themselves even deeper in those sports.
As you spend this time helping your children grow into maturity, do well in school, and succeed in sports, how are you also preparing them to be disciples of Christ as adults? What example are you setting for them in the priorities of your family’s life? Over and over, research has shown that teens’ faith and spiritual practices are heavily influenced by those of their parents.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. —Deuteronomy 6:4-9
This famous passage, the Shema, reminds parents that teaching the practices of their faith is their responsibility, and one that takes place at all times throughout a day and a week. If parents are working 70 hours a week without having a time for rest, children absorb that message about the value of busyness. If parents take time for a Sabbath rest, children also recognize that there is a time for work, and a time for rest. If parents prioritize being in relationship with their church community, children also develop relationships within the church.
So what should parents do about their children’s involvement with sports, particularly on Sundays? The answer to this may depend on the age of children. When children are younger, it may mean drawing boundaries around Sunday morning worship, and saying no to opportunities that conflict with church. As teens find themselves torn between their commitment to their sports team and time spent in church, it may mean helping support them in their own personal disciplines of faith, and keeping them connected to the church body, even if not on Sunday mornings. And yet, all of this will feel false to your children if they aren’t seeing these same values lived out in your own life!
May you be parents who teach your children to love God through the example you set, the boundaries you draw, and the love you give.
Kristin Franke spent 5 years as the youth director at Union Church in Hong Kong. She graduated with her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in May 2015, and currently works at the seminary. In her free time, she plays and coaches Ultimate Frisbee.