In 1987, my wife and I had to raise our own financial support in order to become missionaries to the UCLA campus. We would meet with businessmen, tell them how we became Christians while studying at UCLA and communicate our desire to go back to campus to reach other students with the gospel. Some of them volunteered to sponsor us financially.
During the school year, we would send monthly newsletters to keep them informed about what we were doing. However, during the summer break, we would go and visit each of our supporters. In 1989, this summer ritual literally changed my life and the life of our family.
We would meet with our sponsors over food. As is common, there was inevitably a time when the women would wander off and leave just us men at the table.
In the course of the summer, I asked the same question to four different men. It was not a pre-planned routine. I was just trying to glean wisdom from those older than me. These men were wealthy enough to sponsor my wife and I on a monthly basis so they were obviously somewhat successful in life.
“If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?”
Every man bowed his head and offered the same answer nearly word for word: “I wish that I had spent more time with my children. The time goes by so fast.”
I heard what those men said. By the grace of God, I also listened.
I made a decision to be involved in my children’s life and development on nearly a daily basis. After all, the time to be a father is when we have children.
I would like to tell you that I never second guessed myself but that would not be true. When our culture praises men for their money and the things that they can buy with it, it seemed like a weak defense to tell myself that I am giving my life and time to my children. But then I would remember the four “successful” men and their one big regret…
There were at least three distinct moments when the financial pressure was so great that I thought I would burst. The ‘obvious’ choice was to take a second job or work 80 hours per week to try and secure a promotion. However, in those pivotal moments, those men’s words floated to the top of my thoughts. Each time, I chose to ‘err’ on the side of spending time with my children.
I am so glad that I did. My wife and I enjoy a level of intimacy and open communication with each of our children that unfortunately seems to be rare these days. According to my two youngest children and several of their teachers at the local high school, most young adults do not talk to their parents and their parents do not talk to them. I cannot imagine life like that. In our home, if there is even the slightest break in communication, everybody feels the pain and discomfort.
While it is true that it would have been nice to have more money, how much would most parents pay to have what money cannot buy. I am wealthy beyond description because four older men openly admitted their biggest regret in life and I was “dumb enough” to listen to them.