February 18, 2013

The Ministry of Presence

This past weekend, my daughters hosted a sleepover for nine of their friends. Actually, this was the second of what appears to have become an annual event for our family, and we ended up nearly doubling the guest list as well as extending the festivities for an additional six hours compared to last year.

Getting ready cost me extra cleaning time, as well as time for shopping, cooking, and baking. It also cost a fair amount of extra money to buy food to feed all those girls for three meals and a rather substantial "tea party." It cost my husband and me a lot time and effort to supervise and guide the girls from early Friday evening through mid-afternoon on Saturday. And it cost us all clean-up time afterward.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Way back when my girls were toddlers, a Titus 2 woman in my life advised me to make my home a place where my kids and their friends would want to hang out. She noted that, while I'd likely be able to trust my kids' well-being in the homes of a few other families, I'd be wise to nurture relationships with my children and their friends so they'd choose to be in our home more often than not. I'd know they were safe, and I'd be available to provide necessary guidance and direction. She said it'd be easier to allow them to gather elsewhere - but, of course, wise isn't always easy.

She was right, of course.

I'm not a big fan of sleepovers in general. I know from my own childhood that they can be great fun. But I know from personal experience that the conversations and activities at such events aren't always wholesome, healthy, or God-honoring. And, sadly, I also know that sleepovers can sometimes be fodder for luring kids into hurtful, soul-damaging encounters.

I would, indeed, trust my girls to playdates and even sleepovers at the homes of a couple of close family friends. Of course, even then I err on the side of caution by asking lots of questions about planned activities and how the parents expect to be involved. But the beauty of hosting an event in my home is that I already know the answers - and I know my girls (and their friends) will be safe...body, mind, and soul.

It's not that my husband and I hover; in fact, we let our daughters take the lead in terms of directing the flow of an event they host. At the sleepover, my main, visible task was simply preparing food at the prescribed times.

But we provide the crucial "ministry of presence." That is, though we give the girls and their friends a wide berth, we are available. And we keep our ears and eyes attuned to anything that might require adult intervention. I even camped out in the same room for the actual sleepover portion of the festivities rather than leave the girls alone to their own devices. After all, though my daughters and their friends are lovely, trustworthy young ladies, they are still prone because of their youth to become unwittingly caught up in folly (Proverbs 22.15). So it's a parent's job to provide a better path whenever necessary. And we can only do that when we're present.

You may or may not feel comfortable with sleepovers. But I would urge you to consider making your home a place where your maturing kids will choose to gather with their friends.  And be sure to practice the "ministry of presence" when the kids are there. You're not aiming to become one of the gang, so to speak. But you want your kids and their friends to know they've got an ally in you. And they can only know that if you welcome them in and remain available for them while they're there.


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