Swimming in the Deep End, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Swimming in the Deep End


August 9, 2010

by Josh Noem

On our recent road trip home to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, we stopped at a hotel in Missoula, Montana. We picked a hotel (I won’t say which one) that a franchise guidebook indicated had a pool. After driving for 10 hours with three small children, we arrived at 9 p.m. to find it did not.

The kids were disappointed, but we filled the tub and let Simon and Lucy splash and play a bit. Oscar got to watch some TV. After voicing our complaint, the staff discounted our room, which we appreciated. The next morning, Stacey and I noticed that the hotel next door had a small outdoor pool. We could see it from the window in our room.

Before packing everyone in the car for another 10-hour drive, I decided to take the kids next door to the pool and let them burn some energy and have some fun. On the way over, Oscar noted the sign that said that the pool was for that hotel’s guests only. I told him that we’ll be okay and will only be there for a little while.

We were the only ones in the pool, but after about 30 minutes, an employee came out and asked us if we were staying with them. I said we were staying at the hotel next door and she told us we had to leave. We got out, gathered our things and went back to our room and began our long drive.

Stacey and I and Oscar had a long conversation in the car about what happened. Our conversation made me realize that Oscar closely observes my decisions, and the rationale I use and give for my decisions. He is at a stage in his development where he is discerning his moral compass. It is a gift for a parent to have influence on this stage of development. Knowing that Oscar is watching closer than ever, this gift is calling me to greater integrity and intentionality in how I live.

I realized that my own decision for using the pool was based on muddled thinking. I gave myself several half-hearted excuses to do something that I wanted for our family: we weren’t hurting anyone; we were going to use it for less than an hour; we weren’t costing the hotel anything; the kids needed some playtime before a long day in the car; we had stopped there expecting to be able to swim; etc. I found there to be a lot of grey in this situation, and in the grey areas I saw an opportunity for our kids and I took it.

When Oscar asked why we were asked to leave, and why we had decided to go in the first place (given that it was the pool of a different hotel), I stepped back and found all of my reasons disingenuous. I imagined Oscar in any number of “grey” situations as a teen and applied all of the rationales above and panicked. For example, there are things I don’t want him to do, even if he’s not hurting anyone else. Any one of these rationales used by itself would lead to a problematic moral compass.

At the bottom of it all, I decided to use the pool because after evaluating the risk, the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to leave. I could bear the risk of a small amount of embarrassment in return for kid time in the pool with 10 hours in the car ahead of us. This rationale is still not one I would like Oscar to use exclusively, and I also realize that strictly speaking, there is no good rationale for breaking a perfectly fair rule.

We shared all this with Oscar and asked him what he thought we should have done. He wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure myself what was the right thing to do. There were good reasons to use the pool and there would be good reasons to not use the pool. There are poor reasons to use the pool and poor reasons to not use the pool.

One thing I did learn, though: I’ll be much more careful in how I make similar decisions in the future, and I will strive for greater personal integrity and honesty, knowing that God isn’t the only one watching me.

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Restorative Niche Activities

Restorative Niche Activities

Winter is just sitting on top of us like a mean big brother who does not really care how “un-fun” the game has become. He is bigger than us and we just have to deal with it. I am an only child, so this is an entirely made-up scenario – but it seems plausible.

It is hard to wake up each day to another dark, cold morning, get children to school on slick roads or through snow, then off to work, only to pick up children, hope to get home before dark, make supper, do homework, bedtime routine, and then repeat. Granted, this is more or less what 75% of the year looks like, but somehow it is harder in February and March. As parents we can just feel devoid of energy and inspiration—empty.

That emptiness makes it very hard to be at out best for our children and our spouses.

We often tell ministry students, “You can’t minister from an empty cup,” meaning you have to attend to taking care of yourself and then minister from your overflow. Otherwise you are working from a deficit that will never be replaced (Bernard of Clairvaux).

In marriage and family life we do not always get the opportunity to fully attend to ourselves—to fill our cups. We rarely have the time and energy to exercise as much or even when we might want to; to pray as much, when, or even in the manner we might feel called; or to meet up with friends, go on retreat, or travel. We don’t even get to dictate our own sleep patterns!

One of the ways Joshua and I have begun to help one another in this regard is to carve out space for “restorative niche activities.” This is a phrase used by Matt Bloom, a sociologist whose research helps ministers flourish in ministry. It describes activities that meet two criteria: they are activities that we do well enough to pursue a sense of mastery; and they are activities that we do out of intrinsic motivation—simply for the joy we experience in the activity itself.

A variety of activities can be restorative, such as knitting, golf, painting, gardening, or model railroading. Bloom advises that for a restorative niche to really contribute to our flourishing, we need to engage in it regularly. Regularly, for him, means at least once a week.

Now if you are like me, one of the hardest parts of practicing restorative niche activities is just finding out what yours are. Josh’s is easy—baseball. He is part of an informal league that plays during summer, and he likes to make it to the batting cages when he can in the “off-season.”

I was happy to find an activity that suits the winter weather: ice-skating. I love playing on the ice. It is something that I do well enough that it is fun, and something that I would enjoy doing even better. When I am on the ice trying out new things, I totally lose track of time. That is one of the hallmarks of a true restorative niche—losing track of time.

This winter, Joshua has encouraged me to carve out a day or two each week to ice skate during the noon hour. It really is a lovely break from the day. It is refreshing in a way that has nothing to do with exercise and everything to do with clearing my mind and focusing on something for its own sake, not for a specific outcome.

The busy-ness of contemporary family life and its attendant stressors make it almost impossible not to be focused on goals and outcomes. We often need to plan our days out minute-by-minute so that everything fits. Our lives would be a mess without some sense of order and effort at planning and execution.

Restorative niche activities remind us how to play. How to just do something for its own sake and find ourselves in the fun of it. One of the ways Joshua and I support each other in marriage is by encouraging each other’s full flourishing. Just because the demands of parenting can easily become all-consuming does not mean that we should entirely lose our identity as individuals.

When we are whole in ourselves, when our “cups are full,” we are able to give not from a deficit but from our overflow. Such is the abundance of God’s love.


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