“Quality Time vs. Quantity Time”
June 16, 2013
Add more quantity to your quality time – and vice versa.
I. Intentional Time (Hebrews 10:24)
II. Together Time (Hebrews 10:25)
III. Encouraging Time (Hebrews 10:25)
So how much time do you spend together with your family, or your extended family? We’ve talked for several weeks now about family topics; usness, niceness, the family as community, submission to the Word. But these topics have one thing in common: any change we want to make, any positive behaviors we want to embrace as a family probably require us to invest some time.
And that’s hard. We’re all too busy, too tired and time is nearly our most precious commodity. Husbands and wives feel they don’t have enough time together; children and parents don’t have enough time together; even brothers and sisters don’t have enough time together. And if you’re single and living on your own then time with your nuclear family or extended family may seem impossible to schedule. If you’re divorced or single parenting, your time doesn’t really seem to be your own at all – it’s all consumed by others.
One answer our culture has given to all this is to pursue what writers call ‘quality time.’ I’m sure you’ve heard the term. Wikipedia says “Quality time is an informal reference to time spent with loved ones which is in some way special, important, productive or profitable. It is time set aside for paying full and undivided attention to the person at hand.” Based on that definition I’m all for quality time. But some have used ‘quality time’ to justify spending only a limited quantity of time together: “we don’t have much time, but it’s quality time.” This led Frank Kittle to observe that there is no quality time without quantity time. You can’t achieve important relational goals in a nanosecond.
How does this fit in with our series on the heart of the family? Well, I think all families and all kinds of families would agree that they want to have good strong healthy relationships. Without relationships your house is not a home, it’s a hotel or a dormitory or a prison. I hope you would also agree that time spent together is the central ingredient in the development of any relationship. I could point to many boyfriend / girlfriend relationships, some good, some not so good, that have started with the sense that ‘he/she is so easy to talk to. We just like hanging out together.’ That’s the recipe for relationship: whether by talk, text or letter in the old days, this is the way strong bonds develop. So it is critically important that families spend all kinds of time together creating and sustaining healthy relationships. And yes, some of that time has to be what Wikipedia would call quality time – but the quality has to be embedded in quantity. And that’s why you’re going to hate me today – because I’m going to be telling you to invest time you don’t have. I don’t either.
But I believe that the Scriptures, and especially the brief verses we’re looking at this morning do call us to use our time in relationships, especially family relationships. This Scripture teaches us that we ought to thoughtfully invest time caring for and encouraging each other. So the application question that ought to be running through our minds as we look at this Scripture is simply ‘what can I do, what can we do within our nuclear and extended family to add both quality time and quantity time to our relationship?’
Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 2not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
These are great verses. We first see that to love and care for each other requires conscious effort: ‘Let us consider how we may stir up one another.’ I’ve always loved the fact that the author says ‘let’s think about this,’ ‘let’s be intentional about this.’ It isn’t something that just happens without thought: we have to set our minds to it, and plan it. We plot, scheme, strategize about how we can engage others. And notice this whole command is in the plural: literally we ourselves think together. We don’t need the y’all Bible to see this: your Bible says ‘let us consider.’ It’s a group activity: scheme together.
I’ve known many families who have taken this very literally. I know one family in which the phrase ‘let’s have some chips and salsa’ has become code, for ‘let’s have a family discussion; I’ve got an issue I think we need to talk about, and chips and salsa at the kitchen table makes a perfect cheap gathering place.’ Now you’ll say to me ‘we’re never all home at the same time.’ Well, maybe the first thing you need to think about together is working on that situation.
But the main thing we are supposed to scheme about, according to the author of Hebrews is how we can stir one anther up, how we can provoke each other to active love. Provoke isn’t a gentle word. The root means sharpen or goad – to prod with a sharp object. One of my favorite scenes from the movie The Ultimate Gift is when Jason gets sent down to Texas to learn how to work, and the owner of the ranch tells him that breakfast is at five: “Hey city boy . . . breakfast is over. Don’t you have some kind of gizmo to wake you up?” “Beat it.” (Gus comes in with cattle prod). “Wha ah ah oh!” “Good morning.” “What is your problem?” Coming down stairs. “Let’s get to work!”
We’re supposed to consider how to prod each other into engaged relationship and godly behavior. And though this thinking applies in the church, and in our small groups, and in in our peer and mentoring relationships, it has to apply first in our families which form the foundation of our lives. How do we engage with one another in a healthy family or extended family?
The goal of this thinking, the goal of our goading, is love. Stir up one another to love. Now in order to understand this, remember that love is more than an emotion – not less, but definitely more. C. S. Lewis reminds us: It would be quite wrong to think that the way to become "loving" is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. . . . The rule for us all is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we learn one of the great secrets: When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them.”
A family is bonded together by acts of love, of compassion. We are attached to the people who show love to us, and maybe even more to the people we show love for. Let me give a personal example from many years ago: the day after our daughter Ruth was born, her sister Hannah was got the flu. Gail had to take care of the new baby, and so I took care of Hannah. She was thirteen months old and really sick: fever, vomiting, diarrhea. I had to change her clothes, my clothes and the bedding every couple of hours. And what did I feel for her at the end of that time? Frustration? Anger? No. Love. Caring for her like that bonded me to her in a special way. That’s how love works.
That’s why the writer says ‘stir one another up to love and good works.’ Love expresses itself in good works toward your family; taking care of each other. We who believe in salvation by grace through faith sometimes downplay good works as a distraction from grace. But the New Testament doesn’t downplay good works: it puts them in their right place. In Ephesians Paul says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But the very next verse says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Paul often exhorts his readers to be zealous for good works. Titus 2:14 says that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
And this does apply in families. Paul tells Timothy that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That’s pretty strong. In fact it’s one of the strongest pro-family statements in all Scripture: practical taking care of people, providing for people, is something families are supposed to do. Paul says that if you don’t do it you are worse than an unbeliever, because even unbelievers know that they are supposed to care for their families. But every bit of such care, from the food on the table to the clothes on their backs to the provision of a car or a college education or a wedding is a good work that we think about together in the family and stir each other up to keep doing.
And it’s not just physical care. Far from it. One of our most important responsibilities is to stir each other up to right relationship with God. I’ve long enjoyed the ministry of Steve Green; he and I were actually born on the exact same day. But for many years Steve was a hypocrite, Christian musician on the outside but hard on the inside. And it took the goading of his brother Randy – some sharp pointed stirring up - to bring him to repentance. Listen to his testimony:
“If I’m not a captive by Christ then I’m going to be, in some degree or another, captive to sin, to my own passions and desires. And that’s where I was. Into that situation God sent my older brother Randy. He had just been through his own personal revival experience. We were all converging on Phoenix for my sister’s wedding, and he picked me up at the airport, I could tell immediately something was different.” “God was just burdening my heart to tell them what God had done in me, and what I felt he wanted to do in their lives as well. I told them specifically the areas where there had been sin and bondage in my life, and how Christ had set me free.” “He was concerned about our lives and exhorting us to get right with God.” // “And how the Holy Spirit had gotten a hold of my heart in a way that I’d never experienced.” // And over the course of that time I began to feel resistant to him. I resented him getting in everyone’s face and talking about God.” // “It came to a head when we were in the car, couldn’t get away, and he started his rampage again.” //
“And just something inside of me welled up in anger against him.” // “It got to the point where I told him to just shut up, stop. And he started crying.” “There was hostility and antagonism, and yet I knew immediately in my heart that that wasn’t against me, it was against the Holy Spirit. And so I said to Steve, ‘Steve, you’re not resisting me, you’re resisting the Holy Spirit.’” “I said, ‘And you are a liar;’ I said ‘what do you know about my life?’ ‘What right do you have to make any judgment about my life?’ He said ‘I don’t know what it is, but there’s something wrong with you. All I ask is that you get it right.’” “And it got quiet in the car, and the presence of God was there in a powerful way.” “Steve really began to search his heart, really openly and honestly before God and see that he needed revival.” “I ended up that night on my knees saying ‘God, I give up. For ten years I’ve been in this tug of war with you. I’ve been wanting my own way. I’ve been a blatant hypocrite. I’ve figured out all the church stuff, the things you say, the way you act, but I don’t know you, I don’t love you, I don’t think I anything you.” // “I woke up that morning thinking I was top dog. And by the end of the night I was smashed. And God did it. He smashed me. But it was the best thing in the world. Unless he did it I would have self-destructed. I would have ruined my life. I could have lost my family. Who know where I would have ended up. But I was an arrogant fool, and God saved me.”
That’s stirring up – sharply and yet with tears. Even more than physical care, we need to be sensitive through the Holy Spirit to the spiritual and emotional needs of our family; to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep, to bear one another’s burdens and to exhort and challenge each other.
We are called to be intentional, to consider what will spur others on. But all such schemes require something very simple: you’ve got to show up. Your schemes have to be transformed into actual time invested. Verse 25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” Apparently some readers of Hebrews had lost the desire to meet with other Christians. Like many today, they had isolated themselves, and thought they could live the Christian life solo. The word used for meeting together comes from the word synagogue, the meeting place for all Jews outside Jerusalem. Over the centuries the Jews had been scattered across the nations, but wherever they went, if there were ten or more, they would meet - synagogue - on the Sabbath. And the word is strengthened here. A Greek prefix is added that intensifies it: ‘really meeting together; emphatically meeting together.’ So the primary application is to the church body. We are not to so elevate family that we neglect the Body of Christ.
But we can apply this as well to the busyness of our family lives. Families, must not ignore time for each other: quantity time as well as quality time. In order for the family to have healthy family relationships, we have to have time on task. So, how does your family spend time? Each family is different, but all families need to take this seriously and ask ‘what does this look like for us?’ A few weeks ago we talked about the value of family meal times. The time that your family gathers around the table to talk, laugh, eat, debrief, discuss, decide and celebrate is clinically, statistically shown to be good for your kids.
But there are many other ways to have time together. I mentioned last week Abbie and Tim’s family movie night – and lots of families make that work. Some families have family game night. For our family vacations have been essential. Time together in the car usually works for us; it always works for Gail and me. But time together can also include things like painting the house together, or doing yard work together, or serving in Family Promise. The key is time together. Bethany came from California for a day or two just before I left for Nepal, and we had a great time together packing and repacking the mountain of stuff that I needed to take. We talked pretty deeply while doing that. This is where the tension between quality time and quantity time becomes obvious: we could have sat down over coffee and I could have asked ‘Hey Bethany, how’s it going, tell me what you are struggling with?’ But to have those things emerge out of a conversation that was mostly about packaging and which bag to use and ‘how much does it weigh now?’ – that made it better.
Now I freely admit that this is where it gets hard – and I don’t have all the answers I’d like. We are busy; we do have too much to do; there are multiple demands on our time. So finding the quantity time that leads to quality time that leads to healthy relationships is hard. I think the brief list that I just went through gives one hint, though, that I want to crystallize for you, and for myself: prefer doing things together. If you have a task, an errand, a trip or a ministry that you can include a family member in, even if it’s somewhat inconvenient, make the effort to include them. This applies to parents and children, this applies to husbands and wives, this applies to brothers and sisters. Put your daughter up on the counter to help make brownies; teach your son to put the operating system on the computer; take your brother to the swimming pool; don’t always take the walk by yourself; take it with somebody; bring the whole family to Family Promise. Make a commitment to including family members in as many of your activities as possible; that quantity time can lead to quality time.
But, the writer of this letter gives us one more key in these verses: make this a time of encouragement. Verse 25 again “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The key word is encourage: it could be translated exhort, urge, appeal, console, cheer up. Let me walk you through a few places the word is used in Scripture to give you a feel for what we are called to do: One of the clearest is Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. As the Lord comforts, or encourages, those who mourn, whether over sin or loss, so you comfort one another in all your family circumstances.
2 Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The word is translated ‘implore’: this is a desire on our part to see others walk with the Lord. We plead, we challenge. And we do it from Scripture. In Thessalonians, after Paul has described the rapture and the coming of the Lord, he says: Therefore encourage each other with these words. We encourage each other with the words of Scripture.
But the focus is always positive. In Acts 11:23 Barnabas visits the church at Antioch “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,” We are to encourage, to tell our brothers, sisters, parents, children of the godliness we see in their lives, inspire them to keep on and to remain faithful. We consciously seek to say things that will build each other up, and draw others closer to the Lord.
Something that has been growing on me for several years is this contrast between encouraging right behavior and simply criticizing wrong behavior. I call it being the cheerleader, and it’s the subject of a whole sermon on it next week, because I think it so important. But one foundation of that sermon is this verse: encourage one another; spend time together encouraging each other.
OK, so what do these two verses say? First, that you need to think about this: Let us consider how we may stir up our families on to love and good deeds. We think about how to provoke ourselves to it, and we show it in practical ways.
Second: in order to love and care, or to be loved and be cared for, you’ve got to show up. Let us not neglect to spend time together. It’s not a matter of quality time versus quantity time: quantity time with those you love leads to quality time. If you give in to the temptation not to show up in your family; to hide inside yourself, to ignore the needs of others, to judge and criticize but not participate, to declare independence, you will harm the family and yourself. Some, the writer says, are in the habit of doing this: don’t it be you.
Third, use the time to encourage. Encouragement builds relationships. Criticism, anger, disappointment and frustration corrode relationships. So take hold of the wide meaning of this word in Greek: exhort, comfort, urge, appeal, console, and cheer people up. Those thing bless families; I think they are almost unstoppable when each family member is trying to do them for each.
As I was thinking of how to illustrate this in closing, I thought again of The Ultimate Gift. In the movie Jason promises to spend Christmas with Emily, who has terminal leukemia, and her mom Alexia. But Jason, who is in the midst of all kinds of other things – you have to watch the movie - gets imprisoned in South America right through Christmas. When he escapes and comes back he visits Emily in the hospital and it goes like this:
“Welcome back, stranger.” “Hey . . . . Tada” “Wow, an airport gift shop gift. How thoughtful.” (Jason laughs) “Does it come with needles?” “Yeah, you can kiss me even though you’re a guy.” “I missed you, too.” “Whatever. Let’s cut to the chase. You really blew it this Christmas.” “I was unavoidably detained.” “Okay, yeah. I want Christmas.” “I want to ride a horse.” “Uh . . . I’ve got like a week or two left on this other thing, but um, let me make a call and . . .” “Jason . . . now.” “Okay.”
And so Jason contacts a couple of people, including Gus, the guy with the cattle prod, and arranges Christmas in Texas in January. Here’s the end of that day:
“You thinking about butterflies?” “No Jason, I’m looking at the stars.” “You know I set this whole thing up because I thought you wanted to go horseback riding, not your mom.” “Get real. Horses are smelly and sweaty.”
“So sweetie, what’s your dream. If you could dream of anything, anything, what would your dream be?” “My dream? My dream is a perfect day. And I’m just finishing it . . . My dream is to be with people I love, who love each other, and who love me.”
A perfect day is to be with people you love, and who love each other, and who love you. The way to that dream is to thoughtfully invest time in the good work of caring for the people in your family and encouraging them.