A guest blog, written by Paul Gardner, to coincide with Father’s Day 2016.

Psalm 127:3-5:Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

For my fortieth birthday (which now seems a very distant memory), someone at Westminster Chapel gave me a set of three juggling balls. To each ball he had attached a label; one was ‘work’, another ‘church’ and the third ‘family’.

It neatly summed up the challenge that many of us face. Just as my attempts at juggling the three balls soon results in one ending up on the floor, so it seems that my attempts at satisfying the demands of work, church obligations and family commitments have often resulted in one being neglected. And over the years, the one that has undoubtedly suffered the most has been family.

Work demands tend to be loud and insatiable. There will always be more that we can do. Developments in technology may have brought a measure of flexibility, but they have increased both the pace of work and the expectations of clients and colleagues, and also blurred the distinction between work time and the rest of life. Working long hours can also be very easy to justify to ourselves; after all, are we not working to support our family?

The call of church commitments may not be quite as shrill, but can sometimes present a more subtle danger. A willing and available person is likely to get asked to take on responsibilities and then additional responsibilities. At church we tend not to manage volunteers very well and once someone is doing a job it can be very difficult for him or her to stop, or not at least without feeling guilty. Church commitments can also be even more easy to justify to ourselves than work; after all, are we not doing this for God?

Between these competing demands, the needs of family can easily be lost. Indeed, faced with the prospect of a noisy bath time, nappy changing or broken nights, secretly perhaps work and church obligations can sometimes seem a rather attractive option.

The one thing that all parents of young children hear from those whose children have long since grown up, is that children grow up very fast and time with them is precious. As a recipient of this advice, I generally thought that the giver had clearly completely forgotten what it is like to try to cope with a fractious toddler or broken nights; at such times a few hours can seem like a lifetime. But in retrospect the sentiment is true; the young child who seemed so demanding quickly grows and assumes an independence of his or her own (sometimes with new and greater challenges) and at times you almost wish that they were small again.

So we sometimes need to ask ourselves: do we really need to attend that meeting or take on that responsibility? We need to remember that just because someone asks you to do something, doesn’t mean that you should be doing it.

Of course with every extreme there is a risk of veering too far towards the opposite extreme. Some parents can become so absorbed in the life of their children (or even their grandchildren) that they avoid or neglect wider responsibilities. This not an excuse for doing nothing. However, this extreme is probably much less common.

I don’t think that I am much better at juggling now than I was at forty. However, if you are going to drop a ball (and at times you will), try to make sure that it isn’t the one labelled ‘family’.

To hear more about fatherhood, and to celebrate the wonderful job that Paul, and our other dads do, we’ll be having a special Father’s Day service, this Sunday (19th June 2016, 11am) – all are welcome to come along. There’ll be treats for all the guys, followed by a ‘manly’ lunch: don’t miss it!