The Dangerous Myth of Quality Time


Quality time emerges only from Quantity Time. Psalm 9:1 tells us, “I will recount all of your wonderful deeds!” This is great Quality Time—when our kids learn what God means to us! True, the Psalmist had in mind the great works of God from the Books of Moses. But I am confident that he also was reflecting on ways God worked in his own life—our lives. So, when does that happen? It is not something we can schedule, exactly. “Sit down, I’m going to tell you my story!” Kids’ eyes roll…. No, this happens during Quantity Time when sometimes, Quality Time will emerge. But you cannot schedule Quality Time—that is a dangerous myth.

Let me tell you about some of my Quantity Time with my kids as they grew up. My daughter, Elsbeth, used to be 7 feet tall. When they were very young, we lived in Ogallala, NE where I served in my first church as a pastor. From there we could travel to Rocky Mountain National Park or the Black Hills in half a day, or we could get to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Mesa Verde, or (just barely) Grand Canyon in a day. Every summer! We camped at night and hiked the mountains by day. Nathan, our oldest, was eager, but Elsbeth…not so much. So Elsbeth saw all the National Parks from her perch on my shoulders; thus she was 7 feet tall. She looked down on moose and elk and buffalo. She ran on bumpy rides over boulders and served as my umbrella in the rain. She hiked above the tree line, looking down on the wildflowers and grasses of the mountain meadows 7 feet below her. And as we walked, we all talked. And Elsbeth and I talked. I told her silly stories. Sometimes we sang. And sometimes we talked about important things, like who God is and how He made the beautiful mountains. Sometimes, I just begged her to get off my shoulders and walk! Was that Quality Time? Maybe.

I regularly took one of the kids out for breakfast. This tradition started cheaply at McDonald’s but over the years ended up at the more expensive Pancake House. We talked about nothing and everything. I made what were at times futile efforts to find out what they were thinking (or doing!?). Sometimes they told me eagerly. Not always. But we did talk about what kind of spouse to look for. And we talked about where we might travel next as a family. We talked about why I trusted God when they knew some of the things that hurt and scared me (especially at church!). You see, they know me quite well. And in our times together they did not merely learn what I said about God; they learned what God really meant to me, and whether I trusted him. Perhaps this was Quality Time—but not always.

Bedtimes were critical crises with the kids. On some nights, bedtime was a rush or even a battle. Even so, we usually read them Bible stories. Later, as they grew up, we read the Bible. And when they were teenagers we only prayed together, and they read the Bible on their own. Elsbeth, in particular, loved to stretch out her bedtime by asking questions. She knew my buttons; she knew I liked to explain things! So she’d ask questions that she may or may not have cared about the answers to, but that kept her “up” a little longer. With both children, as they grew, there were evening phone calls—some with tears—asking what we thought and what God would say. Precious times. Not planned. Quantity Time gives birth to Quality Time in God’s own time. 

All through high school we prioritized family dinner times. Saturday night pizza and video, but also just normal, everyday dinners. Amazingly, we managed to be together for 4–5 meals a week, often more. Now, I must confess that dinners were often a “failure,” and it was my fault. I was often too hard on the kids and I am still grieved by that. I was too insistent about how they sat, drank, spoke with their mouth full, and even how they reasoned. Too often I made dinners miserable; trying to teach them manners, I lost mine. In that, I denied God’s grace. Yet our dinners were important and valuable times, even though my sin came to the table with us. Lynne and I spoke of our days and we heard about the kids’ days. This provided occasional times to answer questions. And they could hear how we understood our days, how we responded to problems, and whether we trusted God. Sinner that I am, I do trust God. And they learned that during dinner Quantity Time. Looking back, I think sometimes it may have been Quality Time.

One more story. One day Elsbeth was not doing well. She was a senior. That was not her best year in relationship with us. She was prickly and trying to show that she was “not us”—independent. After a miserable morning, Lynne and I prayed together about what to do. My first thought was “One more lecture!” Sermons fix anything, you know! Instead, together we decided I should take her out of school for a day away with Dad. That’s what I did: Rainforest Café in the middle of the day. I once asked Elsbeth if she remembered that day, and what it meant to her. She wrote back (shared here with her permission):

My favorite day ever with my dad was the day my senior year of high school when my dad surprised me with a get-out-of-school free day. He said we were both stressed and needed a day off. He didn’t just take me to lunch, he took me an hour or so downtown to Chicago to the Rain Forest Cafe. If you know my dad, you know he does not splurge often (except for the latest technology). But on that day, he told me I could order whatever I wanted off the menu. I think he said I was even allowed to order dessert! Frankly, I was shocked. I don’t know if it was a big deal to him, but it meant the world to me. It made me feel like I was worth a million dollars. My advice to dads is to “date” your daughter while you have the chance. Your shower of affection will lead to confidence in her that will literally keep her from wanting to date guys that don’t respect her as you do. If she knows what real affection, respect, and love looks like from her dad, she will not be interested in guys who don’t show her the same.

Paul said it this way to Timothy: “You, however, have followed my teachings, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings…. [So] continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it” (2 Timothy 3:10–14). This did not happen by planning brief and impactful Quality Time with Timothy, but extended time together in all sorts of circumstances. And because of that, Timothy’s faith was strengthened through the significant engagement and events that shaped his life—Quality Time. 

Quality Time is sometimes discovered at Bethlehem. This is one of the reasons I love serving here. We have the opportunity to schedule time, Quantity Time, with the students. That’s not possible in schools with large classes or heavy teaching (and grading!) loads. For that reason, a big part of my day as a professor is time with students. We meet over lunch, before class, out for coffee, at the office, and sometimes in my home. And when we get together we talk about school, what we have seen in the Word, family, discipleship opportunities, and the frustrations of life. Sometimes we are so tired from school that the meetings feel empty. Quantity Time. By God’s mercy, in that time together, Quality Time has been known to emerge. What a gift these students are to my life with God. I see Him as I meet with them.

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Let this be our cry for Quality Time with our God: that we find in Quantity Time with him, his Word, and each other.

Rick Shenk, Ph.D.
Director of Non-Traditional Programs & Associate Professor of Theology


Prayer Requests:

  1. Please pray that we would care well for the current cohorts of students as we disciple, teach, and challenge them as they settle into the Fall semester.
  2. Please pray for full cohorts in our next academic year. Our traditional Bachelor’s program and our evening MA program are particularly challenging.
  3. Please pray for Rick Segal as he takes point on the job of discovering donors and raising funds for the school.