by Karen D. Koch

For seven years we lived just down the road from the Jelly Belly Factory in Northern California. That factory tour became our family’s regular destination when we had out-of-town company. You could say we have a fondness for jelly beans, so when the leader of our children’s ministry at church recently got up to speak, jars of jelly beans in her hands, it got my attention.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Dodd

How Much Time?
She had three jars. One full, one half full, and one with just a scattering of jelly beans at the bottom. The fullest jelly bean jar represents the number of weeks we as parents have with our children from birth to age 18. The half-full jar is the halfway point–the 9th year of their potential time at home with us. The third jar shifts gears where the jelly bean represent the number of hours  the average church-going kid may spend in church from 0-18. At an average of just 40 hours per year, she estimated, which is paltry compared to the other two jars. Even if your family never misses a Sunday, how many hours does that add up to for you and your children?

I believe her point–and it’s a good one–is that she is committed to teaching our children during the time she has, but that church spiritual teaching  is not a replacement for what parents need to provide children at home. Her ministry is to support and help the parental responsibility, and to give parents tools to teach biblical truth. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, with my homeschool audience, but this is a good reminder to us.

It Goes Quickly
As she was speaking and I was heartily agreeing with her in my head, it occurred to me that this analogy could be used so many ways in our lives. Some of that is for another day, but today I want to equate it to homeschooling in particular, and parenting in general as I’m pondering. When God gifts us with these precious little ones, we think we have an abundance of time with them, but actually “the days are long but the years are short.” I’m grateful I kept the four kids home with me to homeschool, but I’m still partially shocked to find myself with two high school graduates (one has already finished college and the other is halfway through). How did it go so quickly? Even my youngest, recently nine, is at the “halfway” mark.

As I ruminated on these thoughts, I wondered how many hours I would have had with my children if we had chosen to send them to public school? How many hours/jelly beans would that represent? Subtract the time they spend sleeping and then how much is left? How many hours of influence are they receiving outside of our home? I volunteered for a few long days last week. It was worthwhile and enjoyable, but when I was done, my nine-year-old hugged me and said, “Mom, please don’t volunteer next year. I don’t like it when you’re gone all the time.” Hmmmm. I thought about those jelly beans.

How Much Time?
These thoughts are particularly poignant in our home right now. Just last week a dear family we love lost their 16-year-old son to cancer after his courageous seven-month battle. The shock and grief they are now experiencing is unfathomable. They are Christians. They have eternal hope. They homeschooled him.  I know they are thankful for their decision to homeschool, particularly now. None of us really knows how much time we have. The thought is sobering and convicting.

How will we spend our days? How will we guide and teach our children?

Rachel graciously sent me the photo of her jelly beans jars and wrote the following (emphasis mine):

Here’s a picture of my jelly bean jars. I keep them in my office not because they make a nice snack, but because they remind me that our time with our kids is pretty short. The most full jar has 936 jelly beans in it–one for every week of a child’s life until the day he/she turns 18. By the time they’re age 9, there are only 468 weeks left. That’s the jar to the left. Finally, the average churchgoing family is able to attend services roughly 40 weeks out of the year, which means what each one of us as children’s ministry leaders has only 40 hours per year to spend with a kid making an impact on her/his walk with God. It’s not much! When we keep this in perspective, we remember that our time with our kids is precious, and we should make the most of every minute. Rachel Dodd