"Often we're not as pressed for time as we feel we're pressed for time. I remember several years ago becoming so pressed by the demands of teaching at Yale that I took a prayer sabbatical to the Trappist monastery at Geneseo, New York. No teaching, lecturing, or counseling -- just solitude and prayer.
The second day there, a group of students from Geneseo College walked in and asked, 'Henri, can you give us a retreat?'
Of course at the monastery that was not my decision, but I said to the abbot, 'I came here from the university to get away from that type of thing. These students have asked for five meditations, an enormous amount of work and preparation. I don't want to do it.'
The abbot said, 'You're going to do it.'
'What do you mean? Why should I spend my sabbatical time preparing all those things?'
'Prepare?' he replied. 'You've been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students want to have a retreat. Why do you have to prepare? What those boys and girls want is to be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and do your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats.'
The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world comes into your world, you are ready to reach out and help. It may be at four o'clock, six o'clock, or nine o'clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be part of your life in God -- that's ministering."
(from "Time Enough to Minister" by Henri J.M. Nouwen in Leadership, Spring 1982)
Lately I've been struck by how true this is for parenting. Whether it's a three year old asking, "Who created God?" or a sixteen year old saying, "Why doesn't God speak clearly today like he spoke in the Bible?", we need to be ready to invite people into our own life with God, into our own questions, into our own insights and convictions and prayers and struggles.
Truth is, you'll never be adequately prepared. You're just inviting them along for a few steps on your journey.