Although some of you can hardly grasp the idea, there is a little three-year-old girl who hates football! It isn't because she is scared of crowds or sensitive to noise. It isn't because a ball was kicked into the stands and hit her. She hates football because ... Well, let me hold off on telling you why.

Truth be told, the incident I'm about to share with you could be recounted in terms of baseball or fishing, soccer or bowling, basketball or skiing. And in case you aren't a sports fan, it fits just as well with reading, yard work, or crossword puzzles. Much to my discomfort, it even adapts all too easily to church work.

Wanda was babysitting for a three-year-old whom she described to me as a "petite, dark-eyed, curly-haired bundle of love." As they played and made an evening of girl things, it came to Wanda that it would be the crowning event of their night to polish Carly's fingernails and toenails. She was thrilled at the idea.

"Do you want orange polish?" Wanda asked. "I know your Daddy just loves the 'Big Orange' football team."

"No!" said Carly. And her beautiful eyes were filled with anger! "I hate football. All Daddy says is 'Carly, be quiet so I can hear the game' and 'Carly, get out of my way so I can see the game,' and 'Carly, go upstairs and leave me alone so I can see my football game.' "

Wanda's heart broke as she saw the pain in a little girl's eyes and heard the anger in so tiny a voice. "I know in my heart no parent wants their child to feel that way," she told me. "And I know in ten years the score of a football game will mean absolutely nothing. But will this child ever get over the hurt?"

The best thing dads and moms can give our children is ourselves.
The best thing dads and moms can give our children is ourselves. And that means presence, time, and attention. It means letting them know their value by looking them in the eyes, playing their games, and getting into their world. It also means setting priorities and sometimes giving up a big-screen play for a real-life hug, a committee meeting for a recital, or a new novel for an old Golden Book.

To believe they are valuable to God, children must know they matter to their own flesh-and-blood parents. Because nobody wants to be the parent of a runaway prodigal, we must keep our hearts, laps, and arms open to our kids. Otherwise they could wind up hating sports or planes or God on account of us.

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children," the Bible says, "instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4)