Fathering Well

The man who has coached me for the last 23 years is known for making simple, yet profound, statements. Let’s explore one of them. I can still hear Loren’s voice as he gently told me, “You’ll never father well until you have been fathered well.”

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I became a Christian 29 years ago, at age 30.  I had already destroyed one marriage with my selfishness and  had no intentions of repeating that. I was raised in a home where my father wasn’t involved with my life.  I played varsity sports throughout high school and hoped to play tennis in college.  With all of the tournaments, travel, and practice involved, I can’t remember my dad ever watching me play.  My parents divorced in my senior year of high school, leaving my mom to raise five kids, the youngest less than a year old. At 18 years old, I regularly said I would never be like my dad.  To my dismay, by the time I was 25, I was just like him.  I had caught his version of manhood; not because I wanted to, but because his was the type I was exposed to.

Soon after accepting the salvation that Jesus offered, I began struggling with who I was as a father, husband, and man.  For years, I read the latest books on “Christian manhood”, attended seminars and conferences, and tried every step-by-step process I found.  I used to drink my morning coffee from a Promise Keeper’s mug with the “7 promises of a Promise Keeper” etched on the side.  Day after day, week after week, month after month, I worked through those promises and focused on incorporating them into my life.  I’d get one of them down and move on to the next, only to find myself slipping in one of the earlier promises all over again.  It was a constant process of two steps forward, one step back; or, in many cases, one step forward and two steps back.  After seven years of trying, I got so mad at God that I told Him I simply couldn’t make myself be the man he wanted me to be.   Interestingly, that confession was exactly what God wanted me to realize.  I was totally incapable of making myself into a godly man.

My earthly father had fallen short and provided me with a model of fatherhood that was anything but ideal.  Yet for the first time in my life, I was positioned to change, and was empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.  But that road has been long. The changes have not come overnight.  It has been a process of learning who my heavenly Father is and how He really fathers me.  Only in the last five years have I realized how lovingly the Father cares for me as his son.

For years, my image of Father was of a stern taskmaster who stood ready to send lightning to my life whenever I slipped out of line.  I was convinced that he expected me to perform well, and when I did he blessed me; but when I fell short, he withheld his blessing.  I have also learned that we father our children the same way we believe God fathers us.  My children ended up with a father that expected them to perform well and was willing to apply a little lightning when they didn’t. I blessed them when they performed well and withheld my blessing when they fell short.

Over the last five years, I have learned that Father really is Abba (Daddy).  His love is unconditional and isn’t motivated by my performance.  As we have walked more closely, I have received a glimpse of his heart of compassion and grace for me and those he sends my way.  For years, I preached that there wasn’t anything you could do to make God love you more, or anything you could do to make him love you less.  Today, I know that is true not only for me, but for you, too. Learn who Abba really is and how he fathers his children with love and compassion. Stop trying to gain his favor by your performance and recognize how much he loves you regardless. As you learn how Abba fathers you, your own fathering will be transformed. Your children will respond dramatically and be drawn to the real God we serve.

Try it and watch what happens.

For the Father Who Fails

For the Father Who Fails ~www.boydads.com

I am a failure.  Everyone around me knows it, but it’s still a little embarrassing to admit it.  Though none of us should be content at failing, we shouldn’t be condemned by failure either.

For most guys, failure is about as well received as a dentist appointment.  We hate it.  The tendency and temptation when faced with the fear of failure, is to become angry, grow distant, work hard at faking it, or just flat out deny it.  But at some point, we need to let the grace of God free us from trying so hard to be a faultless father.

I sin.
I don’t always do devotions every night.
I am not always kind.
Patience and joy are sometimes elusive at the end of a day.
I don’t always listen intently.
I have to fight to be fully present at times.
I am a failure.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not a deadbeat dad who doesn’t love or lead his family.  I certainly do plenty that’s right – more than my wrong (I think).  But the good news is that we have a Savior who parents with perfection.

He always does what is good, right, and wise.
His character never changes.
He is slow to anger, compassionate, and abounding in love.
He turns His ear to us when we call to Him.
He came to be with us and for us
By grace, and through faith, His record becomes ours.

“It is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.” -Charles Spurgeon

I will never be a perfect father to my sons.  But the good news is that I can point them to a Father who is.  He is a Father who loved me in the middle of my sin by giving me His son (Romans 5:8).  In Christ, I boast about Jesus’ record, not my own.  I boast about a Father who did not withhold His own Son so that I could become one of His very own.

May God’s faithful and faultless love for you lead you to walk more closely, depend more deeply, and trust more completely.  As you remain and rest in His affection for you, may His heart and character become your own.  And may you be a dad who continually leads your sons to the “throne of God’s grace,” so that they too, may find mercy and grace in their time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Blessings,

Pat, The Dig for Kids

God’s Grace in Dad’s Failure

I am a screw-up.

This is one of the many valuable lessons I took from my high school youth group. That, and the indispensable knowledge of just how many marshmallows I can fit in my mouth and still say, “Chubby Bunny.”

Anyhow, like most people, I am painfully aware of my mistakes — often even as I am making them. This awareness of my failures and flaws often leads me to a place where I believe I’ve disqualified myself in God’s eyes. Not that I’ve lost salvation or taken myself out of His family, but that I have acted in such a way that He can’t, or won’t, use me.

The sense sometimes becomes overwhelming that I, because of mistakes, because of willfully following my own desires instead of God’s, can no longer live and serve effectively. As if I could nullify the grace of God. As if I became exempt from serving God because I could not maintain perfection, or committed a “big” sin. As if I have the authority to sideline myself because of my own self-disdain.

And I’ve found that this kind of mindset bears a direct correlation to my parenting. For, after all, if I am not suited to serve God, how could I be suited to fatherhood? The thinking goes something like this: I am flawed. I have failed countless times, even today. How can I have anything to offer to my sons, to ensure that they will grow up to be godly men?

I guess what I’m talking about here is guilt; guilt that paralyzes us, instead of catalyzing us. Regret that holds us back from action, or causes us to think we have to make up for our past mistakes. Sorrow that causes us to withdraw, and hide away that broken part of ourselves.

God's Grace in Dad's Failure

And all the while, we ignore the grace of God and the intercession of Jesus Christ. 1 John tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness… If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 1:9, 2:1)

I don’t know about you, but I struggle accepting grace and forgiveness. I have a hard time believing that God truly remembers my mistakes and failures no more. I hold onto them, internalize them; and they become ingrained into who I am. And my inability to receive grace sets an example for my sons: that though they have confessed, though they know Christ, though they turn away from sin, it’s still not okay.

Our children need to see grace in our lives. Not just our grace toward them, but also God’s grace toward us. In other words, it is fine for us to tell our children that God is gracious, that He forgives sins and doesn’t count them against us because of Christ; it’s an entirely different thing to live the grace of God for our children. If they see us constantly downtrodden and defeated because of our past mistakes and failures, how can we expect them to learn how to get back up and move on? How do we expect them to learn that Christ, rather than failure, defines them? And how do we expect them to learn not only moving on, but growing up, through their mistakes?

It is in our failures, our willingness to accept grace, and our striving to become more like Christ, that our children first see the grace of God being worked out. It is when we allow them to see, at least in part, some of our struggles, and the power of God in transforming those struggles into victory, that they gain a sense of God’s greater redemptive work, and His desire to effect it in their lives, too.

Our failures as dads and men don’t disqualify us, as servants of God or as parents. No, they are not to be sought, or desired, but they can be redeemed, and that redemption will change the shame of failure into the beauty of grace.

Freedom & Choices

One of the toughest jobs we face as parents can be balancing giving our children freedom and then setting parameters/boundaries. It can be especially challenging as they grow older into adolescence. Whether naturally or by force, responsibility is an inevitable fact of growing up. As the old saying goes, “With freedom comes responsibility.” So, how do I walk this line of knowing when and where and how much at the right level?

Let’s begin with a simple fact…God created mankind to be free (Gen. 1-2). Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden: what made that environment free? To begin with, there had to be a choice. Thus, God set a limit on what they were allowed to have by introducing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil into the Garden. Without the option of making a poor choice there could not have been absolute freedom. Furthermore, the purpose in God doing this was to express His unconditional love for them. God did not want robots—“do as you’re told”—He wanted authentic relationship that reflected the relationship found in the Triune God, one that was not based in fear or control. This is crucial in understanding our relationship with our loved ones, namely, our children. When considering this type of relationship some might question why God did such a thing to Adam and Eve. Did He set them up for failure? Why not place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil right next to the Tree of Life to make the better choice more obvious…or place it far away, out of sight, so that it’s much more difficult to find? If I really cared about my beloved creation and wanted to prevent anything bad happening to them, that’s what I would have done, wouldn’t you?

This logical way of thinking determines much of how we parent as well. As parents we have a tendency to train our children in “serious” limitations so they will not sin. Sound familiar? I can think of the many ways in which I’ve parented out of fear of my boys making mistakes. Quite honestly, I think it’s a little tougher raising boys because they seem to push those limits earlier and more aggressively.

Freedom and Choices

With 3 boys in our home, God presents me with plenty of opportunities to practice this idea of giving choices and helping them with responsibility. My wife and I are constantly navigating the murky waters of protecting them, respecting their privacy, allowing consequences to their choices, and granting freedom for the sake of maturity. Having a 15 year old makes it even more challenging.

As I reflect on how God dealt with the possibility of Adam and Eve failing—and they failed…BIG TIME!—I realize a lesson for me in parenting my sons. If I’m afraid of sin, failure, mistakes, or poor choices in my sons, then I am prone to parent out of fear rather than love. I will tend to develop an expectation that they live a mistake-free life. In reality, the goal of this way of parenting is compliance and obedience without love and heart connection. It’s interesting to think how hard I work to eliminate poor choices in my sons’ lives, yet God actually introduced one in the Garden. What does this say about how I should view freedom, choice, and consequences in my daily life as a parent?

God had a plan for the failure of Adam and Eve—Jesus (Gen. 3:15). He brings peace and purpose to all situations, good or bad, clean or messy, success or failure. God uses our freedom to invoke trust, to take the ups and downs of life and cultivate a life of dependence on Him. His attitude towards our sin and failure is, “Yeah, you messed up…not good…and there’s a consequence. But, I love you, I’m here for you, and I need you to trust Me.” In his book Loving Our Kids On Purpose, Danny Silk says, “…at the heart of godly parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy. The real enemy is bondage, and if we don’t teach our children how to walk in and handle freedom, they won’t know what to do with it.”

So, how are you handling the challenges of freedom, responsibility, choices, and consequences? Are you afraid of where your child might sin, fail, or make a poor decision? Where might you be too restrictive or controlling? Is it tough for you to allow your child to fail…in a safe and loving environment? Ask God to give you wisdom in the way you trust Him, so that you might guide your children in trusting you.

 

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Obedience Vs. Relationship

raising boys

We’re a hockey family. And a school yard-style, neighborhood version of the Stanley Cup happens in front of my house on a daily basis.  The other day my middle son came storming into the house, whimpering, sniffling, and plopping on the sofa with a huffin’ and puffin’ sound. He was MAD. Someone had done something to him he thought was not right and he was ready to explode.

I used to handle this several different ways…none of them really having any fruitful, meaningful, or lasting effect. Yelling, ignoring, playing judge & jury, overprotecting, or punishing everyone involved were epic fails.

obediencevsrelationship

I’ve learned that my reaction will do far more in setting the tone of what will follow than simply trying to get my son to behave in the way I want him to behave.  It’s taken many years, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

Learn to ASK  questions rather than make STATEMENTS—We parents are really good at “telling” our kids what we want them to do, how we want them to behave, and how we think they should react in conflict situations. But where’s the learning in that method for the child himself? When we ask questions, we are giving our children freedom to think, process, and consider the situation. By allowing them to have some of the control in the situation, we open the opportunity for them to  develop self-control. A more important reason is that when we ask questions we are bestowing respect to our children. We are connecting with their hearts. Our engagement with them says, “You have value, you matter, you are unique, and I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.” Above all else, we want them to consider the ramifications of their choices. Think about it: if we never allow our children the freedom to make some choices and then guide them through the consequences of those choices, why should we be shocked or disappointed when they’re older and they turn belligerent, rebellious, or incompetent in correct Biblical thinking?

As far as questions go…

Get in the habit of asking your child, “How does that make you feel?” It’s taken me a long time to discover the power in this question. We make choices based on how we’re feeling . Our feelings  and emotions come from what we’re thinking and believing. If I can understand how you’re feeling I have insight into what you’re thinking. Therefore, if you’re believing a lie it will affect your emotions, which will result in unhealthy behavior. Most parents begin with trying to correct or control behavior. This method might work sometimes, but it doesn’t address the heart of the matter. Right living (behavior) is a result of right thinking (beliefs). The Enemy seeks to attack us in our thinking. It is in our mind where the battle rages (Romans 12:2). As parents, our job is to nurture our children in right believing. Notice I said “nurture”, not order, control, manipulate, or punish them into obedience. I should know- I’ve ventured down these paths many times to no avail.

What about you? What’s your M.O.? Have you, like me, had occasions where you’ve gotten what you wanted from your child—obedience–but felt no heart connection? What is gained when we win the individual “battles” but lose the war? Next time your child finds himself in conflict ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight to ask and listen; to focus on how they’re feeling, not necessarily how they’re behaving; and to guide them through the choices and consequences that are available to them. Remember the goal–heart connection!

Chad Smith

 

No Fear in Failure: A Lesson from Armadillos and Spiders

I have lived in Little Rock for a couple of years now. The wildlife is a bit different than when I lived in Montana. Rumor has it that we have some animals here that you just don’t see up in the Northwest, like tarantulas and armadillos. I say rumor, because I have yet to see any live ones yet. I have seen a few armadillos dead in the road, but either there is some big conspiracy to stage dead armadillos on the road, or there really must be some live ones (I can’t say for sure if there are any dead tarantulas on the road. They would have to be pretty big to catch my attention).

nofearinfailurearmadillos

My guess is there are lots of live animals that no one sees, roaming around just out of eyesight, all the time. What it would be like to be able to see through all the brush, leaves, dirt, rocks, etc. and just see all the wildlife that I normally cannot see?

This made me think about God. He can see all of the animals, even the ones we can’t. The God who created the universe knows how many hairs are on my head. He knows how many tarantulas are hiding in my neighborhood. He knows how many armadillos are just waiting for their chance to bravely cross a busy street.

Yet this same God, who knows everything about everything down to the smallest detail, knows my faults. He knows all the bad things I have done, even the ones I had a fleeting thought about, yet he loves and forgives me of them all. If you are anything like me, you have a bunch of things you are not proud of either.

Sometimes, the knowledge of my faults and the fear of failing again keep me from leading my family in the ways of God. Sure, I know I should and will get around to it sometime, but why not risk failure tomorrow instead of doing it right now? You know, things like leading my wife in daily prayer, sharing a short devotional time over dinner with my kids, loading the washing machine. But rest assured, God is more interested in our attempts than in our successes.

How can a God who knows everything about me love and cheer me on?  I wish I truly understood how, but for now I will just rest in knowing He does. Do you feel a tug from God? An urging to lead your family? I know you do. And my encouragement … “Go for it!”

And if you were wondering, I am still waiting to see that live armadillo. Until then, I reserve the right to declare that live armadillos are the Bigfoot of Arkansas. No confirmed sightings yet.

Disclaimer: I am not an Arkansas native, and I am sure others have seen this mysterious armored animal. And for the record, I am not a big fan of spiders, so the Arkansas tarantula can stay hidden and I will be just fine.