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.”
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.