We have three kids: boy, girl, boy. Yesterday, they were 10, 11 and 12 years of age. Today, our family begins the journey into American “adolescence”, a concept invented in the mid-late 19th century that took on a whole socio-psychological life of its own through the course of the 20th century.
As a parent, culture at large tells you that adolescence is something of which to be afraid. That for the next 5-13 years or so — you’re aware that adolescence now extends to age 26, right? — my son is going to be outrageously or smugly difficult, hormonal, disrespectful and pushing at every boundary I give him. That to some extent or another, I just need to put my head down and wait till that magic number — 18 — when he is an age the American government has deemed “adult” and I can send him out of the house so he can see just how difficult my life has been since I turned eighteen.
Look…I don’t have a clue what’s in front of me. I’ve never had a teenager before. I do know this, though: I’ll be damned if I’m going to let American culture tell me to be afraid of my son or be afraid of the years we have ahead of us. I love this kid more than life itself and fear will kill that love. Love casts out fear; but the converse is also true: fear casts out love. You cannot love that of which you are afraid.
Fear also breeds control. As a youth pastor I saw this time and time again, parents who were afraid of losing, training, loving, naming, disciplining, instructing, rebuking, correcting, seeing, managing, hugging, engaging, making unhappy or sacrificing for their teenager and who turned to control of them instead. The result was they lost the vitality of their covenantal relationship with their child. Or they admitted complete loss of control and let the kid run things in the relationship, flip-flopping who was parent and who was child.
It was funny to experience…every church wants a twenty-five year old youth pastor with ten years experience and three teenagers of his own who knows how to minister to parents of teenagers, though typically the youth pastor’s own kids are probably toddlers, if he/she has any at all. I have more than one memory of a parent pouring their heart out to me over their son or daughter and me telling them I was sorry, but they just had to stay in it and figure it out and I’d help however I could. Or God in His grace gave me a principle from His Word or a resource to offer them. Or I just made something up to help in the moment. I didn’t know what to tell them; but if their teenager ever had issues with potty-training, I had some killer strategies.
Anyway, I digress.
Here are four particular principles that have been personally helpful thus far in fathering my kids:
1. Choose your battles wisely. Win every battle you choose.
2. The most loving thing a father can do for his children is nurture and deepen his relationship with their mother (or his wife, depending on your situation).
3. Regularly be humble and authentic with your kids regarding your own shortcomings as a human and a parent.
4. Only you can parent your kids. Your children will be formed by something or someone; be sure you are the one forming them.
It’s that fourth one on which I’m focusing this anniversary of my oldest son’s birth. A lot of us dads are passive or reactive; I’ve found myself in that place before. We forget that the primary part of the word provision is vision. It’s important that we are actively thinking and strategizing with God and our wives about who are children are as people, not just how they should behave.
The Scriptures are clear: Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it. — Proverbs 22.6
I have no idea what to say to people who trained their children well, their kids left the path laid out for them, and then left this world without returning to that path. I’ve officiated a few of those funerals. They are devastating and my heart aches for those families.
I do know I’m still in a training stage and this thing needs to be taken seriously. I’m totally against the idea that you can judge a parent by their kids. Do you realize how much pressure that puts on children? They learn that how they perform is primary and who they are is secondary. Children are not vicarious presentations of their parents. They are themselves and they need to be honored and regarded as their own selves made by God in His image for His purposes and glory. Our children are actually His children; they are our glorious stewardship.
Christian parenting is this: to personally connect so deeply and intimately with God (first) and my spouse (second) that we receive from Him a fuller and deepening picture of the design and purpose that He placed within His children (gifted to us as a stewardship), and then lead them into a pursuit and release of that design and purpose.
As dads, we can set the bar pretty low for ourselves. Note: ourselves. Ask a dad what he wants for his child and you might hear stuff like:
“To make their mark on this world.”
“To be healthy and happy.”
“To have it better than I had it.”
“To stand on their own two feet.”
“To not make the same mistakes I made.”
Really? That’s as big as your dreams can get for your child? Or is that as big as your dreams can get for yourself? Set the bar low, with vague definitions and cliches, and you leave a lot of room to check out or run away or escape or hide behind your kids or idolize them or be afraid of them and — directly or indirectly — form them into your image instead of God’s image.
A lot of fathers cannot dream for their kids because they cannot dream for themselves. The spirit of fatherlessness wreaking havoc on men everywhere is destroying the very foundation of what could be a life-giving culture of strong, redemptive families. Because a lot of men are ignoring, afraid of, or playing at their relationship with Jesus, His deep love and redemption cannot give them their new identity as sons with God as their Father, powerful in Him and forever accepted, safe, and belonging.
Their dreams are the faithless dreams of the orphan.
Their hearts are the insecure hearts of the orphan.
Their minds are the unstable double-minds of the orphan.
Their work is the terrified toil of the orphan.
Their comfort is the addictive escape of the orphan.
They have not received and
They will not believe that
— in Christ —
— through Christ —
— for Christ —
They are forever loved,
They are not alone and
They cannot fail.
This is a call to fathers, not to be better fathers, but to be sons. Sons of God, secure in His spirit of adoption in us, seated with our older brother Jesus in heavenly places, hidden with Christ in God, receiving from God His dreams for us and walking in His realities. Then, from that place, we dream for and with our children, leading with the love, strength, discipline and grace with which God has gifted and transformed us.