Several years ago, I heard the phrase, “If you want to serve Jesus, stay single. If you want to be like Jesus, get married” (Gary Thomas). Through a decade of marriage and child rearing, I’m painfully learning the wisdom of that quote.
Marriage and family is hard. I mean, really hard. It requires more skill, patience, mental and emotional intelligence, clarity and love than I’ve ever been able to give. Ever. I’m forced to face my level of maturity and discipleship (or lack thereof) regularly. By design, there is no escape and I’m forced to either learn and grow… or increase my smoke and drink budget.
One of my favorite marriage books‘ dedication starts with, “To our four children, who effortlessly exposed every character flaw we didn’t even know we had.” My wife and kids help to illustrate my issues and dysfunction. No one enjoys that. Being a husband and father is roughly 10.3 times harder than being a pastor.
My biggest complaint and frustration with the people who live in my home is they force me to address my deficiencies, because they’re regularly highlighted. My inability to lead myself, manage conflict, share, and discipline others are critical issues that I’d rather ignore. Correcting my misbehavior and selfishness isn’t just a prayer away; it takes long, slow, difficult work. And I rarely want to do it.
Of course parenthood has its rewards. I’ve appreciated comedian and theologian Jim Gaffigan’s perspective on fatherhood. In a recent interview, Gaffigan wryly says, “I like it. I mean [being a father] is going to kill me, but I like it.”
And that’s my point. Being a spouse and/or parent will kill you, if you do it right. Hopefully it’ll be enjoyable along the way.
The unfortunate truth is if I don’t willfully choose to die, to stay engaged, to name and confront misbehavior in myself and my family, I’ll resent them. In my worst moments, I do.
According to Milan and Kay Yerkovich, I’m an avoider; and it’s true. That’s me. I used to view this as a personal strength, but seeing how it plays out in my home has been somewhat traumatic. When my kids are especially needy, I want to be least available.
Finally seeing this is a disgusting, yet precious gift. There’s comfort in Proverbs, which say,
“My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”
In this regard, God is parenting me through my kids.
By acknowledging and addressing the sin and dysfunctional patterns in myself, I have a different level of integrity and moral authority to acknowledge and address the sin and dysfunction in my family. I also have a different level of grace, peace and patience when we get to deal with it together. I get to say, “Me too, but it’s still not okay.”
And that’s where the hope is. God is active in my family, and generationally making home with us. When we choose to do the long, deep, hard soul/emotional work, this pays generational dividends. I’m affecting dozens (hundreds?!) of people who don’t exist yet.
Here’s the current job description I’m giving myself as a dad.
- Know, love and pursue God. The main way God wants to be known is as a Father. When God speaks, I’m to respond (which is how Jesus defined love). This includes stillness, meditation, and practicing joy. When my family helps to show my dysfunction, I’m to say, “Gee, thanks!”
- Love my wife the way Jesus does the church. Really, the content of this whole post is about loving the way Jesus does. No, Jesus doesn’t have dysfunction or sin to correct, but he always went first and created an environment for growth. Striving to give my wife a better husband by not taking shortcuts is a step in the right direction.
- Model to my kids a life of accountability, honesty, and growth. Just because I’m in charge does not mean I’m an exception. I’m in process, and that’s okay. No, I don’t have to be a perfect parent, but painful growth is required in all of us. I’ll go first.
Many of us can easily describe a typical fight in our home. If you’re stuck in a pattern, my suggestion would be to go through this material. It’s some of the most difficult work I’ve ever done, but like the authors say, “life is hard anyway; why not make it productive?”