I’ve been challenged recently about the importance of being a good father. To be honest, I’ve been challenged for the past 22 years, but having cancer brings a lot of things into sharp focus. It’s made me see more clearly how often I’ve been consumed by work, rushing from one thing to the next, and not making time for the family. I’ve felt rebuked for taking my children for granted. Having my life expectancy drastically reduced is a big incentive to make the most of every opportunity with my kids.
Over the recent holidays our family watched a movie called Courageous. Friends had recommended it. It’s an inspirational movie, with an explicitly Christian challenge for dads to step up. The funny thing is that as I reflect on Courageous it’s a line from Eminem’s 8 Mile that sticks in my head… You only get one shot! One shot at being a parent per child. You can’t rewind the tape and do it again. In Courageous we see a father lose his little girl and his life being turned inside out. Through this tragedy God challenges him and his mates with the importance of being better dads.
As movies go, this isn’t a bad one. It’s well produced, it’s got a bit of action and humour, and it’s certainly motivational. But it should come with a warning: Explicit Christian themes and parental advisory content! We enjoyed watching it as a family and I think it inspired each of us. By the way, Fiona and I also watched Family Man with Téa Leoni and Nicolas Cage during the holidays. This movie reminded me how hopelessly unromantic I can be as a husband. Maybe, I should stop watching movies so I can feel good about myself!
The most recent challenge to consider my role as a dad has come about as I’ve prepared to preach at church this weekend. I’ll be opening up 1 Thessalonians 2 with the congregation at Crossroads. It’s not a passage about parenting, but has some big things to say in passing. The Apostle Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica about his attitude towards them and he uses the illustration of being like a father to them. (He also describes himself as a nursing mother, but that’s for another time!) Take a look at his words…
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
To be honest, if you’d asked me to write my job description as a dad, I’m not sure I’d have focused on these things! The first thing I notice here is the importance of being honest and real. He’s open and transparent before them. They can testify to his words, his actions, his priorities, his values. And he’s not cleverly pretending to be someone he isn’t. God knows his heart. This is not to say that Paul is perfect or self-righteous. He knows intimately the grace and forgiveness of God shown to him in Jesus Christ. Here’s the challenge to be fathers who our kids look up to as examples of integrity.
The second personal challenge is to allow God’s priorities to shape my priorities as a parent. Paul passionately encourages and urges his ‘children’ to take following God seriously. He understands that life is short and that we’re called to live in the light of eternity. This means not being all-consumed with education, careers, hobbies, homes and possessions. There are much more important matters demanding our attention. Interestingly, the father is also described as comforting his children. Life isn’t easy and won’t always go our way. The father is called to deal with his children with tenderness and compassion. This is my calling and I need to take it seriously.
Earlier this week I was having lunch with a friend and we were discussing our experience of being fathers. He shared with me that his kids were now following Jesus Christ as adults. They were making big decisions about their futures based on how they could best serve God. I was encouraged by the legacy that he’d left as a father. Not that he’d got it all right. He also shared with me that his daughter had recently asked him why he’d never taught her to read the Bible! It made him sit up and think.
My desire is to keep becoming a better dad. I want to prioritise my kids and do the best I can by them. It won’t happen unless I make it happen. And it won’t happen without God’s help.
Please God, forgive me for the times that I have been slack as a dad. Forgive me for the times I’ve taken my family for granted. Forgive me for my selfishness and failure to be the father you’ve called me to be.
Please make me a good example to my children. May they look at me and see someone who is seeking humbly to trust you and to serve you. May your word guide my steps. May your priorities and values shape my thoughts and words and actions. May my heart be filled with gratitude to you and overflow in love for others – especially my family.