By Bob Mize
Once a new father told me, “Becoming a dad is the best thing I ever did!” With many others, not so much. It is tough being a dad. Frustrations and challenges overwhelm. Scriptures like, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) often seem burdensome compared with the joys and rewards of childrearing. Christian dads need encouragement. I pray this article will provide that.
Many Fathers Are Self-Deprecating
I know from experience that the devil uses everything in his arsenal to prompt dads to put themselves down. Have you ever known families who seem to have the perfect children, while your own are messing up? Two families come to mind for my wife and me. We were observing and admiring them during a time our own son was acting out because of diagnosed emotional limitations and our daughter was causing us embarrassment because of public intoxication during her early teens. It was easy for me to slip into the failure mode—destructive self-pity at its worst. The Lord showed me that comparisons with seemingly perfect families are not helpful. Besides, perfect families are myths.
Tables began to turn when God spoke into my life through several people and circumstances. First I heard another Christian father at a parenting workshop describe how he intently pursued having a family devotional time. It was very hard, he pointed out, given conflicting schedules, lack of interest, negative attitudes, and sibling fusses. He concluded by saying, “I know as a dad I mess up, but I am confident I am doing the right thing when I have devotional times with my children.”
Another turning point for me was reading Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. The thesis of the book is, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” That’s it! I must not give up the battle and the adventure. My efforts had mostly been self-dependent instead of Spirit-dependent. Eldredge went on, “The true test of a man, the beginning of his redemption, actually starts when he can no longer rely on what he’s used all his life. The real journey begins when the false self fails.”
The third way the Lord spoke into my life was when I was convicted that a good dad must first be a good husband. Someone said, “The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother.” My first priority is my wife, and then I can be the dad I need to be.
Most Dads Feel Inadequate
Though my surveys are unscientific, I conclude that most of us Christian dads feel inadequate. I hear it in workshops, small groups, and congregational classes. For years I heard sermons on Proverbs 22:6 and then looked at my own children and concluded that I must not have trained them in “the way that they should go.” Only in recent years have I learned the more accurate rendering of that Hebrew phrase is likely, “according to their own bent or giftedness.” Dads who are already burdened don’t need to be bludgeoned by this misapplied proverb.
Also someone shared with me 2 Corinthians 3:4, 5. This powerful passage soaked in: “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” My encouragement to my fellow dads is to lock in the spiritual component first. He provides our competence.
Intentionally settling my relationship with God is my first base. I dare not miss that base or I will be out. My guiding star for having spiritual assurance is 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Once I learned that I have eternal life based on Jesus and not myself, I had confidence that I could pass on to my children. I still recall the specific times I presented the good news of Jesus to each of my three children.
Christian Fathers Stand Apart
Perhaps the best way to find paternal encouragement is to know that we have accepted a call that transcends this world. If you want to see the contrast between following Christ and not, research absentee fathers in the United States. It is depressing. Some researchers say as many as 24.7 million children (33 percent) live without biological fathers.
One secular website, in an attempt to nudge fathers to understand the importance of their role, used the term “the father factor.” They listed the issues that dads influence: poverty, emotional behavior, maternal and child health, crime and incarceration, teen pregnancy and sexual activity, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, childhood obesity, and education. A contrast struck me: if secular humanists understand the scope of a dad’s influence, how much more should we as Christian dads get it! When I live out a committed Christian life in front of my children, I am letting God be “the father factor” through me!
We are often reminded that it is easier to beget a child than to be a father. Committed dads know very well that we have accepted the call to be more than a male in the reproduction process. Many conscientious dads have pursued all kinds of special programs to help, like Scouting, Promise Keepers, Being Dads, and Just 4 Dads, just to name a few. We are seeking help for a daunting task. It can be disheartening when our best efforts seem impotent and fruitless.
What dawned on me is that my best efforts won’t work. The fruit of the Spirit does work. When I first understood that contrast in Galatians 5:19-26, I was motivated, strengthened, and propelled. “The acts of the flesh” are my own efforts, but “the fruit of the Spirit” blossoms from the only genuine life source, my Lord. This father role must be from him.
I know a man named Sid who went to the grocery store to buy steaks for grilling. As he rounded an aisle, he glanced up, shocked to see a man at a distance who looked amazingly like his father. He wanted a longer look, but without staring. He looked down at his basket, but then stole another glance. Surprise! He was looking into a huge mirror behind the meat displays! Now he knew why people said, “You look like your dad.”
We have been chosen to look like the Father. It happens gradually as we “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). God provides our spiritual heritage, a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade . . . kept in heaven for you.” We can greatly rejoice in this gift from God, “of greater worth than gold” (1 Peter 1:3, 4, 7).
God became a man so we can know what our Father looks like, and so we can look like him.
Bob Mize is a corporate chaplain and freelance writer in Lubbock, Texas.