It’s Never Been Easy To Be A Father!
No sermon is so bad that you can’t get one good thing out of it. No book is so bad that you can’t get one good idea from its pages. No movie is so bad that you can’t find one good line within it.No sermon is so bad that you can’t get one good thing out of it. No book is so bad that you can’t get one good idea from its pages. No movie is so bad that you can’t find one good line within it.The movie, “Always”, directed by Steven Spielberg was an inferior movie, but it had one good line in it. The lead character died in a crash, and then he returned as a ghost to tell the woman he loved: “I loved you. I should have said the words. I should have told you and shown you I love you because I now know that the love we hold back is the only pain that follows us here.” Don’t miss that, please. “The love we hold back is the only pain that follows us here.” Now hold that thought for a while.
It is not easy to be a father. In a recent survey in Men’s Health magazine, more than 2/3 of the 500 men surveyed nationwide said that it is harder today to be a father than it was for their dads. I don’t know that I agree with that. To be sure, there are more unique challenges facing fathers today, but the fact is that it has never been easy being a father. Anyone who has ever been a father—or a mother, for that matter—knows what a daunting challenge parenthood can be, and the reason it’s so hard is because we’re all amateurs. No one is an expert. Lessons of life and love are delivered to our children by us as parents while we are still trying to learn them ourselves. Self-understanding is being encouraged in our sons and daughters by us who do not yet completely understand ourselves. Children must learn a sense of self-discipline and responsibility from us who have not developed our own. No parent I know is mature enough, good enough, wise enough, strong enough, patient enough, clear enough to be a parent—and I speak from personal experience. No father knows enough about himself to presume to know enough about his children to guide them expertly in their development. The only answer is to throw ourselves upon the mercies and the resources of God. Just as amateurs in any endeavor, from art to athletics, can through inspiration, rise to greatness, so parents, and fathers in particular, through God’s grace in Jesus Christ, can find the power required to nurture children into their human greatness. Therefore, when I speak of godly fathers, I do not mean fathers who live and parent perfectly—rather, I mean fathers who depend completely upon God’s grace in both their living and their parenting.
Dr. Larry Crabb has a wonderful new book entitled The Silence of Adam in which he states that a godly father speaks three messages to his children: “It can be done … I believe in you … You are not alone.” All of us as males—as biological fathers, as adoptive fathers, as surrogate fathers, as step-fathers, as grandfathers, or just as male role models—all of us can deliver those three messages to the children coming after us. “It can be done. I believe in you. You are not alone.” Let me fill in the blanks here, by using the experience of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. If you think it’s hard to be a father now, think what it would have been like for Joseph, especially given the circumstances he had to face. Take a look with me…
A godly father delivers the message to his children: “It can be done.” It is a message of courage.
Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a man of courage. One example. When his family was threatened by the rage of murderous King Herod, he gathered up his wife and child and braved the long and hazardous crossing of a forbidding desert into Egypt. Then, in a land not his own, living in constant fear of detection, he provided care and protection for his family during an exile of at least several years in duration. It was that kind of courage that I think Jesus came to respect in Joseph.
Remember, please, that Jesus’ respect for Joseph was so overpowering that when Jesus searched about for a word to describe God, He chose to use the word “Father.” Vocabulary arises out of experience. The word “hot” means nothing until you touch the stove. So as Jesus grew up in Joseph’s home in Nazareth, He experienced the impact of Joseph upon His life. Joseph must have been a man of great courage to have inspired such respect from his son. After all, when Jesus was about 30 years of age. He began to teach the revolutionary idea that God is “our father.” That tells us a lot about God, all right, but I think it also tells us a lot about Joseph. He was a godly father who delivered to his son the message of courage—it can be done.
Later on, Jesus faced the pain of both opposition and crucifixion. Yet it was then that He could say to Himself: “I can face it with courage. It can be done. My father, Joseph, did it. He faced fear and heartaches and failure and opposition in his life. Yet he still trusted God through it all. He made it. It can be done.” What an inspiration a godly father can be to his children.Have you seen the little piece called “How Fathers Mature”? It’s actually about the transition children go through over the years as they assess their fathers. Listen:
- 4 years: My Daddy can do anything.
- 7 years: My Dad knows a whole lot.
- 9 years: Dad doesn’t know quite everything.
- 12 years: Dad just doesn’t understand.
- 14 years: Dad is so old-fashioned.
- 17 years: The man is out of touch and out to lunch.
- 25 years: Dad’s okay.
- 30 years: I wonder what Dad would think about this.
- 35 years: I must get Dad’s input first.
- 50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?
- 60 years: I sure wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.
Children will go through stages, and they may go off on tangents, but if we as fathers move through life with courage in the face of any obstacle, if our sorrows, though deep and abiding never kill off our joy, if our failures are never used to justify harshness or hardness toward others, if our struggles, which tempt us to quit never overcome us, then our children will “go to school on us”. They will learn from us. I have been privileged to have my father for 52 years. His life has not been easy. It’s been good, but not easy. And the last 15 years of his life have been filled to overflowing with pain and heartache. But through it all, he has trusted God. And his objective of pleasing God has stimulated my own response to life. If I have not reached his stature, I will still strive to follow his principles: being always of good courage, making it my aim, as it has been his, to please the Lord. What he says to me through his life is “It can be done.”
Fathers, do not fail to deliver to your children the message of courage. Let them know “It can be done.”
And a godly father delivers the message to his children: “I believe in you.” It is the message of faith.
Clearly, Joseph was a man of great faith. One example. We are told that when Jesus was 12 years old, Joseph took his son to Jerusalem to spend time being instructed by the leading rabbis at the temple. Only a man of great faith, desiring for his child to share that faith, would have undertaken such a spiritual pilgrimage on the limited financial resources Joseph possessed. That reminds me—the greatest inheritance a godly father can leave his children is not money, but faith.
Make no mistake, our children belong to God, not to us. They need to know that and we need to remember that. I love Psalm 139 which tells us that before we were formed in our mother’s womb our God beheld the unformed substance of our lives. In other words, long before we ever were a gleam in somebody’s eyes in this world, we belonged to God. We can say to our children, “I believe in you because God believes in you.” Do you remember when Jeremiah was being called to be a prophet and he said, “Lord, I can’t do it.” And God replied: “Don’t tell Me what you can’t do. Before you were conceived in your mother’s womb, I appointed you, anointed you, empowered you to be a prophet to the nations. I believe in you, so believe in yourself.” You see, we have a God who never quits on us. We have a heavenly Father who never gives up on us. So our children need to know that they belong to God and they will be His forever. What that means is that if there is a broken relationship in your family, by the power of God, put it right.
Robert Fulghum, in his new book, From Beginning to End, comes to a poignant place where he speaks of his relationship, or lack thereof, between himself and his now-deceased mother and father. This is what he writes:
“Both my parents died without any reconciliation between us. I, their only child, did not live up to their expectations. Nor did they to mine. I wish it had not been so, and they must have felt the same way. The ritual of reunion never happened. The distance between us was so great that I didn’t even attend their funerals. Though I have tried to sort through that story to make sense of it, I cannot. Perhaps when I am older and wiser, I will understand. I only mention this because it is important to acknowledge how much I empathize with those for whom reunion remains an unfulfilled hope. Some things, when broken, cannot be fixed. My parents probably wanted to welcome me home as deeply as I wanted to be welcomed. Now, in my later years, I sympathize with their sadness when, from time to time, a distance develops between me and one of my children.”
Let me tell you something, dear friends. Robert Fulghum is right about a lot of things, but he is not right when he says that some things when broken cannot be fixed. The cross of Jesus Christ says: “NO!” to that. Anything that is broken can be fixed in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
So work at building and repairing the significant relationships in your life; especially those between parent and child. Fathers, be sure and deliver to your children the message of faith. Let them hear you say: “I believe in you because God believes in you.”
Then a godly father delivers the message to his children: “You are not alone.” It is the message of love.
Joseph was a loving father. We catch only glimpses of that, but glimpses are enough. One example. During that trip to Jerusalem, Jesus became separated from His parents. Mary and Joseph searched diligently, even frantically for their son—for three days they searched, the Bible tells us. When at last they found Him, Mary said—and notice the wording, please—she said: “Your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” I submit to you that only a loving father can be an anxious father.
Several years ago, a man was flying a single-engine plane over the great Okeefenokee Swamp up in Georgia. That’s a pretty risky thing to do, because if something happened to the plane, there’s no place to set it down in the Okeefenokee. It’s a vast marshland filled with bogs and pools and alligators and snakes. Not a place you want to be. Well, this man’s plane lost power, and plunged into the swamp. Rescue teams converged and began to search for the plane and the pilot. They searched for several days. They found some bits and pieces of the plane, but they couldn’t find the pilot. All the while, the pilot’s father was waiting at the search command post, hoping and praying. Finally the rescuers gave up and they came out of the swamp. They said to the father: “We’ve done all that we can do. Clearly your son did not survive, and we can’t locate his body.” The search was called off. With that the father, 72-years-old, white hair, and a bit frail physically, headed out into the swamp. He had no equipment, nothing to protect him or aid him in his work. When later on he emerged from the swamp, he was carrying the body of his son. A reporter asked: “Mr. Maddox, how did you do that? The rescue specialists couldn’t find him.” Mr. Maddox replied: “You just don’t understand. That was my boy in there, and I wouldn’t come out without him.”
Fathers, please hear me. Deliver to your children the message of love. Say it so that they can hear it and never doubt it. “My child, you are never alone. I am with you, and so is God.”
Do you remember the thought I asked you to hold? “The love we hold back here is the only pain that follows us to heaven.” Don’t hold back your love from those God has given you to love. Reminds me of Barry and his son, Andrew. Andrew is a boy with Downs Syndrome. He has the body of a fifteen-year-old, but his mind stopped growing when he was four. Barry couldn’t accept Andrew’s limitations, so he became resentful of his son and depressed in his spirit. He suffered a nervous breakdown. Through subsequent counseling, he was able to see Andrew as he was and not as he wanted him to be. Barry’s return to wellness set off a wonderful response in Andrew. At Andrew’s Sunday School, one of the teachers had made a connection between the rising of the sun and the moon, and the constantly renewing love of God. Andrew was captivated by that idea. He asked his father if he would sit with him and watch the moonrise. On the night of the full moon, the whole family sat on the porch facing the eastern horizon. As the moon climbed over the top of the distant hills, Andrew shook with excitement. Then he did something he had never done before. Suddenly, he reached out and circled his father with his arms. Tears streamed down his face. He said: “I’ve never seen the moon rise before, have you Dad?” Barry was too moved to manage a reply. A few minutes passed in silence. It was as if Andrew’s sense of awe was contagious. It was as if none of them had ever seen the moon rise before. When the moon was fully launched into the sky, Andrew announced: “God keeps loving all of us, you know, Dad.” It’s amazing, every month now, Andrew and his family wait together on the porch and watch the full moon rise. And Andrew and his father always sit with their arms around each other.
It’s never been easy to be a parent; a father or a mother. We are all amateurs at it. But by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we can do it. We can accept each other in love. We can affirm each other in hope, we can encourage each other in faith- and in special moments we can put our arms around each other, watch the moonrise, and remember how much God loves us all.
Fathers, especially fathers, tuck that away in your heart.