This Sunday is my first Father’s Day. It’s difficult to believe Weston will be a year old next month. Pretty soon he’ll be able to bring me the television remote and mow the lawn when I need to rest up for dinner. I think I’ll teach him how to bake cookies too. You never know when you’ll need a skill like baking cookies. Oh wait, yes I do. Every single day.
Parenting is scary. Not Die Hard scary—though raising children is like one really long hostage negotiation—it’s more like Alien scary. Think about it. Children burst out of their mom’s body only to grow up and start biting people for no reason. Granted, their blood isn’t acid, but it kind of feels like their spit up is.
Everything about raising a child is new to me and my wife. Feeding, changing diapers, road trips. I’m constantly afraid that I’ll mess my son up. What if I’m the reason he’s six and still drinks from a bottle? How will he get a girlfriend if he’s got baby formula dripping from the side of his face? He won’t be able to talk to women until he’s twenty; just like me.
There’s also a spiritual aspect to fatherhood that’s equally—if not more—frightening. Like it or not, a child’s understanding of God is often influenced by the way they view their own father. This isn’t a science, but I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Children tend to interpret their heavenly father through the grid of their earthly father. If a child has a tough, unforgiving dad, they often struggle to view God as anything other than harsh and insensitive. If their father is absent, children sometimes have a difficult time believing God truly cares about them.
The Apostle Paul seems to understand this delicate relationship between parenting and the gospel. In the book of Ephesians he writes: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…” (5:25-26a). Looking at the context of this statement—fathers and children are addressed a few verses later—I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this same type of Jesus-centered living is applicable for both husbands as well as dads.
Fathers, the love we show to our children should find a reflection in the same love Jesus has for us (“as Christ loved the church”). It’s our guide so to speak. Our children shouldn’t grow up believing we’re perfect—that won’t be hard for my son—but we must treat them in such a way that they’ll better understand God’s mercy, justice, grace, and forgiveness. In many forms, we can help “sanctify” our children. Meaning, their lives better reflect the story of Jesus because of the influence we have as dads.
In their book, The Essential Church, Thom and Sam Rainer use statistics to point out a few reasons why young people leave their local congregations. A topic they hit hard is parental hypocrisy. Parents tell their children it’s important to love God, serve others, and be involved in a local church. In the end, they don’t follow their own advice. Dads, it’s scary to think that our children won’t necessarily listen to what we say, instead they mimic what we do. If our actions line up with our words, they’ll saturate, apply, and repeat our advice. If not, it’ll be crumpled up and thrown into a mental trashcan.
As a dad, I’m worried I’ll get to a place in my life where I attend church, talk about Jesus, sing a few songs, and then drive home and not love my children like Christ loves me. I’ll be too harsh or too lenient. I won’t give them enough time. I’m frightened that I won’t be an agent of sanctification for my son. I’m worried he’ll pick up a different idea of God. One I’ll never utter out loud, but quietly whisper in the way I pat his head or kiss him goodnight.
I’m not so sure when to potty train my son or at what age it’s okay to let him split a tub of ice cream with me. But I know that I must do my best to treat him like Jesus would treat him. Because, if I don’t, he might grow up thinking Jesus is like me. I’ll make mistakes, we all do, but I want my life, my fatherhood, my marriage to reflect God’s love for humanity. I want my actions, my generous grace to be so bright that my family is sanctified—positively affected by Jesus working in me.
And I want to teach my son how to bake cookies.