Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Father's Hands

My Father's hands are brushed milk chocolate by the sun, their tops stippled with a darker hue of brown. With each passing year, the skin thins to paper-weight, making large tendons jut up higher like earthquake-created mountain ridges, each crisscrossed by pulsing blue rivers that sustain life.

The roughness of working the land has started to give way to the softness of age, but the strength is still there because of constant labor. Still, these are the same hands that have provided for me, protected me, and led me to the path I now walk.

On Father's Day, I joined with a nation that gives thanks to earthly fathers.  It's important that we honor these great men.  What's more important, though, is to emphasize their continued importance in a nation where 19.7 million children are growing up in single-mother homes.

Men are importantFathers are important.

And yet, what is a father to be? How can men seek to become stronger, better fathers who leave a positive, Christ-filled legacy for their children? Or is it just too late?

Author Douglas Wilson says, "We learn what tangible fathers are supposed to be like by looking to the intangible Father. And we look to Him by looking at Jesus, the One who brings us to the Father" (p. 192).

The very essence of Christ was knit with the Father.  The logical outgrowth of such an intimate relationship is that the Father's nature was daily demonstrated through His Son.

Thus, to be a good earthly father is to mirror the eternal Father.  To mirror the eternal Father is to mirror Christ in one's heart, mind, speech, and actions.

Wilson concludes that one unifying characteristic both Christ and the eternal Father share is that of generosity.  He summarizes: God the Father is "generous with His glory (1:14), with His tasks (5:18), with His protection (10:28-32), with His home (14:1-2), and with His joy (16:23-24).  The Father gives (3:34-36).  The Father gives His Son (3:16; 18:11); the Father gives His Spirit (14:16-17); the Father gives Himself (14:22-24)....Christ images the Father, and we are to image Christ.  The way to do that is clearly to be open-handed" (p. 196-197).

This call to open-handed generosity does not mean that fathers are to give their children everything those little hearts desire.  Even so, this generosity does involve a giving of the tangible sort--a giving of financial support, of physical protection, of a roof overhead.  But it is more than that.  It is more a generosity of self.

A father is generous with his full attention.  "Full attention" does not mean having a conversation with a child when one eye is on the TV,  one finger on the computer keyboard, or one ear to the cell phone.  The eternal Father listened--really listened--to Jesus.  The Son never questioned whether His Father was truly listening or just nodding His holy head even though His ears were really closed.

Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Christ said aloud, "'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me'" (Jn. 11:41).   This kind of listening lets children know their ideas are important, they are important.

A father is generous with his example.  Like it or not, a father must be ever-conscious that every word and deed is an example for his child.  Christ said, "the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner" (Jn. 10:19).  To expect a child to do what the father does not is like expecting a child to fluently speak a language not spoken daily in the household.  Whatever daily "language" a parent's actions speak, that is the language he is teaching that child.  It may be a language of impatience, of greed, of apathy, of anger, of irreverence, of selfishness.  Or it may be a language of love, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control, respect, peace.  

A father is generous with his teaching.  Most importantly, a father is generous with his teaching about God.  Many in my generation know of God. They were raised in church.  A good many even claim to be Christians, themselves.  Yet, too many fathers (and mothers) in this same generation are choosing to not raise their children in church.  Christ said, "It is written in the prophets, ‘ And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (Jn. 6:45).  

But how can a child come to Christ is he has not learned from the Father?  Jesus said of the eternal Father, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day" (Jn. 6:44).  If God the Father is the type that earthly fathers should imitate, then such would imply earthly fathers should also seek to draw their children to Jesus' feet.  A Godly father will draw his children to Christ not with his words alone but in deed as well.  As Jesus said "I showed you many good works from the Father" (Jn. 10:32).

This is the intimacy of fatherhood, something that gets lost in the idea that men are mere monetary providers, teachers of all things sports, tool, math, or science related.

Such spiritual intimacy with one's children is not something a man can drum up within himself.   It starts with a right relationship with the heavenly Father.

If a man's soul is not in a right relationship with God the Father, then he is limited to merely the generic generosity that is common to mortal man.  That's a recipe for failure. 

What a man is in his soul is all he can give to his child.

Pause and think on that.  

What a man is in his soul is all he can give to his child.

Ultimately, to learn how to be a good Father is to give one's heart to Christ, to seek first to become like Christ.  

Image: My daddy making a batch of homemade ice cream for his daughter and grandchildren.  Such love.

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