For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT
I usually approach Father’s Day with my thoughts towards my dad. I think about all he has given me, both genetically and environmentally (nature and nurture), and I’m grateful. I have a wonderful heritage that goes back several generations, and I hope will extend forward several more. I am truly blessed and don’t want to take that for granted.
I tend to forget to think about Father’s Day from the perspective of being a father. At this point, most of my overt parenting is done. I still have a couple of years with my youngest before she launches out in independence to live her own great adventure, but with three adult children making their way in the world, my own fatherhood is more of a reflection than an active role. I am often in awe of the influential role God has given me, not only in the lives of my four children, but also with some of their friends.
The Bible presents God as father. This analogy is designed to communicate to us at a more visceral level God’s love and provision for us, and the security that we can derive from his identity, shared with us. Unfortunately, that message is not always clearly received.
The problem with understanding God as father is that we look to our earthly father to understand what that means. I don’t know what your experience was like, but I can pretty much guarantee that your father was not perfect. Mine wasn’t. Neither am I a perfect father.
I don’t mean to belittle my father. I love and respect him. He provided for us, he loved and honored his marriage commitment to my mother, he lived as an example to me of what discipline, honor, and integrity look like. In many ways, I strive to emulate my father. Most of my dominant character traits I share with him. As the saying goes, “I am my father’s son.”
But he was unable or unwilling to have the kind of relationship with that I wanted as a child. And I vowed that things would be different when I was a father. Perhaps you can think of similar areas where you have made a similar vow.
The problem with judgements like that is that they tend to control you. Either you end up acting in the same way, or you act in exactly the opposite way, but in either case you are being controlled by your judgement. When my first child was born, I felt compelled to interact with him during his every waking moment when I was home. And it was sucking the life out of me.
You see, another thing I share with my father is that I’m an introvert. I need time alone to recharge my batteries. Being with people, even the people I love, is draining for me. It wasn’t until I released my father from my judgement and allowed myself to be who God created me to be that I found my equilibrium.
Some years later, as I was coming to terms with being an adult (as an interesting side topic, how old were you when you felt like an adult?), I spoke to my dad about my disappointments with his parenting. Honestly, I wanted him to agree with and apologize for my assessments of his inadequacies. Instead, he simply said, “I did the best I could at the time.”
I found that disappointing, until I had some more experience being a father under my belt. On this side of parenting, I find it quite profound. No matter what grand intentions, glorious dreams, or lofty aspirations we have when it comes to parenting, as broken, fallen human beings we are sure to fall short. As Paul said in the letter to the Romans, “The good I want to do, I don’t do. But the evil I don’t want to do, I do anyway.” We are not capable of being perfect parents any more than we are capable of being perfect people. On any given day, at any given time, the best we can do is the best we can do. Even if our best today is not as good as our best yesterday (or tomorrow), it is what it is.
But here is the point. While our earthly fathers share the title with our heavenly father, the analogy is not such that God is defined by their actions. Rather, God is the ideal to which all fathers should strive. Unfortunately, along the path to knowing God, we tend to fill in a lot of the blank spots based on our experience.
Because God is identified as “father” does not simply make him a magnified version of our earthly father, with all his imperfections amplified. Was your father angry? God is not more angry. Did your father neglect or abandon you? God is not distant or dispassionate. Did your father criticize and belittle you? God is not judgmental. Was your father domineering and controlling? God is not a cosmic killjoy, trying to ruin your life.
Whatever flaws your father demonstrated to you were his alone. His failings do not define God. I would submit, rather, that our awareness of these imperfections, the empty longing they create in our hearts, is an indication of who God is and the relationship with him that we were created to have. As Laura Story wrote in her song, “Blessings”
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
One other thing I share with my father: I’m not perfect either. On this Father’s Day, don’t let the imperfections of your earthly father keep you away from approaching and knowing your heavenly father. Instead, allow God to be for you what your father was not. On this Father’s Day, honor the man who gave you life. Honor the man who taught you how to live. And turn your heart towards the only one capable of loving you with perfect, sacrificial love.