Wednesday, May 14, 2008
"I will be you."
Just the other night, I asked our son Benjamin, "What will you be when you grow up?"
His response was both heart-warming and terrifying: "I will be you."
"I will be you"?
You mean, you're thinking you'll be just like me? You mean, I'm the one you think of as a model of what to become? Obviously, he does. Most little boys, in their innocence, think of dad exactly the same way. Fathers should be honored and humbled by this sentiment, but far too many fail to appreciate the gravity of what this means.
Yes, it means many small things: Mannerisms, patterns of speech, trivial habits, loyalties to sports teams, preferences in music, and on and on.
But, many fathers, for a variety of reasons, forget the biggest things at stake in their influence over their children. After everything else has been forgotten, a child's view of God and relationship with Him are subject to tremendous influence at the hands of his parents.
Of course, every soul will stand accountable to God, but there is no doubt that the influence that shaped that soul early in life will have an effect on the ultimate outcome.
Indeed, Jesus Himself cautions against a careless attitude toward the influence we have over not only our own children, but anyone less mature in faith, when He states: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18:6)
What a tragedy to be the father whose children learn to take God's name in vain, but not to pray. To seek entertainment, not to read Scripture. To seek vengeance, not forgiveness. To sing along with popular music, but not to worship. To react in anger to small inconvenciences, but not to exercise patience. Every father will teach his children a lifetime's curriculum in bite-size portions, one real-life moment at a time. There is no question about whether the learning will take place. The only question is what will be taught.
Humbling stuff. The kind of stuff that prompts a not-so-confident look in the mirror: "Is this what I want my child to become?"
Is that all there is? Nothing but a frightened realization of how much is at stake, and how unprepared for the task any honest father is likely to feel? Is there anything beyond a son's declaration of intent to imitate his father, and his father's mixed reaction to it? Is there any confidence at all that a Christian father can have?
Paul took his influence very seriously, and very personally. When writing to the Christians in Corinth, he tells them, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ I have begotten you through the gospel." (I Cor. 4:15-16) Later in the same letter, he reminds these Christians, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." (I Cor. 11:1)
Where does Paul, the self-professed chief of sinners, find the confidence to embrace his role of influence, and boldly instruct less mature Christians to follow his example? After all, this is the same Paul who struggles in Romans 7 with the reality that he often fails to do the good he wants to do, and does the wrong he does not want to do. What Christian father cannot relate to that struggle? Yet, somehow, Paul finds the confidence to lead his less mature brothers and sisters in Christ, actually using the word "imitate" in his instructions to them. How do Christian fathers today find this same confidence when it comes to bringing up our children to love the Lord?
The answer lies in the reason Paul was so confident. Jesus Christ was the only reason Paul could tell his "children" in the faith to imitate him. As the Scripture states, the instruction to imitate Paul is a safe one, only because Paul is imitating Christ. By imitating Paul, these Christians will, in turn, be imitating Jesus Himself.
So, Paul's commitment to Christ makes him confident enough to hold himself up as an example to immature Christians, in spite of his own past conduct. Paul does not allow his haunting memories of past sin to stop him. Paul does not allow his ongoing struggles with sin to stop him. Paul simply strives to imitate Christ.
What does this say about many Christian fathers' feelings of fear and uncertainty about our own example to our children? Why are we afraid? Why do we feel insufficient to the task?
Perhaps the first step to increasing the Christian father's peace of mind is to return to the fundamental statement of who our example is. Perhaps it's a matter of realizing that our feeble ability is not the only factor in the equation. In fact, it's the least important factor.
Our Father, our example of how to be a father, equips us with all we need to provide the example our children need. He can overcome our flaws and make our sinful past an irrelevant memory.
What our Father is looking for are believers who will look to Him with the faith of a child and say, "I want to be just like you!"
What every child needs is a father who will look to God and say, "I want to be the kind of father you are!"
Such a father will be ready, and fully equipped, for a child who looks to him and says, "I will be you!"
And, that child will be safe in imitating such a father.
Dads, who will we be?