It is Father’s Day 2017 and I am away from the crew I love the most, my wife and three children. Typically, we all go together to our family cottage in Tennessee for two weeks each June. However, this year, while they were with me here in the cottage last week, numerous forces collided to cause our temporary separation: summer school for my eldest, working as a camp counselor for my middle, and acting camp for my youngest.
This means that this week I am flying solo on my annual vacation/writing retreat in Tennessee.
The distance today has caused me to get reflective. When I’m alone (actually, two of my three dogs are with me on the mountain), I have lots of time to think, ponder, pray and reflect.
Today those reflections have turned, quite naturally, to dadhood.
Since I didn’t grow up with a father (my parents divorced when I was very young), there was something in me that really wanted to do it right when I had kids. You know, be the father to my kids that I never had.
We are talking the “You are the Greatest Dad in the World” Hallmark Card type of father.
Yet, one thing I have discovered in life (not just fatherhood) is that memory is selective. We tend to see the past the way we want to see it. Not necessarily revising the truth. Just picking the truth we prefer. Using a highlighter on the Hallmark Dad moments.
And there have been some. I think my wife would say there have been a lot of those moments.
But if I am honest, really honest, there is much I would do differently. There is a lot I regret.
Part of the problem is that I suffer from a syndrome that has wreaked all kinds of havoc in my life – affecting my marriage and yes, even my role as a father. Psychologists call it a syndrome or disorder. The Bible calls it sin, or the “sin nature” – a proclivity to do things I don’t want to do and neglect to do the things I do want to do. (Read more about the apostle Paul’s struggle with this syndrome in Romans 7.)
The reality is we can’t escape from our family history, family pathologies, addictions, and the tendency to repeat the sins of our own parents.
If you are nearing or past 40 years old, you remember the moment you looked into the mirror and saw your mother or father looking back at you. What is true is that our physical similarities are matched by unseen similarities. The syndrome is passed on from one generation to the next. To us and then through us.
The practical impact of this is that there are memories I would choose not to highlight. I don’t need to confess them here. But there is so much I wish I could erase.
There also are things I wish I would have done better or differently.
We actually have had a LOT of fun as a family.
Whatever I wish I could erase, my family will tell me that I am being too hard on myself. Maybe I am. I just hear Paul’s grief over his sin in Romans 7 and his lament resonates deeply within my soul.
Going into dadhood, I wanted to set the perfect example of what a godly father looked like. As a result of being a pastor, I thought I had an edge. I was wrong. The same sin sickness that afflicted Paul has afflicted me. Sin is an equal opportunity destroyer.
If Paul struggled with the flesh, so will I.
Thankfully, I’m actually in a really good place right now – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. My marriage is healthy. My relationship with my kids is strong. I love the church I serve and never want to leave. (This reminds me to reserve a burial plot in Dahlonega.) Our staff and leaders are friends. I get to focus on preaching and writing. What a gift and a blessing. Sometimes I feel like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. Or like a pig in mud.
In this season of peace and reflection, even as I look back and regret so much, I am comforted by a couple of things.
First, I am convinced that my story is a part of God’s greater story, and all the pieces fit together with the stories of others (even my children) in a way so big and complex that only God himself can weave the strands into something purposeful and beautiful. Yes, he even uses our sin in the tapestry of redemption.
Second, I am convinced that I do not have to carry the weight of being the perfect father. After all, there is only one perfect Father, who sent his one perfect Son to erase all that I wish I could but am unable to erase. He lived perfectly in my place and suffered willingly in my place.
In view of the cross, my job as a parent is no longer to be the perfect Father, but to allow my imperfections to lead my children to see the perfect Father, whose grace is abundant and free to anyone who asks.
They have the sickness, too. They need the same grace I do. The most unhelpful thing would be for me to try to take the place of Jesus in their lives, acting the hero. This would require me to fake it, to make excuses and shift blame when my syndrome raises its ugly head. We can’t fool our kids. Don’t try it. It is a futile exercise.
The best thing we can do is be honest.
Instead of covering up my sin, I can simply repent, embracing Jesus as the one who has covered it for me (and also has covered me in his perfect righteousness). Then, when my kids struggle with the same internal disease of the flesh, they will have an example – an example of how to go to Jesus for grace in their own time of need.