Being a dad is everything I expected and nothing I anticipated. If you have kids, that may not read like a completely contradictory statement. Choose your metaphor: roller coaster, mountain tops and valleys, whirlwind, jungle, puzzle, chess match, circus, tug-of-war . . . perhaps you’ve come up with one that fits your family perfectly.
I had to wrestle, recently, mind you, when my boys are 8 and 11, with the fact that parenting isn’t really a natural thing. What I mean is that being a good dad isn’t always intuitive. I don’t just make the right decisions. Becoming a dad is natural. Being a dad isn’t. If I were simply teaching survival skills, maybe it would be a little more natural. But raising happy, healthy (in all aspects of life) children who love the Lord is no easy task. I’m reminded every day that not only am I still a work in progress that is being changed into the image of Christ, they are too, and (most of the time, simply due to age) further back in that journey than I am.
Scripture and Fatherhood
Reflecting on being a good dad, certain passages from Scripture come to mind highlighting history’s good dad’s . . . and maybe even more showing how easy it is to screw up as a dad. Try it. It’s an interesting exercise.
There are, of course, many passages that talk about being a dad. Dads know how to give good things to their children (Matt. 7:9-11). Dads teach children to follow God (Deut. 6:6-7). Dads comfort and encourage their kids (1 Thess. 2:11-12). Dads shouldn’t exasperate their kids (Eph 6:1-4). These are wonderful passages that steer us fathers in both a helpful direction and give us deep encouragement.
But the one passage that has been stuck in my head ever since learning my wife was pregnant with our first child is Galatians 5. It was, and remains, my deepest desire and highest aspiration as a father. I want to exemplify the fruit of the Spirit to my sons. To have all my interactions with them be characterized by that list (whether that list is describing individual characteristics or a single character trait that can only be summed up by all those descriptions). To show my boys what a life lived by and through the Spirit looks like.
Start with Love
The funny thing is, whenever I start to evaluate my dadhood based on that list, I never make it past the first trait . . . I get stuck on love.
Thinking about love when it comes to my sons takes my mind in two directions. First, love for them is nearly automatic. From the moment I saw them, I loved them more than anything else in my life. A Canadian actor and comedian said, “I used to tell my wife that I would take a bullet for you. I can never love anything as much as I love you. And the second I looked in that baby’s eyes, I knew in that moment that if we were ever under attack . . . I would use my wife as a human shield to protect that baby.”
All jokes aside, and yes, that was a joke, it seems that something awakens in us when we become a dad. Our love for our kids is not based on their character or accomplishments. It has nothing to do with their appearance or abilities. The love is just there. The child in front of us is part of us and part of the person we love. How could we not love that child?!
What is Love?
But that’s the first avenue. The second pushes me back to Scripture and forces me to ask a difficult question. I feel love for my children, but do I act in love toward them? Do I act like I love them? Love like the Bible describes love. While love is described and exemplified in many places in the Bible, there is one place where it is defined. 1 Corinthians 13.
Timeless, beautiful, challenging, convicting . . . frustrating. And while 1 Corinthians 13 is directed at the church and how we should all be treating one another (it does not describe mind you, romantic love—you can make the argument that romantic love should possibly exceed this description), this description of love should certainly come home to our closest family relationships too.
Does 1 Corinthians 13 describe the way I love my children? Again, the first part of the definition catches me short: Patient. That happens to be a characteristic on both lists (and for an interesting exercise, make side-by-side lists of the fruit of the Spirit and the definition of love and see how much cross-reference there is). Patience is a fruit of the Spirit and a part of the definition of love. That seems like something significant.
Loving Our Kids through the Spirit
If patience is required to love well, and patience is a fruit of the Spirit, then we only love well when we love through the power and growth of the Spirit. And that’s just getting stuck on the first attribute and following it through . . .
This doesn’t just apply to our love of others in the family of Christ. It comes home, right into our houses and to those that need us most to show them Jesus. What this means, for me, for you, is that we parent well by the strength and work of the Spirit. That sounds like a generalization and a cop-out. I get it.
But it brings me back around to the fact that becoming a dad is natural, being a dad is not. With the help and nurturing of the Spirit, not only do we become better and more mature people, we point our kids to Jesus, the one who loves them even more than we do.
Want to be a better dad? Allow the Spirit to work in your life as you follow Jesus. Bring your kids along for the ride.