Give your kids the gift of identity, affection and affirmation.
Dave, a small grade-nine kid, struggled to carry the large TV down the hallway.
I’m not talking about a modern, thin TV. This was the 80s, and TVs were square and weighed a ton. Legs bent, arms stretched, blood vessels near popping, he looked like he was about to collapse under the strain at any moment.
“Dave! Put that down. You’re going to drop it!” said his exasperated father.
“It’s ok! I can do it! I’ve got it.” Dave replied, in a voice that clearly gave away how over his head he truly was.
The whole move was like that. Dave desperately trying to work harder to gain his dad’s approval. His dad constantly annoyed. The move summed up their relationship. For all the years I knew Dave, he desperately wanted his dad’s blessing, and his dad mostly looked at him with disappointment and irritation. Looking back, I can see the long-term effects that had on Dave, the insecurities that plagued him.
To know who you are, that you are loved and that someone is proud of you, are longings that speak to the foundation of who we are. Even for Jesus.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17 NIV)
God the Father repeated this blessing later in Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 17: 1-5 at the transfiguration of Christ. Think of how complete that blessing is:
Blessing of Identity — This is my Son.
Blessing of Affection — Whom I love.
Blessing of Affirmation — With him I am well pleased.
Think of how complete that blessing is. What would it mean to receive a blessing like that? Could God see us that way?
In becoming a follower of Christ, we receive the privilege of becoming God’s children. As a result, we receive this blessing of Jesus as our own, for God our Father feels the same about us.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8: 14-16 NIV)
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Galatians 3:26)
Think about how profound that is. You are God’s child. He loves you and he is proud of you.
Many men feel a great deal of anxiety about becoming a dad. Their fathers were either emotionally distant or physically absent from their lives. With poor role models, they feel overwhelmed by the responsibility and totally unprepared to be the dad they want to be. A friend from a broken home once told me he felt one of his greatest callings was to end the cycle of family dysfunction with him—to step up and spare his children from what he had gone through.
As we receive the Father’s blessing from God, it moves us from a deficit position, to a position of strength. God blesses us with identity, love, and affirmation. God gives us the foundation to be a blessing to our children.
Think of two fathers. One has a lot of experience as a dad, but has bought into our culture’s lie that what truly matters is his own happiness. He firmly believes he will be no good to his kids if he is not feeling personally fulfilled and enjoying life. Without the Heavenly Father’s blessing, he is always striving to find identity, love, and affirmation.
The other recognizes his lack of experience and knowledge about being a good dad. However, he loves Jesus and strives to bring the love of Christ into his relationships. Knowing the Heavenly Father’s blessing, he prays regularly that he would live out the fruit of the Spirit as a dad, demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Which dad you want to be to your kids?
We must take the time to help our children know who they are, both in the sense of being God’s children as well as ours. A healthy identity provides our kids both with a sense of security and confidence. When we provide a secure environment for our children it gives them an atmosphere in which to grow, make mistakes, learn, and find forgiveness. They become confident and feel free to express their God-given gifts and abilities.
In Kirk Giles’ book, The Seasons of Fatherhood, he talks about the main identity challenges facing young people:One of the prime emotional challenges for young women in our culture is the issue of beauty. The National Association of Anorexia reports that 69% of teenage girls report that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. Multiple studies show that the influence of media can have a negative impact on self-image. The emotional impact to the heart and mind of a teenage girl can be overwhelming.
In his book, Wild at Heart, John Eldredge talks about the one question that strikes at the heart of young men: “Do I have what it takes?” Another way of putting it: “Dad, do you believe in me?”
Of course, most of us will be shaking our heads in acknowledgment while thinking “Of course I believe in my son.” The real question is whether your son knows that you believe in him.
Men who are over-the-top workaholics and perfectionists as adults are often trying to prove to others that they have what it takes to succeed. Men who are isolated, lonely, and discouraged can be living in a place of constant fear of not being good enough for others because of the message they heard from dad. Men who longed for a healthy intimacy from dad can attempt to fill that void with seeking out sexual fantasy in ways that do not produce true relationship and connection.
So much of our culture is performance driven and honours and rewards it. But performing is tiring and especially so in the Christian faith. When we help our children understand who they are in Christ, they will find a place of rest.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage our children to succeed in life, to strive to do well. The point is, where is that coming from? When it is grounded in an established identity, they can truly strive to do well and not worry about whether they match up or not.
It is important that our children know they are loved. How love is demonstrated is deeply influenced by our culture. Many adults grew up with dads who loved them but rarely, if ever, did their fathers express their love outwardly. At a workshop one man told me he knew his father loved him. He couldn’t remember his dad ever saying it or hugging him but he had no doubt of his dad’s love.
Many people will be familiar with Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. In it he sets forth the idea that people express love in five main ways, and each person has a preference for how they demonstrate their love:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Quality time
- Physical touch
My wife and I have noticed this with each of our kids. Some say, “I love you” more than others or want hugs more than others. Another will go out of their way to make and give gifts. This doesn’t mean our kids don’t like the other ways, but that one tends to mean more to them than the others. I have tried to respond to each child with their preferred love language.
As we speak about the affirmation our children need, it’s critical we help them understand that it is not performance-based. Yes, we affirm the things they do well, but their affirmation is based on who they are in Christ. God said of Jesus. “With him I am well pleased.” Some ways to do this are: to celebrate their giftedness, express appreciation just for who they are, and help them to see the value of who God has created them to be.
This article is based on a workshop from Promise Keepers Canada called Becoming a Better Dad. After teaching it for the first time earlier this year, I tried giving the Father’s Blessing to my kids. I went up to them, hugged them individually and said, “You are my child, I love you and I am proud of you.” I could feel the response. They hugged me back harder and smiled back at me. To be honest, I was surprised at the response!
Since then I have tried to say it more often.