These are mediations on God’s Fatherhood. Each meant to complete the sentence:
As a Good Father, God….
…Wants to be with us.
I thought I was going to be on a work trip away from my kids on Father’s Day. My kids were in tears. My heart broke. But we found out later that I would be back in time to celebrate Father’s Day with them. Then, my heart burst. (I find my father’s heart is either constantly bursting or breaking…probably like God’s.) Anyway, every day that I was away from my kids, I wanted to be with them even more. And when I got home, and I can say this honestly, there is no where on the planet I would rather have been, but with my kids. I know God, Our Father, wants to be with us all the time. And when we see him as he is, there’s no other place we’d rather be, either.
…Is a Generous giver.
A father wants to give to his kids. He can’t stop it. Yesterday’s gifts aren’t enough for a good father. There are always new things to give. I think that’s why the Israelites weren’t allowed to eat yesterday’s manna—not because they got stale—but because it robs God of another opportunity to give. And God never says, “you should be happy with____” (fill in the blank with anything substandard, past-tense, etc.). He never holds anything over our heads. His main mission is to delight us, whether it’s purely purposeless fun, or passionately purposeful work. His main goal and ours is to suck as much joy out of the thing we are doing as possible.
…Says yes WAY more than no.
(And even his “no’s” are “yeses” to better things.) My son made a father’s day card for me this year. There was a fill in the blank that said, “My dad is super cool because_____” and he filled in the blank with: “[because] he says yes to everything.” Now, it’s actually not literally true. I do say “no” sometimes. But I’m happy that he has caught my heart posture. It’s a yes. And so is God’s.
…Can be swayed.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s true. Something awakens in my kids when they realize our relationship isn’t “dad’s way or the highway,” (which I confess, I’ve tried before…and even sometimes still fall into) but is rather a give-and-take, vulnerable, trust-based partnership. When they’ve hurt you, don’t be angry. Let it hurt. Let them know and feel that they’ve hurt you. If you give them that privilege of experiencing the freedom of hurting you, they will willingly come back and learn to not do it again. Anger may get an apology, but it only teaches kids to avoid angering dad; it doesn’t teach them to avoid hurting dad. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it hurts to get hurt. Anger stuffs the hurt in. Tears let it out. And there is hardly a better gift you can give your kids (or your wife) than to let them see what hurts you…to let them see you cry.
…Let’s us go.
And never abandons us. But he does let us desire things that may not be ultimately good. Because what he wants more than anything is for us to learn how to train our desires in the context of freedom. He trusts us so much more than we trust ourselves. He trusts our hearts that we will learn from our mistakes and come back to the only place that isn’t judging us or expecting us to be something other than what we are, in other words, Home. In other other words, Him. Our heart’s home. It’s constantly searching for, longing for, missing it’s home…missing him. When we aren’t with him, our hearts know it. When we are with him, our hearts are at rest and are filled with the feasts of his table. He let’s us go, like the prodigal son’s father. And his eyes are always on the horizon longing for the first signs of our return. The only “strings attached” of his complete forgiveness and release of us, are the strings of love and music that our hearts alone resonate with. All other strings separate and push away.
…Doesn’t pretend to be a monster.
That may sound weird, but I’ve only learned this one by experience. Yet it also has huge theological implications. I like to act. And I like to do voices. At times, I have pretended to be scary and chase the kids. Until I noticed that—whether because I’m too good at play-acting or whether my girls are too sensitive—they (esp. my girls) would burst into tears at my monster impressions. I’d then have to spend extra time hugging and kissing and convincing them that I’m good, that I’m safe and want to protect them. What I’ve learned is that our kids' imaginations are so impressionable, so I am careful what I project onto those screens. Play-acting and pretending are so important, still, but now I try to “pretend” to be more of who and what we are (royalty, heroes, etc.), not the opposite of what we are (evil, monsters, etc.). Likewise, God never pretends to be evil or monstrous or scary to us.
I’m only now learning this one, and haven’t learned it fully, yet, because of the age of my kids, but I suspect this can start at any age. Our two-year old doesn’t even know how to talk, yet (he’s starting to come out with a few words), but I can hand him something and say, “go throw this in the garbage,” and he can walk across the room or into another room and throw it away. He then pitter-patters backs to me, face-beaming as if to say, “Daddy, I did it!” There is little else that feeds and fills us than doing the will of our Father. It takes knowing his will (comes by seeing Jesus), knowing how to do his will (comes by a continual improvement loop of seeing, doing and learning), doing it and coming back to him for his praise. There’s nothing else like it.
…Is not teaching responsibility as an end, but is teaching how to love.
The best way to teach responsibility to children is to teach them how to love. Responsibility is the ability to respond to love’s demands. And love has lots of different kinds of demands to a million different people in a million different situations. Dishing out rules and expectations can confuse kids, especially when so much changes from day to day, month to month, year to year. Kids know that change is constant and that situations are never the same. When they know love is the expectation, they’ll be way more responsive, and response-able.
…Shows us we can do what he does, just like him.
Nothing the Father does is for show or self-glorification, as if he needs us to realize how much better he is than us to get glory (that’s a weird and very religious idea of “giving glory”). It would be like Michael Jordan (sorry I’m showing my age here) dunking over a court full kindergarteners and feeling good about himself. Everything God does is to show me—to convince me—that I can, too. He is a Father. What good father doesn’t believe his kids can? It isn’t a pie-in-the-sky hope. It is a knowing. We are made in his image. We are made to be like him. We are more marvelously made than the angels. Jesus says in John 10 that we are like gods.
…Is not punishing, but training.
Hebrews 12 tells us to “bear hardship for the sake of discipline.” (Sidenote: I think the NIV confuses this passage by translating it as, “Endure hardship as discipline,” which makes it sound like the hardship is from God). But when we, in the presence of hardship, remember our good Father who is always with us, always for us and always wanting to strap thick inches of skill, courage, and strength to our chests, then we’ve just turned hardship into a training ground for godlikeness. We have the privilege of training our kids like the Father trains us, to give them tests and challenges they can rise to and conquer, that proves to themselves the stuff they’re made of. Our children will know how awesome they are.
…Is Filled with compassion.
A good father never condescends. He believes our pain. He acknowledges our difficulties, even if they are self-imposed or self-imagined (and many times they are). He honors our perceptions and empowers us to own them and deal with them. This requires lots of great questions, not patronizing or making fun, but believing and, more than anything, communicating that he hears us and is with us. We reflect him when we convince our kids that we hear them and that we are with them. Sometimes, it takes fixing the situation. Sometimes, it takes not fixing the situation. Knowing the difference is wisdom.
There’s lots of stuff to do. Lot’s of things to get done. But never, and I mean never, do tasks, no matter how grandiose or spiritual they are, ever take precedence over playtime with kids. I don’t mean hide your work or stress from your kids. They need to see hard work, too. But, don’t let any seriousness take away your most holy and serious responsibility of being silly and goofy with your kids. Your kids will never be stressed if you know how to play with them in every season. Kids' first language (before their comprehensible mother tongue) is silly-willy, wonky-chunky, goofy-poofy talk. The goo-goos and ga-gas and silly faces. (I suspect this is partly why speaking in tongues releases joy and strength in us). Playfulness gets more sophisticated the older your kids get. But never less silly.
…Is all about affection and hearts turned toward each other.
This is the whole deal. A heart warmed by affection…burning and beating for relationship…keeping our hearts and theirs soft. God knows how to soften the hardest of hearts, but sadly it is usually fathers that let their own hearts go icy and/or inadvertently cause their kids’ hearts to turn away into callousness and unfeeling. I love that the last verse of the whole Old Testament is a prophetic warning (and a blessing) that the prophet will turn the hearts of fathers to their kids again and the hearts of kids to their dads again. This is what it’s all about. This is how we leave a legacy, how we build his kingdom: generations running side-by-side-by-side-by-side carrying the torch of sonship together.