When I was a boy in the late 60’s, we lived in Southern California. Most of my parents’ extended family was in the Southwest where we moved from, so we hosted many family visits to The Golden State. The beauty of it all was that we got to play host to all the attractions. This meant several trips a year to Disneyland, Knottsberry Farm, and Sea World! As a boy these were some of the best days of my life, stepping into these large worlds, environments of adventure, exploration, excitement and danger (yes, even in these places of wonder, danger existed). From time to time we would hear of accidents that happened in these parks. It only took a second for a wonderful vacation to somehow turn into an awful and regrettable tragedy.
You don’t have to visit a theme park to step into a large adventure or dangerous world. Step out your front door each and every day, and you are there - it is the Larger Story we live in. We all live in a very large story where walking with God is the invitation to adventure, and the evil that opposes us is both dangerous and prevalent. Like the ocean, we’d better not turn our back on this larger story, lest we be swept away by the powerful waves and prevailing currents. It seems most accidents happen when we aren’t paying attention or somehow we are distracted or someway we underestimate or minimize what is really going on. Learning how the Larger Story of the Kingdom of God works is critical and essential to teaching boys and girls orientation; who they are, where they are, and the good God is up to in their story and in the Larger Story. Its part of our job as fathers - children need oriented dads if they are going to become oriented. It was Frederick Douglass who once wrote,
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Most men aren’t oriented to the larger story, so most fathers live naively, not knowing how the Larger Story all works, who they are in it and the good God is up to in their lives. As the famous old seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, used to say, “It is impossible to impart what you do not own.” Solomon wrote,
Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 (AMP)
Being a father automatically signs you up for a battle against a ruthless evil. We live outside the Garden, in a fallen place. Therefore, the world is the battlefield and there is an enemy hell-bent on bringing division and woundedness, diminishment, and fear to the hearts of you and your kids. The kingdom of darkness is ancient, experienced, and is the enemy of the Image Bearers of God … that means you and your child. Just like Jesus was being hunted by evil after he was born - an awful force was working through Herod to attempt to kill the baby King - a dark and awful force is coming after your family. The powers of darkness will try to use others to help them steal, kill, and destroy. This is where learning to walk with God is our only true hope and our best chance to defend against evil and see our loved ones protected. The enemy knows how significant your role in this world has now become, you’re a dad, and darkness wants to do all they can to see the father/child relationship go badly. Stay close to your King … We ARE in for a fight!
There are two things the Heavenly Father wants to do to/with you and your kids … love you and grow you. By loving you and growing you, God is equipping you to love and grow your children into who they are in the Kingdom. You get your heart back, Dad, then you can better go after theirs. How? Through validation, and initiation.
Validation: To substantiate; confirm. To give official sanction, confirmation, or approval to someone for what they have achieved, accomplished, endured or recovered.
Initiation: Formal admission or acceptance into a status in one's community or society (or family). The ceremonies or rites of passage calling someone up to more to mark a passage from one stage of life to another.
Proverbs 22:6 is often misunderstood and used to justify and reinforce a Christianity with a direction of conformity - rules and expectations that, if presented appropriately and often enough to your kid, assure that they will turn out right and make you proud. It doesn’t work that way. Often enough, it seems to be the Preachers Kids that are targeted the most by the enemy, who struggle the most to “not depart from it.” Dads … there is a better way. Go after their hearts, not just their behavior. This one idea has been the most life-saving and life-giving parenting principle in all my fathering days (27 years and counting). Unfortunately it wasn’t given to me until my girls were tweens and much damage had already been done. But God has shown me many things since inviting me to see “in the way they should go” the right way - in keeping with their individual gifting. Here are three things to do to restore and forge ahead when going after their hearts, no matter how old your children are …
- You are worth my time - invite them along, make dates, and attend their stuff when ever possible.
- I want to know your heart - learn to ask good questions.
- Affection through both words and touch - write notes, hold hands, put your arm around, greet them with a gentle hug, give them a pat coming or going.
Fatherhood is hard work. The world desperately needs more fathers who are oriented to who they are, where they are, and the good God is up to in their lives, because it is the oriented dad who can bring orientation to his children. You Got this, Dad … You and Jesus Got This.