I love when my two year old sits on my lap with a book. I love seeing his eyes light up when he sees me walk in the door. I love the way he cries. I love the way he laughs. His words are smerkingly mispronounced in a way I never want him to outgrow. Sentences are hilariously hung together like dangling underwear, ripped work clothes and name-brand golf shirts mismatched on a wash-line. He reminds me of how much fun it is to be a father.
Then there’s my pre-teen, almost-teen, whatever-you-want-to-call-him. There are days I’ve thought of other things to describe him. Things that ought-not-be penned. Things my parents probably uttered about me in my most torturing of adolescent moments. And then I look at my two girls and wonder just how it is I will ever figure them out. Young females are their own planet; or at least make me feel like I’m on a different one. Maybe being a father isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all?
Then I call this to mind: my toddler won’t always toddle, my pre-teen won’t always pretend and my girls won’t always speak Klingon. Change is guaranteed. And, I am beginning to see, my role as a father is to be a change agent. I must accept, celebrate change, and foster change.
I must accept that my two year old cannot always speak like a child, but must put childish ways behind him. I must accept that my adolescent’s changes are mostly normal and expected in that season of life when discovering your own identity is the destination. I must accept that my girls will change me. They will change how I perceive my own manhood and awaken a fighter in me for their honour in new ways. I celebrate these morphing realities and in doing so I begin to accept my own changing place and, to a certain degree, my own redundancy.
And, therein, lays a disconcerting thought. Not only must I accept and celebrate change, I must foster it. And, if I’m any good at it, I will actually put myself out of work. My toddler will become responsible for his own messes. My pre-teen will become a man who can correct himself. My girls will walk out of my arms and find their most important strength in the embrace of another, hopefully better, man. If I do all this right I will have become increasingly unnecessary. And, so, fatherhood becomes the acceptance, celebration, and fostering of change to my own demise. Not particularly an encouraging notion, but, if I lose myself in this way I will win.
Fatherhood, in this regard, becomes a journey into understanding the unchanging heart of God. The story of Christmas is of God sending his son into the world announced by angels and declared in the heavens where a star is handed it out to the inhabitants of earth like the glowing end of a proud father’s cigar. The story of Easter is of God turning from his son. The son cries to be saved but it cannot be. Has something changed in the relationship? Has God now become a bully? No, this is the essence of undying, uncompromising, unchanging love. The Father knows what must be done and that the ultimate act of love required his own apparent demise. God accepts change, celebrates change with the power of resurrection, and thereby fosters change in me and, I pray, in my kids. The truth is that God’s unchanging nature challenges everything I want left unchanged, and that is our great hope. “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed,” declares the prophet Malachi. However, those comforting words in Malachi 3 are preceded by an unsettling challenge: He will come as a refiner among his children and as a prosecuting lawyer call out everything in us that needs modification. He will foster change. He will expect it. And, he will accomplish this by being unrelenting, unchanging and pure in his love to the point where he will even appear to lose the battle of Good Friday only to overcome in order that we might be changed and not destroyed. Lose to win. Change by unchanging. Love by long-suffering. This fatherhood thing is a great and glorious mystery.
Friday, June 15, 2012
Every Sunday evening our church hosts a community dinner. The peculiar mix of human diversity and dysfunction is beautiful. They are, in a word, authentic. What you see is what you get. On Mother’s Day I encouraged the group with Psalm 27:10: “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.” It is a relevant passage for those shaped by parental neglect and foster care system failure. In the middle of my talk a man announces that he has no parents. He is unwavering as the people around him guffaw. Later, the truth trickles out. Born prematurely, his parents were killed on the way to visit his struggling little life in the hospital. He never knew them and defends his parentless dogma, while proudly displaying the “mom” and “dad” tattoos that cover his orphaned heart. He yearns for what family is. What does a family do? Through no fault—or great fault—a family can do incredible damage or good. However, you can’t really pin a family down on what it does. Do families do better if their kids are in sports rather than the arts? Do they do better if they are vegetarians instead of meat lovers? Do they do better if they avoid classical music for the sake of rock and roll? Families do a host of different things, but a healthy first start depends not on what a family does, but on an understanding of what a family is. A family is the first place of knowing God; of refuge; of identity and belonging; of living with the diversity of the sexes, ages and personalities in that primary microcosm of a worldwide web of people. When a family knows what it is, then what a family does becomes the organized expression of a unique and healthy identity. Our family dysfunctions are not changed by simply doing a bunch of new things, but by getting to the root of what we believe a family is. That is what my Mother’s Day friend was missing most. That’s a long introduction to this simple question for church families to ask: Is what we do as churches reflective of what the church is? Craig van Gelder helps focus this when he points out: The church is. The church does what it is. The church organizes what it does. The starting point for a healthy missional church is understanding and articulating the nature of the church. What is she exactly? What is the theological and biblical nature and mission of the communion of the saints? From there we can identify what a church is to do. And only at that point can we begin to organize what that looks like for our culture, context and gift mix. Many long for what a family is more than for what a family does. I have also learned that many long for what a church is more than for what a church does. I wonder what orphans might find the home they were looking for if we, who have been enveloped into the family of God, started with “is” and organized ourselves from there?