Father’s Day: Christ Shines Through the Cracks

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I love an old family photo that sits on my desk.  It’s a picture of my wife and I walking hand in hand with our three oldest children. Our fourth and youngest is just a baby nestled comfortably in my wife’s arm. The six of us are strolling through green grass. All of us are looking at someone else in the family. There is the soft aura of shalom and joy in this image.

My head is turned slightly to the side as I look down at my firstborn son. He is small and thin, and his left arm is completely concealed in a shirt that’s too large for him. He is looking up at me with a smile. Despite the fact that this was a scheduled family photo shoot, he and I were clearly talking about something. Now, almost ten years later, I wish I could remember the conversation. I want to recall why he was smiling.

Today I have another picture. In it my son is beaming. He is adorned in a black gown with a mortar board and tassel on his head. He is graduating from high school. His blue eyes gleam with pride. In the background there are lush green trees and a sidewalk behind him that fades into the distance. Arriving at the end of one journey, he is close to embarking on another one. He is a young man now and as I stare at his picture, I realize he is still looking at me and smiling.

I am not sure what to do with these emotions that swirl inside of me. I am not certain where the time went. There are so many joys as I recognize that one of my children has accomplished a significant milestone in life. I swell with pride knowing that he persevered through a lot of social, emotional, spiritual, familial, and educational challenges to get to this point. I am grateful that he has heard and experienced the gospel in our home. I am thankful for the great host of family and friends who have loved him, nurtured him, and spoken valuable truths into his life.

I also lament that he has been a witness to the uglier side of reality and watched families implode, Christian leaders fall, and people he respected lose their way. He has seen both the beauty of Jesus and the ugly stains of His people. These realities often seem incongruous, and they both have their effects. I sometimes wonder how these hard experiences will impact him as he heads out into an even harder world.

In my earlier days as a father I felt the responsibility of holding it all together. When he was younger it seemed that there was always space for a Bible story, a devotional nugget, and a moment for me to model virtue and holiness. He was more impressionable, and I could tell that I was in some strange way his hero. In the same way that he looked up to me in that old photo I hoped that he looked up to me as a spiritual example of what it meant to follow Jesus.  I imagine that all Christian fathers have this hope.

But as I grew older and life got busier and harder, I started to sense the cracks. My own maturity, knowledge, and wisdom became strained as I tried to cope with the demands of marriage, my ministry, and raising teenagers. The simpler joys of raising small kids were replaced by the herculean responsibilities of shepherding young adults. In a topsy-turvy world I discovered that I was in over my head. The hairline fractures became glaring fissures, and I started to embrace the fact that the pressures of fatherhood were revealing stark inconsistencies and weaknesses in me.

Sometimes in my best attempts to be holy and a hero, I still fell short and felt more like the villain. Over the years, I was startled that my son was not impressed or inspired by my holiness but was far more moved by my humility.

The apologies, requests for forgiveness, and the open invitations for him to peer behind the curtain of my own brokenness introduced him to Someone much more valuable as a Hero. To the degree that I could invite him to see my own struggles was to the same degree that I could expose Him to the Savior. Good news always grows in magnitude in contrast to the bad news with which it is juxtaposed. I am grateful that Christ spared me from any major moral collapses and failures. But my daily sins – those everyday cracks – became the unique space from which the purer light of Christ could shine for my son and my family.

Fatherhood is a sowing ministry. Occasionally we find sacred rhythms to parenting where we find strategic space to scatter seeds. But due to the cacophony and chaotic nature of life we often sow the fields of our children’s lives with both wheat and tares. Thankfully it is our heavenly Father who sorts the seeds and reaps the harvest. In the end, the fruitfulness in the lives of our children is due to His benevolent hands. He does the heavy lifting.

As my son embarks on what’s next, I am hopeful that he will understand how much I love Him. I trust that some of the seeds I sowed will be bear lasting fruit and that the Lord will faithfully address the weeds I sowed as well. I hope that he will know that I’m always cheering for him, and that grace says it’s okay to fail and falter along the way. I pray that he will pursue holiness but wholeheartedly embrace humility. In the midst of a muddled and hostile world, I hope that he will keep His eyes on his Father.

And more than anything I want him to remember that no matter what he does, how he performs, where he succeeds, or how he falls short, that His Father will always be looking at him. And because of Jesus, his Father will never stop smiling at him either.

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