Finding the Father: Practical Steps Along the Pilgrimage

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In this week leading up to Father’s Day, we celebrate dads and acknowledge the difficulty of their vital role in this fallen world. Yesterday, we examined some of the challenges men have in overcoming hurt and sin in their quest to love their children (and their own dads) in light of how well the Father loves us. Today, we provide some guidance to those dads longing to embody the love of our heavenly Father to their own children.

The pilgrimage of fatherhood is daunting, but it is a journey filled with joy as we are renewed by the Heavenly Father’s bountiful love for us in Christ. This makes sense theologically and in theory, but it is challenging to live this out in the real-world mess of our families.

In a Facebook post from last year, Scotty Smith hints at a solution:

“It’s in a growing relationship with Abba, Father, that we are freed from either idolizing or demonizing our earthly fathers. The best father is a hint/whisper of the Perfect Father. The worst father is an invitation to know the True Father.”

This is the way forward.  As Abba Father beckons us and renews us over a lifetime through His own fathering, we are steadily set free from the extremes of idolizing or demonizing our earthly fathers. By grace, we are freed to give thanks for our father and lament his shortcomings, while basking in the sweet, enduring affection of the Perfect and True Father.

It’s in the freedom of this grace – offered by Jesus through His Spirit – that any of us are able to father redemptively.

However, since this journey is relational by nature, there is no “how-to” or step-by-step process for every father.  Each of us are healing from our own unique wounds. Each of us are moving forward in communion with the living Christ at our own gospel pace as we mature. Because of this, our journey will have differences from others. That being said, as you consider how to move forward in your own pilgrimage of fatherhood, here are a few things that I have personally found beneficial:

  • Study the fatherhood of God as a theme in Scripture. Books like Canlis’ Backyard Pilgrim: Forty Days At Godspeed and Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith can help in this regard. Pray for Abba’s love to wash over you and for the grace to receive His love.
  • Go to counseling and commit to it for at least a season. Get some help unpacking your own fatherhood story. We all have our own baggage in this area. See this as a valuable investment in your marriage, the lives of your kids, and your other life occupations.  It will make you a better man and will breathe life into your faith.
  • Pursue friendship with your earthly father if possible. Forgiveness precedes friendship, however. Appreciate him for who he is and give thanks for the image of God you find displayed in him.
  • Apologize to your kids and repent openly when you have sinned against them. You won’t be perfect. Mr. Hyde will rule the day sometimes. At those moments, repair the rupture in the relationship by confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness. Children are some of the most forgiving people in the world. God will give you grace through these moments of humility.
  • Learn from older fathers who enjoy significant friendships with their grown kids. Those are the guys to emulate.  This is especially important if your relationship with your own father is severely strained.

My friends, as you press forward in your parenting pilgrimage “remember that [God] is the Father of mercies…Your gentlest treatment of yourself is less gentle than the way your heavenly Father handles you.”[1] And so, as you snuggle your little (or big) ones close, know that the Father holds you near His heart. And He will never let you go.

 

[1] Ortlund, Dane. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 133.

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