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A few weeks back the father of a 12 year old boy sent me an email. He was having difficulty with his son and asked if I could help. It was a request for professional help but as I read it a thought came to my mind. This is a dad who wants to be a dad and a good one, but he is finding it tough. I invited him to come and chat about what was happening and we could take it from there.
As we started to talk, Jack shared how much he loved his son. He talked about the difficulties of seeing his son grow and change. He was once a good boy but seemed to be developing a rebellious, defiant streak. He was concerned because his son was not following through with some things and this needed to be addressed. He said that he loved his son unconditionally. However in the conversation he talked about how his son made him unhappy. We explored that a little more ... you love your son unconditionally but when he appears ungrateful or lacks effort, then he makes you unhappy. Pause ... What do you think the son thinks? This dad is sharp ... he knew where I was going ... he tells his son that he loves him unconditionally but his son picks up his father's disapproval when he doesn't perform. The son does not connect with unconditional love but performance.
I don't think it's a huge deal when we admit we cannot love unconditionally. The problem comes when we say we do, but in reality we don't. That's what provokes the confusion and the conflict. Honesty is the best policy. And as dads we simply need to admit when we've missed it. Kids forgive and sometimes even forget. They'll give us the opportunity to get the mud off our faces and try again. Or maybe we simply need to direct them somewhere else?
Our conversation continued into the revelation of God's love. Jack said without a doubt that God loves unconditionally. As we chatted more though he used the same words he'd mentioned earlier; 'I make God unhappy when...'. And that's really what I want to get at. I don't know if we can parent any differently than the way we see God parenting us. If we're confused about how He loves us, we'll reflect the same confusing love to our children - we don't even have to try! It just happens. That creates insecurities because we don't know if God is glad, mad or sad at us.
This conversation went deeper with questions like; 'What is righteousness?', 'What do I have to do to be righteous?'. It amazes me that we can readily admit that God the Father demonstrated His love for us by giving us His Son Jesus. We know that this love is unconditional. Yet in the same breath we think that being free from sin, praying, reading our bibles and doing other good works makes us more righteous. As I said, Jack is a good dad and he wants to be. That unfortunately is the downfall of most of us. We want to be good. However the gospel is not about good or evil, right or wrong, success or failure but life and death. The good of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is still death.
Jack has lots to think about. Righteousness is 'right standing'. We can have favour with the Father, be in right relationship with Him, because of what Jesus has done. Good or bad works take us neither closer of further away from the love of God. His love is freely given. He is a happy God and is completely satisfied with Jesus' obedience on our behalf. When we catch that, then our kids catch that. When we don't get that, our kids actually catch our own feelings of unworthiness before God. There is no perfect parent. Our kids don't need perfect parents. They need to know there is an unconditional love out there and it's from a loving Father. He is the one that will never fail us. One of my favourite songs is by Shane & Shane and they sing about a dad who loves his daughter. However, dad will fail and won't be there all time, but someone else will. You can listen to 'The One You Need' here.
What's happened to Jack. I don't know yet. I've left him with some resources like 'The Gospel in Ten Words' by Paul Ellis and 'God's Kind of Love - The Cure For What Ails Ya' by Andrew Wommack. We'll hook up sometime in the next few weeks and continue chatting. My desire is that he will see he does not need to be the perfect parent. He is not trying to model that. If Jack thinks his job is simply to imitate Jesus by doing outwards works, he'll wilt under that pressure. He needs to simply connect with the life and unconditional love of Father God (that's what Jesus did) and help keep his son's heart open to do the same.
Have you ever wondered what causes a family to squabble and argue? Why the conflict? Why do siblings have to fight? I have a theory ... ok it's more than a theory ... it's an opinion that I think is based on truth. I won't be so bold as to say its the gospel truth because I am still learning ... but I think it's close.
The biggest family feuds I know of are related to inheritance. A parent dies and then the kids bicker over who should get what. Why? They are squabbling over what they have done and why they should get the greatest part of the inheritance. They have rights, they have worked, they should get a reward ... thinking like a servant. A servant is one who gets paid for what he has done. A servant looks at the work of his hands and says 'now give me what I deserve'. A servant aims to get what they think they deserve or they'll die trying. It is simply impossible not to have an argument or conflict with this mindset. The worst arguments are those between the servant and the son, because the servant cannot have, what the son is given.
The best and easiest way to deal with this conflict is to throw the servant mindset out of the house. A servant is one who thinks it's all about him and the works of his hands. When it's all about you, then it's all about pride and Proverbs 13:7 say that 'only by pride comes contention'. Pride invokes conflict, it's a system of this world and you cannot change it. If we bring up our children thinking that they can earn or buy an inheritance from us (hey, that could be your love) we create a war against ourselves. On the one hand we offer them an inheritance, with the other, a reward system. Internal conflict follows, that leads to external conflict, which leads to siblings still fighting for an inheritance over a parent's death bed.
I saw this for the first time in the story of Abraham. Now if you've been around christians you'll know that what you don't want to do is 'give birth to an Ishmael'. And that is usually explained as 'wait for God's timing' or 'don't take matters into you own hands'. Ok so that is important, but it's not the real issue. Hagar (Ishmael's mother) was Abraham and Sarah's servant. Ishmael was born of a servant. Ishmael could never have the inheritance. When we give in to conceiving something with a servant we create an Ishmael. When we require a servant or serving as part of our condition to give our children what they (or we) want, we create an Ishmael. An inheritance cannot be bought. You cannot get your share in the inheritance on what you do; you can only get it on what the parents have done. It's worth thinking about this. What are you offering your children - a reward or an inheritance? What do you think you would want as a child? Which is better?
Jesus came to give us an inheritance. He came to restore relationships and families. He does this through revealing the Father, who then gives birth to sons. As parents we desperately need to see how God is fathering and parenting us. It's out of this revelation and transformation that we'll be able to pass this onto our children, that they too can share in the inheritance, and not have to try and earn it through obedience. It's not possible to fight and argue over something that is being given to you when what you're being given is based on the decision of the giver. It's his choice and it's based on something he has already done for you. That is great news if you're the one receiving the gift. It's terrible news if you're not. God demonstrated His love towards us by giving. As parents we need to keep giving until our kids realise that they can have because we are giving not because they are earning it.
My mom is helping me edit (she picked up the typos in the first 2 blogs, as only mom's can, and find herself a new job) and her responding question was great. 'If you didn't want to know us and we chose to give Tracy (my sister) the inheritance, would it be because you didn't deserve it or our choice of giving?'. I think that we need to distinguish boundaries and the difference between receiving and deserving. We never deserve an inheritance. An inheritance is given by the choice of the parent. If I choose not to have anything to do with my parents, well then I don't receive the inheritance, but that doesn't mean it was not given. If as a parent we are deciding to give an inheritance on the basis of 'deserving', it ceases to be an inheritance and becomes a reward. We need to deal with both things here. Firstly, that as parents we see how God has given to us on the basis of inheritance. We don't model that but we let that truth sink deep into our souls until we believe it. When we see that He is a good Father, we receive the inheritance rather than trying to earn it. If we don't 'get it' or 'see it' in terms of our relationship with God as Father, I don't see how we can relate to our kids this way. Even if we see it, trying to live it or mdoel it, rather than letting it live on the inside of us, is a failing conformity and not a life giving transformation!