Who’s Your Daddy

Who’s Your Daddy

Have you ever read the Dr. Seuss book, “Are you my mother?” If not, here’s the Cliff Note version: a mother bird notices that her egg is about to hatch, so flies off to find a worm for her new baby, only while she’s away her egg hatches. Noticing that it’s all alone, the baby bird goes in search of its mother. Having never met her, the baby walks around asking any animal it finds (and even some pieces of machinery) the hopeful question, “Are you my mother?” Being firmly rejected as offspring by a kitten, a hen, a dog and a cow as well as a car, a boat, a plane and even a large piece of construction equipment, eventually the bird finds itself back in its nest and is finally joyfully united with its real mother.

It’s a cute story, you should totally read it… Living it however is significantly less enjoyable. Sadly, this is the story of so many Christians, young and old alike, in the church. There’s been a growing trend of recognizing spiritual “parents” and “children” in the church over the past 10 years or so, and I have to say that I observe it with very mixed feelings. Mostly because I see it as having the potential for both incredible benefit as well as extraordinary harm. Here’s why:

The role of a parent in the life of a child cannot be over emphasized. From physical DNA to learned preferences, so much of who we are is a credit to where we came from, as the saying goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Spiritually, the role and idea of “family”, “spiritual fathers”, and “spiritual mothers” is equally important. However, I think we have become FAR too quick to apply and take on these titles without fully understanding and accepting the responsibility that comes with them, causing pain of the deepest kind more often than the benefit hoped for.

To better understand why, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my dad.

My dad is amazing. In the past 31 years I’ve watched him mature, bearing the responsibility of full-time corporate jobs, in addition to not just fathering, but truly parenting 5 children, along with being a recognized leader within our local church. All this he did with steadfast commitment, wisdom, patience and unconditional love unlike any other I’ve known. While no one is perfect, my dad comes the closest to the picture of God as our Heavenly Father that I’ve ever seen on earth.

Here are just a few reasons why:

1) My dad has spent the last 4+ decades of his life working tirelessly to provide for his children. He provided all of our necessities and many of our wants at great personal sacrifice to himself and my mother. I now understand that there were many times when money was very tight and he worried about providing for us, but we (his children) weren’t made to carry that burden, he bore it for us himself.

2) I’ve never once feared that my dad would stop loving me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made him plenty mad at times, I’ve disappointed him, I’ve embarrassed him and I’ve seen the pain on his face when I’ve hurt him deeply… But even having done all of this, I’ve never doubted his love for a minute. I’ve never doubted it because he’s never used his love as a weapon against me or tool to manipulate me. Even at times when I rightly deserved his discipline, it was always encompassed by assurance of his love.

3) He disciplined, not punished, me. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t fully deserve the discipline I received. It was always explained and understood as having purpose. I know he didn’t take joy in punishing me, rather he chose to discipline me so that I would learn how my actions impacted myself and those around me. His discipline was always for my growth and maturity, never out of a desire to hurt me in retribution or retaliation.

4) He didn’t try to keep us as children, but gave us increasing responsibility and allowed us to mature into adulthood. He rarely pulled the, “because I said so” card, rather taught us how and why to think a certain way. As a result he could trust us at a relatively young age to do what was right in the face of temptation and peer pressure. His highest value was not simply establishing and maintaining authority, but teaching us his mind and heart.

5) He’s the only one I have, and he’s done the job justice. While I have many uncles, mentors, teachers and friends, I only have one father. As amazing of a dad as he is, it’s not his responsibility to care for my friends the way he cared for me. He’s not everyone’s father, only 5 of us claim that privilege.

I could go on and on, but for the sake of time, I’ll stop there.

Sadly, I am well aware that a father like mine is the exception rather than the rule. As a result, we are living in a generation of physically, emotionally, and spiritually abandoned children (and subsequently, adults.) These orphans have a deep seated need that is dying to be met.

In God’s love and wisdom, he’s created a place here on earth that can help meet these needs, it’s called the Church. It is here that God’s family meets together in an atmosphere where orphans find a home and children can mature and grow up to be capable fathers and mothers to the next generation. This is a high and desperately needed calling, but it is not one to be taken lightly or a title to be applied flippantly. Lives hang in the balance, not just in the physical, but immortal souls as well.

Remember, while almost anyone can create child, it takes a real man or woman to step into the role of father or mother. It requires:

1) Immense personal sacrifice. Decades of investment, not days. Thankless years of selflessness before a child is even capable of understanding, no less adding to the relationship.

2) Unconditional love in the face of total immaturity, complete dependence, profound selfishness and even intentional attacks.

3) The wisdom and maturity to deal with problems and even sin as a learning experience for the child, not react out of anger, personal offense or defensiveness. Discipline is given to correct, grow and restore… Not punish, hurt or repay.

4) The goal of parenting is not to exercise a position of authority, but to train yourself out of a job. If your parenting style is “because I said so” then you’re fostering immaturity and ignorance at best, while oppressing and stunting at worst.

5) The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” A child with many fathers is one with an identity crisis. While I’ll gladly accept leading and input from those who would “guide” me in my spiritual walk, I’m not walking around begging people to be my father. I’ve got one of those, and he does the job very well.

Disclaimer: I AM NOT saying that we don’t need to be under spiritual authority. Spiritual leadership and authority is biblical and necessary. I AM NOT saying that we do not need many close relationships with older, wiser Christians. There is great need and value in relationships with older, younger and peer level Christians.

I am saying that this thing of spiritual parenting holds significant weight, and isn’t something to be taken on lightly. I am saying that we have more than enough broken families and orphaned children walking around our churches and increasingly going out into the world that have been deeply and profoundly hurt by leaders who want the honor of being called “father” but aren’t willing to sacrifice selflessly… and it needs to stop.

We desperately need mature men and women who will take up the call. But the call is not one of exaltation, rather of pouring yourself out for those you love. Sacrificing time, resources, your rights… even your life.

It is not an easy task. Rather one that may seem daunting, maybe even a little frightening to consider taking on… If so, then good! You get it! I’ve never met a soon-to-be parent who understood the weight of the task ahead of them, who wasn’t at least a little overwhelmed or who didn’t feel a bit inadequate. There’s room, even for parents, to make mistakes and grow. The point isn’t perfection, but rather an understanding of the goal and a reliance on God to provide for the areas where we are lacking.

There are so many wandering children asking, “Are you my father?” As a spiritual child, be quick to connect. Be quick to seek counsel. Be quick to be in relationship… but don’t be quick to claim a parent. As a spiritually mature believer, be quick to connect. Be quick to give godly counsel. Be quick to be in relationship… but don’t be quick to claim “children”. The role of parent is one proven through sacrifice and love over time. There is so much reward, so much blessing, so much honor in these relationships, but it comes with great responsibility, and great personal sacrifice.

For the sake of orphans everywhere: please, answer the call, but first count the cost.

 

2 comments

  1. I haven't run across anyone in my experience who actually wanted to be called a spiritual father, except in the catholic church. Usually it's more of an informal relationship where someone says, "He's been like a father to me" or "I view him like a son".

    So I'm not sure I can relate much to the thrust of the post, but I will say that I echo everything you said about our earthly father. He's the best a son could ask for.

    1. Amen!