Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Father on "Pause"

My kids are almost home! Naomi and I will go pick them up at DFW International Airport on Wednesday night. They've just spent a month with my parents in Sacramento, CA. Whew! That's a long time. We've gotten occasional phone calls in which they described their latest adventures with my parents. The last week there they spent on the houseboat on Shasta Lake. We're glad they had such a grand time of it, and grateful that my parents would provide them with such significant summer experiences.

For the first two weeks they were gone, Naomi and I revelled in the time alone (going out, sleeping in, talking long over coffee or just relaxing in quiet bliss). During the third week we started noticing how quiet the house was, and that the dogs were not great conversationalists. Now in the fourth week we've missed them pretty intensely. We're very ready to be parents again. It's not as though we were not parents while they were gone, but that the side of our psyche which is always on when children are present (the parent consciousness) seemed on "pause" for a time.

The truth is that parenting is not a "selfless" job at all. On the contrary, once you have made children, and committed to rearing them into healthy adults that love Jesus Christ as you do, your soul is strangely ministered to by having them as the outlet of your parental instincts. It's not merely that my children need a father, but it is also that as a father I need my children. Without them, what will become of those fatherly instincts that have become so intertwined with my soul? It's as though the myriad collection of fatherly instincts cultivated in me by the Spirit, to fulfill my calling at home, is on "pause" while they're away.

I suspect this is why so many parents obsess over their children, clinging too tightly to them, granting little freedom for exploration and discovery. They claim that their children are that in need of structure, regimen and rules. This may very well be, but it is also worth examining whether that parent is strong enough to bear being on "pause." Many are not, instead electing to hover over their offspring well into their adult years. Such emotional umbilical chords preserved long after their time are the result of two related crises of faith: (1) under-developed trust in God to parent their children in their absence and (2) under-developed trust in God to supply other affirmations of their parental instincts through other means (ministry, mentoring, coaching, etc.). To the first crisis I would invite those parents to trust God with their children more, realizing that while they play a key role in his parenting of them, they are not the sole source of their child's training. To the second crisis I would offer the example of parents who have had the "pain of the empty nest" anesthetized by involvement in the lives of others who need their wisdom too.

Some may justifiably counter that my theories have yet to be tested with having successfully reared three teens into productive adulthood who also serve Christ in their respective fields (the goal of every Christian parent). I admit to only recently had my first child enter her teen years. Nevertheless, having been a student to parents whose offspring now serve Christ as healthy adults, I am confident that their wisdom plays out even in my situation. Even with this said I must admit to enjoying being a father. I enjoy my children and am charged by watching their development. For this reason I'm quite ready to have the fatherliness of my soul taken off "pause."

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