(This article was initially published at CBMW.org)
I could not calm him down. He thrashed and flailed and cried and ran out of his room as I pleaded with him. Then I yelled at him. The house was quiet and dark except for the cacophony of voices coming from my son’s room. I remember my blood boiling and my voice raising as I demanded he stay in his room. But what I remember more vividly—or should I say, despairingly—was the conviction that my sorry attempt at fathering Liam was nowhere close to how God fathers me.
I hope he forgets my failings.
When I was a kid, I’d climb in my dad’s lap and wrestle with him. I remember his arms, tan and strong and capable. I remember camping trips and my first bird hunt. I remember his lengthy sermonettes when my sister and I would do something stupid—which was pretty often. I remember the good things. I’m fairly sure I have the best dad in the history of the world, but I know he isn’t Jesus. I know he made mistakes. He tells me as much.
As I came of age and began to question my faith in Christ, I had the foundation of my loving parents to rest upon. I easily grasped the concept of God the Father: a loving, gracious, strong, God who cares and uses his power for my good. I had already experienced a father like that.
Fathers are shadows. As the light of God shines upon them, their children who come after them should be able to rest in the shadows of God’s grace. A benevolent, loving God should not be something hard to believe in. But the problem is that we fathers are broken shadows. We are fallible and sinful and underqualified to shepherd other eternal human beings.
That’s where grace comes in.
When I pray with my kids at night, I pray that they know how much God loves them. I want them to drink deeply of his favor and grace in Christ. I want them to never know a day without it. And that grace—that unmerited feast of joy—is the same grace I need as their father.
I know my dad’s a unicorn. Most people can very clearly explain how their fathers failed them. I played baseball with a kid whose dad beat him with a PVC pipe—I don’t think he forgot that. Another kid’s dad got drunk in left field at every game. He probably remembers the smell of his breath and the slur of his words as they drove home. My paternal amnesia theory only goes so far.
If you are a father or you have a father (read: everyone), remember that fathers are broken shadows. If they do their job well, they’ll hold the tender little hands of their kids and lead them to the fountainhead of grace in Christ. They’ll do so imperfectly and God himself will fill the gaps. As a father, it is my dream that I’d be able to show my kids a shadow of God’s love and that the shadow they see turns them toward the light of Christ.