Fathers, part 2
Did you ever stop to think about how much of an impact our fathers have upon us? I'm convinced that so much of our character is shaped, for better or worse, by our interactions with our fathers. What's really scary is I've heard that many people get their impression or their notion of their Heavenly Father from their earthly father. Do you see God as an overbearing jerk? Perhaps, maybe, that's how your father was? Do you see God as mainly someone who "runs a tight ship" or just gives us a set of rules? Then, maybe your dad was the military type, barking orders, and wanted things just so? Maybe God seems distant and uninterested in you? You get the picture.
Hopefully, you see God as someone who couldn't possibly love you any less or any more than he does right now. Maybe, then, your father constantly expressed how his love for you could never change.
I'm not saying that we cannot fix our view of God. Right now I think I have a very healthy view of our Lord. I believe that He's very pleased with me. However, it took me years to get here.
This stuff really struck me when I was watching WALK THE LINE back in 2005. The impact of Johnny Cash's father on his life was profound, tragic, and unmistakable. If you haven't seen the movie, Johnny's older brother, Jack, was considered the "good" kid. He memorized his scriptures, he did the right things, he looked after his little brother, he was full of wisdom, and he was favored by Johnny's dad, Ray Cash. In a horrific sawmill accident, the older brother, Jack, is killed. It wouldn't have mattered, but Johnny was supposed to be with him. When Ray finds Johnny he hits him with three words that would haunt him forever: "Where were you?" Then, when Jack actually dies in bed, the father screams about God, "He took the wrong son!" Young Johnny heard those words and they were an albatross around his neck his entire life.
Later in the movie, Johnny's an adult and has a big house and he has a bunch of family and friends over for dinner. His father Jack is there and the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Finally, Jack lets his son have it. He holds his divorce against him saying that he may have a big house, but he's got nobody to share it with and then he hits him with the all-time zinger: "You're nothing!" Man, those words cut to the core. They cut to my core just sitting there in the audience. I really got to thinking about fathers after that.
If you don't get affirmation from your earthly father in life, you'd better get it from your Heavenly Father really fast or you're going to sink pretty quickly. It happened to John R. Cash, it happeneed to me, and it's happened to a lot of other people I know.
One of the most unmistakable encounters I ever had with God happened at a men's retreat back in October, 2003. A great leader, Rob Yackley, had been talking about what it means to be a man and then he sent us out to have time alone with God. Actually, before he sent us out he had simultaneously empowered us and called us to action as well as exposed our soft underbellies. I was a quivering wreck. I'll never forget being in the woods and reading Isaiah 61 wherein Isaiah says God has sent him to give comfort to the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed . . . . For the Lord has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for His own glory. Today, reading that, I'm tempted to put it back into the context of Isaiah's time, but make no mistake about it, on that day, God had his hand on my shoulder and was talking to me. He said, "Doah, I don't care about your old wounds, you've nursed them long enough, they're healed now. You are not weak, you are strong, and I'm going to use you for my purposes. You're valuable. You're free! And, you've got what it takes." I literally felt something physical lifted from me.
After that, I walked over to this pond, found a handful of smooth medium-sized stones, and I took out a Sharpie. (Yes, I keep a Sharpie in my Bible in case George Lucas is taking a hike). I wrote down everything that I resented my father for and I wrote down everything I kept beating myself up for as it related to my father, everything I had done wrong. These were on individual stones. I then proceeded to throw them into the pond, one-by-one, as I did so, I was verbally taking my dad and myself off the hook for all of it. It worked.
One of the best books I've read is called "The Blessing." Written by Gary Smalley and John Trent, it's about how parents' approval affects everyone and how we can give acceptance to our children. I'll give you a bit of it. "For almost all children who miss out on their parents' blessing, at some level this lack of acceptance sets off a lifelong search." Moreover, "The best defense against a child's longing for imaginary acceptance is to provide him or her with genuine acceptance. By providing a child with genuine acceptance and affirmation at home, you can greatly reduce the likelihood" that they will seek acceptance in more destructive ways. They go into great detail on the five elements of the blessing.
The spoken aspect of the blessing is something that I longed for. My mom gave it to me, but I'm convinced that a son in particular has to hear it from his father. My birth father did some great things. For example, he taught me the value of education. He taught me to love music, I mean really love it. He took me camping and off-roading in Mexico (dig that photo from 1982, Bahia De Los Angles, Sea of Cortez). However, whether or not he realized it, what I heard in terms of me being valued was, "If you make good grades, you're valued." What I heard in terms of me being accepted was, "If you make it with enough women, you're accepted. You're a worthy man then." What I heard in terms of being loved was, "If you jump through my hoops, you're loved." Despite the fact that they were divorced when I was an infant, my mom, God love her, never uttered a bad word against my father. In fact, I recall her always saying, "Your dad loves you in his own way." I remember thinking, "What way is that?" My way is that I need to hear "I love you" and "You're important, you're somebody," and I didn't "hear" anything else.
Back to "The Blessing," the authors point out a misconception that parents have, "that simply being present communicates the blessing." And they stress, "Nothing could be further from the truth. A blessing becomes so only when it is spoken . . . . Without the spoken word of the blessing [your children] are left unsure of their personal worth and acceptance." Finally, "words of blessing should carry with them the recognition that this person is valuable and has redeeming qualities." Pretty simple, huh? In short, I sum it up this way: LET YOUR KID KNOW THAT THEY HAVE WHAT IT TAKES! As Smalley, and Trent say, "If you are a parent, your children desperately need to hear a spoken blessing from you" (italics theirs). Fathers, I'm so convinced that it is important that your sons hear verbal affirmation from you on a regular basis.
More toward the end of WALK THE LINE there is a great scene after Johnny's detox. June is sitting on his bed as he is coming-to. He says, "It should have been me on that saw." She won't hear it. She lets him know that he is somebody and he has what it takes. She says, "You've been given a second chance." He takes that second chance. That got me thinking, "I worship the God of second chances." That's what he gave me and I took it. Really all we want to hear is what June told John: You're somebody. You're valued. The past doesn't matter. God tells us all that in that while we were still sinners he sent his son to die for us. Did you catch that "while we were still sinners" part (Romans 5:8)? No hoops to jump through, no grade to make, no brother to save, just straight and complete love and acceptance. That's the kind of dad my Heavenly Father is.
"You're somebody important Doah," he said to me that day by the pond. Indeed I am. Thanks father.
I so wanted that last short paragraph to be the end of this post. Great ending. Alas, it cannot be. You see, my earthly father did better for me than his dad did for him. His dad was that broken. I know my dad, Grant, loves me very much. He showed me that in his way. The only way he knew how. My dad and I haven't talked in awhile, but I would love for him to know that I've got no hoops for him to jump through. He's somebody. He's valued. The past doesn't matter. That, in fact, was my regret, that's on the stone at the bottom of the pond: my own lack of grace and acceptance. When I think about that verse from Romans, it hits me that Christ died on the cross for Grant too. He's fully loved by God. I guess this blog post is my way of saying, "Dad, you're fully loved by me too."