Some Fatherly Holiday Goals

by David Felker, First Presbyterian Church Minister of Young Adults and College

as published in The First Epistle, December 9, 2015 edition

I’ve been a dad for 20 months. My son, Marshall, loves Toy Story, animals, ball, his neighbors, his grandparents, and eating dirt, grass, and leaves. One Christian blogger humbly and jokingly said that if he ever writes a book on parenting he’s going to call it The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. Lauren and I can sympathize. Most days our goal is simply to wake him, feed him, clothe him, throw the ball with him, try to fumble through a family devotion, and keep him away from explosives! I love my role as a pastor at First Presbyterian Church, but often I need vacation and holiday seasons to slow down and reorient my mind and heart for the tall/tiring/crazy task of “training [my son] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I’d offer some holiday advice for fathers out there. I’m thankful for many men at FPC to whom I look as I try to figure out what in the world I am doing with Marshall. Please know that the main reason I decided to write this is not to put on my teacher hat. I hope that you know that. But the reason I decided to write this is because I need to reorient my own rookie parent heart towards my role as a father this holiday season, and thought I’d share my internal dialogue/mind-dump/goals for the next month.

First: Put the gadget down and play with your kids. Build a fort around the couch and chairs in the living room. Transform your sofa and coffee table into a cave. Play hide-and-go-seek. Play card games. Give them undivided attention. During the holiday season, we are all tempted to spend too much time on our iPhone, iPad, computer, or watching Netflix. Following our example, our kids isolate themselves, too. Instead, put the gadget down and play with them. And here’s why: when children are little they don’t have a lot of categories for interpreting Dad’s joy. If I’m in the same room with Marshall, and I am wasting time on Instagram, to him that simply looks like withdrawn boredom. His categories are simple. As John Piper said: “Young kids answer the questions, ‘is Daddy happy?’ or ‘Does Daddy love me?’, in a very simple way: ‘does Daddy play with me?’” And when we engage with them in this way, aren’t we teaching them the greatest lesson of all about God’s condescension to His children to save, help, keep, and love them? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14).

Second: Nourish and cherish your wife just as Christ does the church. Love your wife. Respect your wife. Treasure your wife. My son will learn to be a man by watching me, and at the heart of manhood is how a man loves his bride. Don’t be reserved in expressing your love for her. A regular vision for your children should be that you treasure your wife. Lavish her with affection and let him see it, treasure her with your words and let him hear it, prize her with your time and resources and let him know it. Nourish and cherish your wife just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:29).

Third: Set the culture and model for them, even in the midst of trials, what it is to have a thankful heart. Be thankful. Talk about 2015’s Ebenezer stones. Talk about God’s faithfulness on the hard days. Approach God with thankfulness. Talk about God’s new mercies this year around the dinner table. Model to your children how we can thank God in various situations and for what we can give thanks to God. Let them hear you sing heartily around your house, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.” And saturate them with God’s Word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

When you fail at these things (and you will fail), don’t get back on the works-righteousness treadmill. Instead, meditate on Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” and remind yourself that your identity is not found in being a great Dad but in Jesus (Philippians 3:9). Remember that when you fail as a father, your identity and standing with God doesn’t depend on you not hitting bumps in the road, and it doesn’t depend on how great you are. Remember your need of God’s grace and apply it to your heart – everyday. After all, Jesus didn’t come for the righteous but for sinners. And that is good news.