Chapter 2: Rediscovering the Father’s Love
In the world at large, there is a crisis of fatherhood. So many marriages, wives, and children have been abandoned by men unwilling to remain faithful to their call to be husbands and fathers. The effects of abuse, neglect, and emotionally detached fathers rupture our ability to view earthly fatherhood as a window into the fatherhood of God. The term “patriarchy,” which literally means the organization of society through the leadership of fathers, has come to be a catch-all for systems of oppression that humanity strives to move beyond. The importance of fatherhood has come to be seen as outdated at best and toxic at worst. Without wading into a debate regarding the positive and negative aspects and examples of patriarchy in history, it is readily apparent that our experiences of fatherhood and male leadership have made it more difficult for people to comprehend God the Father’s love for His children. Even for those of us who were raised in loving families, we all grow up with imperfect fathers and can’t help but have difficulty grasping the idea of a heavenly Father who loves us perfectly.
After my own experiences of struggling with misconceptions about God the Father and seeing through the teens I worked with just how impactful a father is in a young person’s life, I was terrified by the thought of someday becoming a dad. I knew myself well enough to fear that any child I raised would inevitably suffer the effects of my insecurities, my sins, and my selfishness. I knew intellectually that for most children, their first concept of God the Father would be inherently tied to their relationship with their earthly father. Fatherhood to me seemed like a responsibility far beyond my abilities. The reality is that all of us are stuck with imperfect fathers, so we’ll all have issues to work through on some levels, but that fact didn’t alleviate the anxiety I felt about fatherhood.
I’ve been incredibly blessed to be raised by parents who love the Lord, who love each other, and who love me and my siblings. My mom and dad are both models for me of commitment to personal prayer and generosity both toward God and toward those in need. Though he would be the first to admit that he’s not perfect, my father has always been a loving, ever-present support in my life. Even with holy and loving parents, I ended up with wrong ideas about God the Father. I was convinced that any kid who had to learn about God from my example would certainly need lots of professional help if they survived to adulthood.
The experience of becoming a father has been healing for me. While my focus initially was on all the ways I’d fall short, time and time again I’ve been overwhelmed by the reality of the Father’s love for me and my children. When asked how to pray, Jesus urged His disciples to pray boldly to the Father in Heaven. He encouraged them with a line that always sounded cruel to me until I had kids: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11). In the past six years of being a father, I’ve become increasingly aware of my imperfections. My selfishness is on full display at times, and I frequently resist opportunities to be more attentive to my family. In the midst of my brokenness and shortcomings, the Father’s incredible provision for us has been so evident. My wife Courtney and I are the proud parents of three children: Elliana (Ellie) is 6, Francis is 4, and Isaac is 2. Their ages are all even, but thanks to my genetic contributions, the kids are all a bit odd. Through my kids, God has begun to tear down my misconceptions and the lies I had come to believe about who He is and what He thinks of me.
About a month ago, our son Isaac came down with a cold. Though we knew it wasn’t serious or life-threatening, we went through a week of non-stop coughing and less sleep than I prefer. When I felt like a modern-day martyr for having to spend an hour holding Isaac in the middle of the night, a quick scroll through my Facebook newsfeed helped put my suffering in perspective. Friends and family members of ours are carrying much greater burdens, giving round-the-clock support and attention to babies and children with illnesses or complications that will not simply resolve
themselves in a period of a few days. I consider how difficult it is to function when we’re worn out from the constant needs of a sick child, and I am amazed to think that there are parents loving and caring for children with special needs for years and decades like this. It is amazing what parents will do for their kids.
Adjusting to life with a baby was my first glimpse of the demands of parenthood. When Ellie was a newborn, we kept wondering if our child would ever outgrow the two to three consecutive hours of sleep she was getting initially. Our first few trips in the car with her, even though they were only a few miles, had all the excitement of bomb detonation and hostage negotiation. We wondered if she’d ever stop crying, and then once she had, we feared that any change in speed would wake her up from sleeping.
During the first year of Ellie’s life, there were several points at which I realized that our life was now drastically different than before she was born. The first few weeks after Ellie was born were a brutal adjustment from our previously carefree living that included lots of sleep to an endlessly repeating cycle of changing, feeding, swaddling, waiting, and cleaning. When our daughter was a few months old, we went with my family to the beach for a weeklong vacation. I was shocked that Ellie woke up early on our second day of vacation. The time she woke up was typical for her, but it was significantly earlier than I would’ve chosen for a wake-up call on my vacation.
While Ellie quickly became a great sleeper, it didn’t come quite as naturally to Francis or Isaac. Many nights required a long period of putting them to bed, with the same books read several times. Then if they woke up during the night, they required another round of soothing them back to sleep and more holding, walking, and rocking. Any parents reading this are shaking their heads in agreement; I realize that Courtney and I aren’t the only parents who have ever had to help their kids fall back asleep. I just had no idea before having kids that parenting toddlers required so much work.
Food has been a battleground I never saw coming. I’ve always loved eating, and for me that’s meant eating anything set in front of me. Learning to convince kids to eat healthy foods and being able to guess which food options the kids are most likely to eat is a constantly moving target. I wish I could say we always just tell the kids what we’re eating and make them eat it, but we often find ourselves losing willpower battles to Isaac as he finishes another healthy meal solely consisting of tortilla chips. Courtney is much more patient than I am, especially when it comes to the feeding of young humans. She’s so good at teaching the kids how to eat with a spoon, while I can’t stop thinking about the upcoming cleanup when the kids are learning to feed themselves yogurt.
All of these demands, all of these new responsibilities that came along with raising children, have also been filled with joy. They haven’t always been fun, especially those dreaded “getting kids back to bed” moments in the middle of the night, but we really do love our children and our desire to serve them far outweighs the inconvenience that the moment requires. One of our friends described caring for a newborn as a point in his marriage where he and his wife had never felt more in love and never felt more exhausted. It was a grueling experience that we’d gladly go through again.
Ellie and Francis, ages 6 and 4, have both mastered the art of tired complaining. Especially as bedtime approaches, they’ve become adept at identifying and communicating multiple perceived injustices in our home. Whether they’re complaining about the lack of dessert provided after dinner or crying and whining to convince us of how not tired they are, it’s difficult as a parent to not offer rebuttals when your children are questioning your provision for their needs. We realize that our kids are largely unaware of the efforts that Courtney and I made that day alone to ensure they had everything they needed.
Beyond the daily routine, every aspect of our lives is different since having children. Our priorities, our schedules, the way we spend our weekends and our money, everything changed when we had Ellie. Even when Courtney or I are not in the same place as our children, they remain constantly present in our thoughts and concerns. I’ll never forget the first night I was away from home after Ellie was born. I was speaking at a youth retreat, and honestly I was looking forward to a night of uninterrupted sleep. Of course I didn’t sleep well; I really missed my wife and daughter and couldn’t wait to get back to them. When I was single, I could sleep well almost anywhere; now I have a hard time falling asleep unless I’m in the same house as three children that wake me up multiple times a night.
Becoming a father has radically changed my understanding of love and forgiveness. My earlier understanding of love looked a lot like an auto loan; it was given once a person had proven that they had a trustworthy track record, but it could also be taken away once that person fails to fulfill their duty and proves their unworthiness. But when it comes to my children, I loved them from the moment I was aware of their existence. Long before they could do anything helpful, Courtney and I loved them. They did nothing to earn our love, and no amount of crying or full diapers could lessen their value in our eyes. Especially in those first months when they’re the most helpless and uncoordinated, we are in awe of our kids and madly in love with them. In the midst of our limitations, our exhaustion, our impatience, our short fuses and our broken attempts to love, Courtney and I are overwhelmed with love for each of our children. I can only imagine how much more the Father who loves perfectly must love us.
God’s love for us isn’t tied to our performance, our production, or even our potential. He fashioned the entire cosmos, He painted every sunset, and still your and my existence makes Him sing for joy. In the book of the prophet Zephaniah, God rebukes His people for their sin and for the ways they’ve forsaken the covenants. But in the middle of this chastisement, we are reminded of His steadfast love: “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, Who will sing joyfully because of you” (Zephaniah 3:17). The same God who sees every part of our past, every secret sin, and every hidden area in our lives, is so in love with us that He can’t help but sing about us. We waste so much energy trying to convince others that we’re worthy of love while hiding behind our perfectly filtered reputations, convinced that our being known and being loved are mutually exclusive. God our Father isn’t impressed by our images or scared by our secrets. He loves us right now, unfinished as we are.
This book is definitely not a manual for how to love your children well. My mom once told me that she’d never read a book about parenting by an author who hadn’t navigated the treacherous waters of raising teenagers, so I promise I won’t offer any advice. If anything, the stories I’ll share speak to my shortcomings and my lack of authority as a parenting expert. I married the most incredible woman I’ve ever met, and still I take her for granted regularly. We’ve been blessed with three beautiful children and still I keep checking my phone when I’m at home to see if anything exciting is happening in the world. Despite the many ways that I fall short as a father, I don’t have enough words to describe the love I feel for my children. If this is what an imperfect
version of love is like, I can’t even fathom how great the Father’s perfect love must be for us. Throughout the following chapters, I’d like to simply share stories of how God the Father has revealed His love for me through my children. But first, you’ve got to hear how I met their mom.