Knowing Them Instead of Just Knowing About Them: My Reflections After Another Father’s Day
Father’s Day represents a relatively new celebration that honors a role that has existed since the beginning of time. While Father’s Day may be an institution of human beings, the calling of fatherhood finds its foundation in its reflection of God himself. So if men are called to be a reflection of our God, we need to consider a simple description of Him.
The Bible describes God as triune, which means three-in-one (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). One of the persons of the Godhead is described as the Father, so have you ever wondered why men who have children inherit a name that mirrors their father? It may be understood that men, as fathers, are called to be a reflection of God. Another way to explain this reflection can be understood in how earthly fathers should interact with their children. In doing so, they mirror how God the Father interacts with his children. If this concept is true then we, as fathers, need to begin by looking at how the Bible describes God the Father for our cues on fatherhood.
God as Our Heavenly Father
The Bible describes God the Father in many ways. Some attributes only He holds as a transcendent being, but some characteristics are those that men should mirror or reflect towards their own children. Let’s examine some of them:
- Protector: Psalm 68:4-6, “Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”
- Here we see God described as one who protects for those who are vulnerable and are in need of security, like the fatherless or widow. Throughout the scriptures, God provides a place of refuge for those who need shelter and protection. Earthly fathers are called to mirror this attribute as a protector for their children.
- Provider: Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
- God, the owner of all things, is not a stingy God but one who uses all that He has to meet the needs of those He loves. There is never a moment where God the Father does not actively taking care of His children’s needs, so also an earthly father must be active in seeking to meet the needs (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) of their children.
Based on the above two attributes, you might think that we as a culture have this fatherhood thing down. I mean, numerous men spend a lot of energy making sure that their children are well provided for and protected. Men give a lot of time and effort to ensure that their children are safe and sustained. So, there is some truth to thinking that we, as a culture, have the role of fatherhood figured out.
But do we understand fatherhood to be only about provision and protection? Are these the only ways that we relate to God the Father to find joy and peace as His children? Yes, provision and protection are two significant aspects of fatherhood, but these two parts of fatherhood were only meant to be a road that leads to an even better destination in the calling of fatherhood.
But before we get to that better destination, do any concerns arise in your mind when thinking about children who are well cared for and have a sense of security? These are children who would never worry about a meal, having the necessities of life provided or spend too much time worrying about safety as they lay their head down at night, but is that all that God the Father offers us as his children? Is merely having a full belly, clothes on your back, and a sense of safety all that we need? Surely not!
If we think fathers are only providers and protectors, how are we any different from a caregiver at an orphanage? Now I know that may seem so harsh, but imagine a child in an orphanage who just was adopted, and even got an adoption certificate displaying their new family name. They never once had to worry about food or even the idea of being safe daily, but not once did they ever meet their new father. Not once did they get to hear his voice or feel the embrace of his arms. Would we consider that a successful adoption? No way! Deep inside, humans desire to spend time with our fathers and be known by them. We all know of stories in our communities where children had everything they needed materially but still struggled because their fathers never spent time with them or honestly knew their children.
A Road to a Better Place
I do not say these things to shame anyone or heap guilt upon the shoulders of any father. Instead, I want to call all fathers into something more, into something better. Fathers, we are invited into something grander than providing full bellies and a sense of security. We have been called to mirror the intimacy experienced with our Heavenly Father. So while provision and protection are necessary as part of being a father they are external roads that lead to the better inward destination of affection and understanding.
Affection and understanding are both aspects of our Heavenly Father, so let us look at a few passages of the Bible:
- Understanding: Psalm 103:13-14, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust.”
- God understands his children at a deep level and knows the very nature of their frame or their very core self. It is this understanding that elicits compassion in vs. 13. God, our Father, understands each of us at a deeper level than merely food and safety- he knows us personally.
- Knowing: Exodus 2:25, “God saw the people of Israel and God knew.”
- The people of Israel were in the midst of a real struggle, and it was not merely the oppression as slaves in Egypt, but thinking they were alone in this dark time. This shows us that a part of the aspect of God the Father is affection drawn from a deep understanding of his children in the daily struggle.
As a pastor, I have been in numerous conversations with people whose story goes something like this: “My father was a good man, he always provided for me, and I never felt threatened by him, but he did not know me. He did not know my likes, dislikes, fears, or struggles. We just kind of were together but never had an understanding of each other.” We live in an age where children are well cared for and safe, yet have never experienced such emotional brokenness. I believe this is in part due to fathers not allowing their affection for their children to grow out of an understanding of who their children indeed are. Fathers can know facts about their children like birthdays or eye color, but this is a far cry from knowing the joys and pains your children experience daily. This is more than a reminder but I believe this is a path forward where we can see our children begin to flourish with more than full bellies and safe homes. This path forward includes two missing but pivotal parts of fatherhood that all fathers can grow in: time and talk.
The idea of time with your kids is not a novel concept, yet it is one of the most important ones to move into a better understanding of your kid’s real needs. Time is nothing more than being present with your children, whether that means laying on the carpet playing with your 5-year-old, or playing video games with your 12-year-old. The point of time is to be present with your child intentionally and consistently. Here is a great question to help you find those intentional and consistent times to be present in their lives: what do each of you like to do? After you get that answer, invite each other into those spaces. Some of my fondest memories of being with my father revolve around building things, hiking trails, and playing a sport. I may not remember every moment, but I knew he was present in my life, and it added a level of stability to my upbringing that mirrored my Heavenly Father in significant ways. Instead of just sitting there, each of you doing your own thing apart from the other, find ways to share time doing what one (or both) of you are already doing. Finish the deck outside, and spend time together doing it. But also make sure you put down the pen or hammer to pick up the game controller or Legos doing things they like to do too. A child needs to understand the constant presence and time with their earthly father so that they can realize these same truths one day about their Heavenly Father.
While being present is a massive part of earthly fathers mirroring our Heavenly Father, there is still one significant component to our role as fathers. We must begin to use this time for good conversations. Now, God has perfect knowledge of all his creation and nothing hidden from his eyes, so he does not have to search for the right questions to gain new information. We do!
The destination for all earthly fathers is sitting beside your child, asking the right questions to know and understand them more deeply. I know of many dads who seek to find out the details of a day and what things happened in it — I am one of those. However, we must also make sure to ask the more penetrating questions that get to core issues of fears, struggles, delights, and ultimately identity. Instead of merely asking, “what did you do today?, find ways to invite more penetrating questions. Here are some examples:
- Where are the things you really enjoyed today, and why?
- What did you struggle with today?
- How did you react to a hard circumstance today?
- Did you find yourself getting angry today, and what was it?
- Was there anything you experienced today that was new and exciting, why?
Make it a habit as a father to know where your child finds joy and what causes them great fear. Spend intentional time engaging in the deeper waters of their hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes. In doing so you are seeking to gain a better understanding of your child. We can not fully love as fathers until we know where to best apply the tender care of grace in our children’s lives. We cannot know best where to use the tender care of grace without more time spent in quality talking about deeper things.
Let me close by reminding us of the intimacy and love we experience with our Heavenly Father, who knows us well and meets us in our time of need. One of the greatest sections of scripture that teaches us that God knows us so well and meets our needs from this deep knowledge is Hebrews 4:14-16:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This text shows that God became man to know us better but more importantly to provide salvation out of His deep love and sacrifice. May we seek to move down the road of fatherhood to the better destination of time and intentional talking. Only then will our children find it easier to flourish under the better care of our Heavenly Father.
What happens when you treat roads like destinations? You get the fatherhood of 95% of men – unsatisfying and painful. Yet, if we strive to use these as the paths alongside time and talking as God intended for us, then it will lead to life and flourishing for our children and fathers themselves.