Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guest Post: Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders "Being a Dad"

I asked my dad, Rev. Dr. Robert Sanders, to write about Fatherhood, because not only is he a tremendous dad, but I thought that many of us would benefit from his thirty-seven years of wisdom and experience. This post is helpful to not only, fathers, but also, mothers, and those who may not have their own children, but are spiritual moms and dads. What I like best about Dad's ideas, is the affirmation that with the help, healing, and love of Jesus, anyone can be a great parent. Truly, anyone! Please read, share, and enjoy! Blessings, Lilly
Being a Dad

Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders

By the time I was a young adult I knew that I would probably not be able to be a good dad, and then, when I heard about the healing power of Christ, I at once took the opportunity to begin a process of healing my broken heart.  This involved committing myself to Jesus and his way of life, forgiving those who had done me wrong, asking forgiveness for my wrongs, receiving laying-on-of-hands to place upon the Lord Jesus the painful things that had happened to me, confession of my sins before a trusted and mature Christian and efforts to repent, frequent deliverance from evil spirits as they emerged in my soul, fellowship with others of like mind, weekly worship and communion, study and daily prayer.  After an intensive period of some eighteen months, similar to the catechumenate of the ancient church, I, at last, was free of the worst of the terrible things that had afflicted me since childhood.  After that it became possible to love my wife.  Before that, we had separated and I had acted unfairly. 

Some years later, after receiving the great saving doctrine of justification by grace received in faith, I began, for the first time in my life to receive deep impressions of the Father’s love.  Above all, this occurred in the Holy Eucharist.  Until then, in spite of all that Jesus had done for me, I had never experienced the love of the Father.  Once that happened, I had the foundation for being a father.

Our first child was born in 1977, and five and one-half years later, our second child was born.  By the grace of God these were wonderful children in every way, and we were very, very blessed to have such beautiful daughters. Although their winsome natures made them so easy to love, there were certain things that I learned which were helpful in enabling my wife and me to give them the kind of home they needed. 

Dad and my daughter Lydia
First, we brought the healing process outlined above into our family life.  Within this process, forgiving and asking forgiveness are especially important, together with all the ministries that can be found in a vital church.  That was the foundation.  Within that context, here are a few additional ideas. 

Children are profoundly affected by words and deeds.  They need to be held, helped, and told they are loved.  This need is daily, something parents can do each day.  When the parents rejoice in their children and are delighted by them, they are especially affirmed.  Rejoicing in one’s children is a gift from God, and it is good to seek God’s continual help in this regard.  When a child knows that she or he is wanted, a source of joy and love, then they will flourish.  This is vital, and it can only be done by taking the time to be with them and by seeking God’s help. 
Also, it is important to recognize that a child is a child.  When young, children have limited abilities.  They cry and get upset rather easily, and they cannot be expected at a very early age to do chores, keep quiet, and take care of themselves.  They need to be treated with love and affirmation, and in terms of expectations, only ask of them things that are within their capabilities.  As they grow up, they can assume greater responsibility.  Prayer and discernment can help a parent understand how to guide a child into living more responsibly as they become more capable.  This is not always easy, and every parent will make mistakes and wrong their children, but then, as Scripture says, love covers a multitude of sins.
Each child is different.  It is good to listen to them, do projects with them, play with them, and learn what they like to do and do it with them.  Some of this can, at times, be rather tedious for an adult, but for the child, it can be a great source of happiness to have a parent who spends time with them doing what they enjoy.  Also, given that each child is different, it is not wise to treat them all alike.  This also requires discernment.  At certain periods of life, one child will require more attention than another, and this is to be expected.  As they grow older, and if they are loved, children can understand this and learn to forgive any inequities that may occur along the way. 

It is good to pray with children and pray at their level.  For example, one evening when one of my daughters was six, she became very upset because she had forgotten her math book and did not have the assignment ready for the next day.  I told her that God would help her and immediately we prayed that God would take care of it.  The next day, the teacher did not take up the assignment as expected.  That evening, my daughter brought home the math book and did the assignment.  That first night I did not tell her that God might let her suffer the consequences of her forgetting her book.  Given her emotional state, I simply prayed at her level, asking God to deliver her from something that frightened her.  When the teacher did not ask for the homework, she saw that God was indeed taking care of her.  This experience and many others taught both our daughters that God loved them.  Later, if one of them forgot a math book and we prayed and the teacher collected the assignment the next day, then we could explain that God was teaching them to be responsible and bring home the book.  No desire of a child is insignificant to God, and he answers prayers according to a child’s mind.  He does the same for adults. 

It is also good to lay hands on children and pray for protection and physical healing, for the healing of their hearts, and any other trouble that might affect them as life goes on.  My daughters are now in their thirties, and both of them frequently ask me to pray for them and help them with various needs.  They do this because they both know that so many times when I prayed God helped them, sometimes rather dramatically. 

All parents have disagreements about how to raise children, manage finances, guide and discipline, and a host of other issues.  Among Christians, there are differences of opinion on how to resolve these matters.  As a dad, I thought that I needed to take the lead in spiritual matters by sacrificing my desires for my wife and children the way Christ sacrificed himself on the cross, gaining respect by acts of service and setting a good example, rather than quoting Ephesians 5 and expecting everyone to get in line. Whatever the situation, profound patience and self-surrender need to lie at the heart of every family, and this kind of self-surrender is often the fruit of years of suffering, self-denial, repenting and asking forgiveness, and walking with the Lord. Then, once the children see that their dad puts their welfare above his own, they will trust their dad to do what is best for them.  My children frequently ask my advice on various matters because they know I have their best interests in mind.  Sometimes they take this advice, and sometimes they have better ideas. 

At the same time, however, it needs to be clear to both wife and children that their father and husband is a servant of Christ, and this means that God’s will is higher than the desires of wife and children.  Since God’s will is to love without end, the path is usually straightforward, but there will be times when children want things that a father cannot or should not give and remain true to the Lord.  Then the father needs to deviate neither to the right or the left.  Every dad fails in this regard, and therefore, the forgiveness of God is of utmost importance along with repentance and willingness to make amends.

As the children grow up, it is important to let go of them.  They have their own desires and purposes and will do as they wish.  At times there is nothing one can do about it except to pray that God steer them in the right direction.  Trying to force them, nagging them, or constantly coming to their rescue when they need to face consequences, is not the right approach.  For example, as my children got older, in their late teens, they did not want to go to church.  We did not force them, although as the pastor of a church I took some heat for it.  As they got older, they remembered all the love we had as a family, and later when life got difficult, they realized that this love could not be taken for granted.  Now they are seeking to lead the Christian life and to teach their own children in the Way. 

When the children are married, it is important for parents to step aside and let their children live their married lives.  If there are weaknesses in a spouse and a child, it is better to pray about them rather than trying to get the married couple to live as one might wish.  Perhaps in certain societies fathers held sway over their children’s families, but not in ours. 

God has given children into the care of the church, their parents, and the larger society.  When the church does not help families by offering the healing love of Christ, or when parents do not accept their responsibilities, or when the larger society creates conditions that damage children, God often lets this sin run its course and terrible suffering and the destruction of tender souls is the result.   The words of Jesus are significant: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42).  No one can avoid doing things that tempt a child to sin, and this brings me to my final point. 
This essay has suggested some positive things to do as a dad, but frankly, it must be said that no father, or mother for that matter, is really capable of being a good dad or mom.  We are all dependent upon the mercy of God.  It is not wise to think we are good parents.  It is better to do our best and let our children know that they have a heavenly Father who loves and cares for them.  Thinking we can be good parents in our own strength is a step toward becoming a poor parent. Realizing we are often not good parents, that we are broken vessels, unworthy servants, and seeking God’s continual help is the way forward.  In the final analysis, children grow up with their own minds and ways and no parent can insure their happiness.  Only God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, can give them the love that never ends.  This truth needs to be taught from the beginning, and once they learn that their parents are fallible human beings who cannot bring them final happiness, and that the love they did share as a family came from God, they are on their way to becoming mature adults and children of the living God.  

For more on dad's theological writing and ministry, check out his website   

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