Reposted from a popular post I published two years ago:

“I’m twenty-two," a young adult told me this week, "and I have nothing to live for”.  It’s the kind of thing pastors, as stand-in fathers, sometimes hear from kids who don’t dare utter such things to their own dads.  It wasn’t the voice of resignation; it was the voice of despair.  It was the voice of one “should” piled up on top of another, burying this young person in shame and paralyzing fear.     

Image by Paul Benns

It’s Father’s Day, and around the country kids are supposed to tell their dads how grateful they are for what their dads have done for them.

For many, that’s a tough sell.  Their dads simply haven’t done for them what they really needed.  For others, dads have done to them what they really didn’t need or want.  There are, of course, those who can recognize in their flawed and fallible fathers the good that’s come into their lives through what those fathers intended, and sometimes what they never intended at all—the good that came despite the struggle those dads had trying to be dads.  

Frankly, there’s at least as much pain on this day of national sentimentalism as there is pleasure.  But mostly there’s just a lot of confusion:  dads feeling pressure to live up to some vision of fatherhood that simply evades them.  Kids of every age feeling pressure to say things that just aren’t fully true.  Both dads and kids feeling that there’s something missing in all this.  Or maybe, there’s something, some goodness, that’s not missing at all . . . something that lies hidden, buried, yet available beneath all the layers of expectation and yearning.  

I’m a father to five adult kids, their partners, and two grandchildren.  Two of those five kids are my flesh and blood.  Three share DNA with another father.  It’s a great privilege to “father” all of them and to share three of them with another man who’s doing his best to “father” too.

It’s not easy work.  We’ve both dragged our respective kids through failed marriages and all the pain and bewilderment that a broken family thrusts upon our kids.  None of us—dads and kids—signed up for the pain.  But pain is what we’ve lived through.  Healing too, of course.  

Maybe to some people my history disqualifies me from giving advice about fathering.  But honestly it’s those who’ve failed and gotten back up again who are most able to articulate the kind of wisdom I’ve needed.  Those who know only success live in a world that’s unfamiliar to most of the rest of us.  

So, as a father who’s made plenty of mistakes, I’ll offer some unsolicited advice to fathers on this Father’s Day.  Maybe, hopefully, there’s a little hard won wisdom in it.

Here it is: 

Dads, stop trying so hard.

Stop crafting grand visions.

Stop shaming and scolding.

Stop being the expert.

Stop lecturing.

Of course, kids will need boundaries.  They’ll need guidance.  They’ll need words.  But before you set those boundaries, give that guidance, or speak your advice, establish the firm, unshakeable ground beneath their feet from which they can rise into the beauty and power of their own originality.  Ground yourself to a goodness that’s always available to you (and your kids), but that’s hidden and obscured when you’re pushing, prodding . . . talking.

Instead:

Dads, love your children.  

Unconditionally.

Without judgment.

Without imposition of your own agendas for their lives.

This is so freakin' hard.  I get that.  

But without this ground beneath them (and you), all your boundaries and visions and words ring hollow, tinny, even ridiculously unwelcome.  But if that sense of unconditional, nonjudgmental love is firmly in place you’ll be able to do the other things—this time because your kids have asked for all that.  And when they actually ask, what you have to offer can make all the difference in the world.

Your unconditional love gives your kids something worth living for because it helps your children find what they are made for, and to find it on their own.  They will need your love to hold them in that empty and scary space of self-discovery.  Your love will help them know they don’t have to hurry; they don’t have to be perfect; they can make mistakes—even colossal ones.  

To lots of dads, all this may sound terribly “soft”.  But in my experience, it is my embrace, my deep look into their frightened and often insecure eyes, my availability at the end of the phone (or via text or instant messenger, even at 2:00am), my lifetime of experience and a sense of humor that helps them not take things too seriously, my listening ear (and the swallowing of my words). . . all of these, offered with a deep sense of my unconditional love, establishes the firm ground from which my children can find a way to create a life that is fully and authentically theirs, and not some projection of my own needs and wants, my fears and neuroses upon them.

The truth is, some fathers don’t have a lot to give to their children materially.  But every father can love.  And that love, even offered by a father who has nothing else, is a wealth, unimaginable.  

Love gives us all something worth living for.  

And this is a truth religious people—we Christians, in particular—are supposed to know, and live, by heart.

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
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This is a repost from the past.  I've so many comments over the years that it bears another read.  Blessings to all mothers this week and all who "mother" in one form or another.

I get invited into some of the most raw and intimate moments of people’s lives.  I’m a pastor . . . a shepherd of souls.  The work sometimes breaks my heart.  Other times it breaks it open, expands it, makes it soar with wings I doubt I’d have found in any other way.  The work, frankly, is saving me from losing hope when there are so many reasons losing hope seems like the right thing to do.    

Photo by James Goodman, 2012

Recently, I’ve walked with a mother whose courage is, frankly, pressing my face to the ground in awe—an awe-full sense that there is something at work in this woman’s life, and in this world, that is way, way, way beyond us both.    

It’s not the first time I’ve beheld a mother who’s found what seems to me to be superhuman courage.  Despite her doubts, her weakness, her tears, her prayers that there could be some other way to move forward, this mother is clawing her way toward a way to love the fruit of her womb, her very flesh and blood, when loving her child demands that all her hopes and dreams must die for the sake of her child.  It feels to her that a part of her is dying.  But she’s doing it anyway.  And I’m in awe.

Courage is one of the many things that marks motherhood.  Not all mothers, of course.  Some mothers walk away from the courage demanded of them, the fierce love needed by those they’ve brought into the world—those who need their protection, their advocacy, their fight for their children’s lives, those who need a warrior to champion the flourishing of life that is the divine right of us all.  Some moms can’t, for a number of reasons, do all this.  But, honestly, I can’t judge them.  Motherhood’s tough work.  Rewarding, yes, but let’s not lose sight of the real human courage that all mothers must find deep within themselves at various times over their lives.  

So, while there are a few mothers who are, well, real rats and scoundrels, the rest are trying, one way or another, to muster whatever courage they can to do what’s required of them.  And when you consider what wasn’t passed on to so many of them by their role models, and when you add the trauma and lack of support and pain so many of them live with, we ought to bow before them all in awe.  I realize that this might be really hard for some who’ve been so terribly neglected and hurt by those whose wombs bore them.  But regardless, today, I’m struck by the different degrees of courage all mothers—despite their hangups—have had to muster.  And I’m in awe. 

 

So, 

on this Mother’s Day, 

I’ll bend my knee

and bow my head 

in reverence 

before the mothers

of the earth.  

 

All of them.  

 

The good ones 

and the bad ones.  

Those who love children 

who are easy to love,

and those who weep over 

those who aren’t.  

Those who’ve given birth 

to their own flesh and blood, 

and those who mother 

the children of another.  

 

The mothers who’ve 

had to bury the child 

who ought to have buried them;

those whose children 

gather round them 

this Mother’s Day in praise,

and those whose children don’t;

those who rise 

to the courage demanded of them,

and those who won’t.  

 

Mothers, all, 

agents of life,

each and every one of you,

no matter what you’ve done

or haven’t done—

I revere you.

 

Mothers, yes, 

especially you mothers,

who’ve broken open 

the hardened places 

in your hearts, 

you who’ve dug deep, 

through pain

and confusion

and blinding longing,

and found the courage 

and selflessness

and fierce loyalty 

love requires—

despite your doubts 

and fears, 

your weaknesses 

and tears,

and done what you thought 

was too hard for you to do,

what you feared would undo you . . .

 

I salute and praise you,

 

Dear Warriors of Life.

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Jesus doesn't matter primarily because he somehow gets believers to heaven.  To believe that faith is some kind of ticket to a blissful afterlife is an ugly and dangerous corruption of the gospel of Jesus.  

Jesus, frankly, was more interested in earth than he was in heaven. 

The Incarnation of Jesus means that matter matters to God. 

So, let's not drink the Kool Aid and think (and act) as if what matters happens later--after this life.  No, the Kingdom has come.  And the presence of God is here and now, and that means that all life matters, in fact all matter matters. 

So, let's talk trees.  Yeah, roots and bark and leaves.  

What will life be like without trees, after we've cut them all down?  

Consider this . . .

Then go plant a few. 

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Image by Nestor Galina

And this is what I saw—


Leviathan leaping,

full length,

in radiant delight,

up from the dark depths of Mystery.


The night sky, clear;

the moon full,

casting its silver light across

the whale-fractured sea.


And then

she crashes, full length.

A million silver shards

dancing their holy glee.


As she

disappears again

into the dark, silent depths,

to soak in Thee.


Why then

pray like some dead fish

in this, God’s sea?


Dance, fly,

play, plunge.

That’s what prayer is meant to be.


chris neufeld-erdman, from December 31, 2008

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