Holiday Thoughts on the Pain and Privilege of Fatherhood

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1, KJV)


After the birth of my son, Andrew, I understood a little better why God wanted to be a Father. The same thought washed over me after the birth of my daughter two years later. (Her first act on the planet was to pee on the doctor. After I got his bill, I was glad she did.) I embarrassed both my kids last week with some incriminating kiddie pics. They took it well.

Tonight is movie night with Andrew. Last night was daddy-daughter date night with Bethany. We had a blast together, and we were texting today about what a wonderful time we had. I love lavishing them both with affection, encouragement, and good times. They even let me theologize once in a while. They’re the ones God gave me to care for, and it’s a joy for me to do so, not a burden.

The opera fudge bomb Bethany and I got last night at Trattoria Fratelli. My head is still buzzing today.

Yes, there were a few rough spots during the teen years, but I can honestly say today, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). My kids’ interests, personalities, and love languages couldn’t be more different, but the delight they bring me is the same.

Additionally, my son-in-law Micah is no less a son to me than Andrew. He’s an incredible young man, too, and an answer to prayer. He’s been grafted into our hearts as well as into our family. When the kids have a joy, I have a joy. When the kids have a hurt, I have a hurt.

That’s why I’ve been grieving from a distance the death of Tim Challies’ son, Nick. Tim is an uber-blogger whom I read regularly, and I’ve shed some tears for the tragedy that has recently befallen his family. His young son passed away unexpectedly while attending my alma matter, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

I’ve never met Tim, but he serves the church well with his daily aggregations and reflections. I’m grateful to the Lord for him and his ministry. He has recently born witness to the power of God’s sustaining grace during this time, but oh what hard road for him to walk as a father. His persevering faith testifies to the reality of God. Many others have walked a similar path, but every step is agonizing. God the Father walked this path, too.

In a previous post, I wrote about “Three Songs to Sing When Christmas Comes in a Minor Key.” Another song to add could be Charles Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” probably the “meatiest” carol we have, theologically speaking, and it includes these hopeful lines:

Born to raise the sons of earth.
Born to give them second birth.

Next December, Lord willing, I’ll write about how my mother passed away in the hospital while we were singing her favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” All her equipment flatlined just as we were singing, “O hear the angel voices.” And then she did—she heard the angel voices in her new heavenly home. 

But we’ve had enough heaviness this year, so I’ll save that story for some other time. For now, let’s just settle into the reality of the Father’s love for us—fully revealed in Jesus Christ, the one who was:

Born that man no more may die.

The Father loves us a whole lot more than I love my own kids. And that’s a lot.

The family room tree is finally complete.

Image Credit: shutterstock.com.

Reflections on ‘The House Without a Christmas Tree’

Families have December traditions, but so do individuals within those families—perennial routines that need not involve everyone in the house. Last night I engaged in one of those traditions myself. I watched a 90-minute Chritsmas movie that I would try to catch every year growing up. (I say “try to catch” because streaming movies wasn’t a thing back then. We had thirteen channels and a TV Guide, and we had to make our schedule work around whatever it was we wanted to watch at the time it was on.)

Based on a novella by Gail Rock, The House Without a Christmas Tree always resonated with me as a child, not because we didn’t have a tree, but because the relational dynamics in the home seemed all too familiar. A grouchy, emotionally constipated father has a rocky relationship with his young child, who just wants to be loved. Just wants to be accepted. Alas, I could relate.

It’s a sad flick in many respects, but it trudges onward, executing a few subplots along the way and dragging itself toward a satisfying conclusion, though not in a Hallmarky kind of way. No one is happily every-aftering at the end of this no-frills, low-budget production. The characters are simply in a better place to live healthier, more integrated lives in the future. It’s a step forward, not a leap, but things are looking up when the curtain comes down.

Addie Mills (Lisa Lucas) is a feisty, precocious 10-year-old in 1946 living in rural Nebraska. She can’t understand why her prickly father won’t allow them to have a Christmas tree in the home. James Mills (Jason Robards) doesn’t communicate well with his daughter. In fact, he can barely look at her most of the time, only grunting out terse corrections of the chatty child when his annoyance threshold has been crossed. Reading the newspaper always seems more important to him.

Fortunately, Addie’s grandmother, Sarah Mills (Mildred Natwick), bridges the gap between the two combatants. Grandma helps Addie see the situation from her father’s perspective, that of a man who’s stuck in his grief, still lamenting the loss of his wife from ten years ago, shortly after Addie was born. Simultaneously, Sarah counsels her son to see the impasse from his daughter’s point of view, and the importance of loving the ones who are still with us, even if deep down we wish things were different.

As Christmas approaches, it seems Addie will never get her tree, something she believes would bring a modicum of cheer to an otherwise gloomy house. But then an act of generosity touches her father’s heart and teaches him an important lesson about the spirit of Christmas. Indeed, a universal theme in literature makes an appearance in the movie—the loving sacrifice of the weaker party softening the callous pride of the stronger party, prompting a genuine change of heart.

Addie becomes the catalyst for her father’s epiphany. It’s her sacrifice that jolts him out of the selfish rut he’s been stuck in for the past decade. Fortunately, he comes to see that God has blessed him with a truly remarkable child, whom he’s been using as a repository for his pain all these years. 

I suppose I always connected with this movie because my own father was much like Addie’s. And I likewise held out hope for relief and resolution someday. Dad was not a widower, but he did carry a lot of personal pain for other reasons. That pain came largely from his being the child of two alcoholic parents who were harsh with everyone around them. Being poor didn’t help, either.

The ensuing strife led other family members to develop ties to the mafia, first as an escape, then as a quest for acceptance, and then as a way of life. For that reason, I never met most of my father’s family. He never talked about his parents or siblings, and I only ever saw his mother one time—when she was in her casket. He was protecting us from his family, which was an act of love on his part that we knew nothing about when we were children.

Despite his pain—or maybe because of it—my father trusted Christ for salvation six months before he passed away. He came to see the kindness of the heavenly Father toward him, and it captured his heart. Genuine transformations began to take place in his life, and he was growing in grace by the time he left us. I’ll take that over a Hallmarky ending any day.

Image Credits: pexels.com; fuzzy64.livejournal.com.

Infinite Grace for a Finite Number of Tears

You have kept track of my every toss and turn;
You have collected my tears in your wineskin.
You have recorded each one in your ledger.
Psalm 56:8 

Easter Surprise

Many more tears will wash my face,
But each one a promise that God is mine;
For only the breakable heart can break,
And show forth the gold of image divine.

Love is exalted in grief-stained loss,
And hope brought near to vanquish the pain;
In weakness a Lamb has led the assault
On darkness of soul to Paradise gained.

Dreaming of Eden, longing for home,
Screaming for comfort and striving alone.
Then in breaks the angel of Easter surprise,
And suffering must kneel at the Savior’s throne.

Heroes indeed are my wisest friends
Who embrace their wounds as sovereignty’s call;
Fighting for courage when the mind is bent
By bitter trials where God seems small.

Yet true faith is strong, a resilient force,
Which anguish of soul lacks power to kill;
On earth, even now, every scar and thorn
Is scoffed by a Tomb lying empty still.

Dreaming of Eden, longing for home,
Screaming for comfort and striving alone.
Then in breaks the angel of Easter surprise,
And suffering must grieve at the Savior’s throne.

Soon we’ll see Him face to face.
Soon we’ll we understand the grace
That led us on a path of loss—
A path that vindicates our cross.

Dreaming of Eden, longing for home,
Screaming for comfort and striving alone.
Then in breaks the angel of Easter surprise,
And suffering must die at the Savior’s throne.

Many more tears will wash my face,
But numbered tears only can have their place.
Numbered tears only can have their place.

An Exegetical Note

Psalm 56:8 presents a translational challenge in the original Hebrew. My own resolution to the difficulty is as follows:

v. 8a

“You have kept count of my tossings (nôḏ)” = (1) moving back and forth, wandering, as of an aimless fugitive; or (2) lamenting, mourning. The first sense yields the translation “my tossings” (ESV, NRSV) and “my wanderings” (NASB); the second sense yields the translation “my sorrows” (JB, NLT) or “my lament” (NIV). Both senses can fit the larger context of Psalm 56, though the first seems more likely

v. 8b

List (śîm) my tears on your scroll (nōʾḏ)” = set, put, place, install; set down, arrange. But where are the tears “placed” or “set down”? The word nōʾḏ usually refers to a leather bottle (i.e., a wineskin or waterskin), hence the NIV footnote and other translations: “Put (śîm) my tears in your wineskin (nōʾḏ).” But some have suggested that in this occurrence, nōʾḏ should be translated “scroll” or “leather scroll” because: (1) there is a documentation/record keeping motif in the three lines of this verse, with the word “scroll” being a corresponding element to the word “book” in the next line of the parallelism; and (2) there is no record from the ancient biblical world of a practice of keeping tears in a bottle.

To these objections one could reply: (1) the word nōʾḏ is translated as “scroll” nowhere else in the Old Testament; (2) there is a poetic quality to the image of “tears in a bottle” that would need no literal attestation for it to be valid; (3) recording tears on a scroll would be just as poetic as putting tears in a bottle—“tears” being a metonymy for all kinds of negative personal thoughts and feelings that God records; indeed, tears are poetically “in the book/record” in the next line of the parallelism; and (4) HALOT cites a later use of “the little vase for tears mentioned in fairy-stories, Meuli Romanica Helvetica 20 (1943):763ff.”

Resolution

The psalmist is asking God to transform his situation in the first verse of the center section of the chiasm (i.e., v. 7). Might he not also be asking God to transform his thoughts and/or emotions in the second verse of the center section (i.e., v. 8)—just as liquid is transformed into wine inside a wineskin? Various translations go in this direction:

  • “Put my tears in your bottle.” (ESV)
  • “Put my tears in Your bottle.” (NASB)
  • “You have collected all my tears in your bottle.” (NLT)
  • “Collect my tears in your wineskin.” (JB)

The JB captures it well, I think, and the implications are devotionally rich. Not only does God notice his people tears, he collects them and transforms them (over time) into new wine. By trusting in God, then, life can go from salty to sweet, from fear to freedom, from anxiety to joy. David experienced these transformations firsthand. So can we.

old-wineskins

Image Credits: unity.org; charismamag.com.