And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (
The Bible has much to say about family living. The more you get to know of the biblical characters, you discover how earthy and fallible they were. That in itself is encouraging, isn’t it?
One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is
As one father and husband, let me share several lessons I’ve learned in 67 years of living, 43 years of marriage and 40 years of parenting.
Lesson 1: My wife and children are as uniquely created and special as I am.
Or another way of stating this is that I have learned, sometimes the hard way, the importance of humility.
A very important fact of life is that the world does not revolve around me! I know that academically. But sometimes, existentially, I forget this.
Do you not agree with me that each of us tends to be the center of our own universe? Each of us has to work at getting outside of ourselves to see life as it is, independent of how it impacts us from our self-centered perspective.
How easy it is to want one’s children and spouse to do what we want them to do and be what we want them to be. When I succumb to this self-centered perspective, I become a control freak, using subtle and not-so-subtle methods of manipulating others to carry out my wishes. In the process, I forget Suzanne, Carla, Janet and now Janet’s husband, Ryan, and our new grandson, Owen, are just as special in the eyes of God as am I. I need to remember they are no less important than am I. The flip side of this is they are no more important in the eyes of God than am I.
I cannot control, and I should not want or be able, to control them. I function best as a husband and a father when I am reminded at a deep visceral level of my existence that all men, women, and children are created equal and are just as special as am I. When I live in that reality, I am able to see myself as more special than I would be if I’m playing that power game, brokering my desires and wishes to front and center.
Lesson 2: One of the best gifts I can give Anne and the girls is the honest statement, “I was wrong.”
This must be a specific statement, confessing as quickly as possible to our loved ones when we have been wrong in attitude, word, and/or action.
I find it quite easy to say, “I’ve done my best, and I’m sorry if that’s not good enough.” That doesn’t help at all, does it? I need to be prayerfully self-reflecting on the fact the Bible says, “… All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …” (
Every one of us has a dark side. We act so surprised when scandals break out when another prominent clergy person or politician is forced to resign. Ironically, we tend to point the finger at others, gossiping about them in the very areas where we may be struggling ourselves.
It’s important for me to keep close accounts with the Lord in regard to my thought life, my actions, and my attitudes.
Some of you have heard me tell the story about my dad one day slapping my sister, Miriam, in the face when she had, as a teenager, mouthed off to him. It was in the living room of our home in Wheaton, Illinois. My mother and I witnessed this. I knew my father, usually so even tempered and so kind, had lost his cool. Not matter how wrong what she said was, he, too, was wrong. In wide-eyed wonderment, I stood there waiting to see what he would do.
Well, Dad, after a moment of stunned silence, immediately left the room, walking down the hallway into his and my mother’s bedroom. He closed the door behind him. He was gone for a few minutes. Then the door opened. He came back and, with tears streaming down his face, apologized to my sister, to my mother, and me. His words were something like this, “I’m so sorry for what I did. I was wrong to lose my temper and slap you, Miriam. I’ve asked God’s forgiveness, and He’s forgiven me. Now I ask yours, Miriam, and yours, Dorothy, and yours, John. I’m not excusing what you said that was wrong, Miriam, but I’m saying I was wrong in how I responded, and I need your forgiveness, as well as that of the Lord.”
This was one of the most profound learning experiences of my life. I saw many examples of good parenting when Mom and Dad did the right things. This is the most memorable of good parenting examples, when I saw a big man, a powerful person in the lives of the three of us, with tears running down his cheeks and great sobs of sorrow, asked the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness of us.
On a lighter note, when our daughter, Suzanne, was 2 or 3 years old, I remember Anne and I had an argument. You know, one of those husband-wife, ping-pong discussions where the words fly furiously between the two, each one topping the other with something dreadful. Suddenly, I turned and saw the sad look on Suzanne’s face, as this little person was turning her head back and forth, listening in dismay at our argument.
I stopped and looked at her and said, “Suzanne, Daddy’s been a naughty boy. Daddy shouldn’t talk to Mommy this way. I’m so sorry.” To which Suzanne’s face lit up with a big ear-to-ear grin, and she said, “Daddy, naughty, too?! Daddy, naughty, too?!” She’d heard us say, “Suzanne, naughty.” Now, she had the sense of dignity to realize she wasn’t the only one who was imperfect. Her own dad was just like her. With that admission came not only the negative reality of my need to admit when I was wrong, but it also gave her the affirmation she was not alone in those times when her actions were not right.
Lesson 3: Another one of the best gifts I can give my children is to stand by them when they’ve messed up.
I remember the time when I was a block and a half away from home. A buddy and I were having a snowball fight with rocks packed into the snowball. I threw one at him, he ducked, and it flew right past him through the neighbor’s living room window. I high-tailed it home, but apparently the neighbors recognized my rear end as it disappeared around the corner. I was hiding in the basement when I heard the doorbell ring. My dad went to the door. The neighbor was holding the rock and said, “Your son, Johnny, just threw this rock through my living room window.”
Intuitively, my dad seemed to be aware I was hiding in the basement. He brought me up, confronted me with the evidence, and I had to admit what I had done wrong. Then, graciously, he did not disown me, castigating me in front of the neighbor. No, he said, “Johnny and I will fix your window.” The neighbor left. I’m not sure what discipline I received. I’m sure there were some negative consequences to what I did. What I remember the most is that my dad embraced me with unconditional love to the extent that he took me over to the neighbor’s house. He measured the windowpane. He took me to the hardware store. We bought the glass, the putty, the paint – all that was involved in fixing that window. The Reverend John Huffman Sr., humbled himself in front of the entire neighborhood, identifying with his son. My greatest pain was having embarrassed my father. My greatest affirmation was to see him unflinchingly stand by my side, identifying with me in what I did wrong and helping me make it right.
Unconditional love is so important. The withholding of love is so counter-productive. It doesn’t mean you agree with what your child or grandchild does wrong. It means they know you’re there for them, that there is nothing they could ever do that would cause you to disown them.
A few months ago, a couple who are dear friends of ours in the church, went through a very complex DUI situation with one of their children. Our daughter, Janet, now in her early 30s, overheard our discussion. She said, “Mom, Dad, tell them to love him and stand by him just like you did with me when I messed up!”
Lesson 4: There’s a difference between a man and a woman.
I know this is dangerous territory, and I don’t want to overstate this lesson. On the other hand, in this day of gender equality, it is quite easy to paper over some very basic facts of life.
Some of these differences may just be personal and non-gender oriented. Nonetheless, I would argue from Scripture that there is more than an anatomical difference between a man and a woman.
Some years ago, one of our members, a dear personal friend, gave us a copy of a book titled Brain Sex. The book is quite explicit about the ways in which men and women are different in their emotional makeup. He took a lot of teasing from us about this book. Much to my amazement, several years later, I was driving through Scotland listening to BBC, and this secular network devoted an entire hour to a serious review of that book. It was not too much later that another book came out that captured quite a bit of public attention-Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
One of the clearest evidences of the difference between a man and a woman is how they approach sexual expression. The average male-there may be exceptions to this rule-is stimulated sexually in a visual, immediate kind of way-whether it’s walking down the street, seeing a very attractive woman walking his way, his head almost instinctively turning as she walks by, or he has fallen madly in love with her and then, 20 seconds later forgotten she exists. Or he’s attracted to his wife, by her beauty, her playful glance, by what she’s wearing, and how she’s carrying herself-he is stimulated by the visual.
My experience in pastoral counseling would tell me the average female-and there are exceptions to this-is sexually stimulated in a much more relational and personal way. Words of endearment are important. Gestures of affection go a long way. Sexual foreplay is important in preparing for sexual intercourse.
For the average male, in the height of his virility and physical health, does not find these more tender expressions as essential. He can come home from work, flop down on the sofa, click on the TV with the remote, multi-task between the newspaper and Monday night football, complaining that his favorite food isn’t on the table the way his mother did it, even though his wife has worked just as hard at her job all day and got home about the same time he did. It’s amazing how, at about the time Monday night football is over, he becomes extremely amorous, and she either complains of a headache or, if she’s honest, says, “I’m just not in the mood,” and he simply doesn’t understand why not.
During my ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, I was writing a book on family relations. I was doing a chapter a week in sermonic form. I remember saying, “Good sex begins at 6, not at 10.” I received a letter from a little old lady in shaky, scrawly handwriting saying, “Reverend Huffman, we have enough trouble with our children these days, much less to have you getting in the pulpit and saying they should start having sex as early as six or ten.” I forgot to say, “O’clock.”
You know what I mean. It’s important for the woman to realize her husband’s not some sex-crazed animal because, on most occasions, he’s more easily aroused and able to function. It’s important for every husband to realize that delicate emotional construct of his wife and the importance of tenderness, understanding, listening to her talk about her day, and expressions of appreciation to reassure her she is not just a sexual object.
I realize the delicate nature of even mentioning these types of things in a sermon. At the same time, this is the world in which we live. We’re hiding our heads in the sand if we do not address these matters in a straightforward way.
Lesson 5: We tend to marry that disowned part of our self.
In a way, I’m surprised that Anne did not mention this as one of her lessons learned.
Remember in the old days when you would hear someone say, “Opposites attract”? You don’t hear that much anymore. That’s not perceived as the correct psychological way to express it. What I’m told by Anne is that there’s a better way, psychologically, to express this.
She and her colleagues tell me that we tend to be intuitively drawn to a life partner who is strong in areas in which we are weak. We instinctively seek out someone who possesses that disowned part of our self. We so often see the extrovert who marries the introvert, or the left-brain-oriented person who is drawn to one who is more right-brain-oriented. We see the person who is very good with mechanical skills who may be drawn toward someone with more artistic aptitudes, or the very objective thinker drawn to one who is more subjective and intuitive in processing ideas and relationships.
Anne spoke very honestly and with great emotion about the death of our daughter, Suzanne. What happened in those many months leading up to her death and then following her death was most revealing to me of how Anne and I are simply wired quite differently. I’m not now talking about the differences between a man and a woman, although, there may be some of those dynamics operative. I’m talking about even how we read the Bible and how we process spiritual insights into life.
For example, Anne worked through her grief with a fist doubled and the declaration, “I will protest the wrongness of this death,” while my temperament and training was to declare, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” She, with great conviction, would declare, “Suzanne was robbed of two-thirds of her life. No one should die at age 23.” I would just as emphatically declare, “Twenty-three years were her life. She lived them to the fullest. None of us is guaranteed that we’ll live to age 60, 70, 80, or 90.”
Now, as we back off from the intensity of working through our grief, I will be the first to acknowledge Anne was absolutely right in what she said. So was I. We needed each other to have a healthy balance. Neither one of us was more spiritual than the other. Part of what drew us together in the first place was my need for her emotional makeup and her need for mine. Life would be dull and boring if we married a person identical to us.
Granted, sometimes we drive each other crazy in our differences, don’t we? And yet, that’s what makes life exhilarating and fun-that we’re not the same. Not only is there a difference between a man and a woman. More profoundly, we are privileged to celebrate the differences in the way we are made and the way we think as two equal human beings. Granted, we can get knocked off balance in those moments when we do not celebrate those differences. However, when we remember the complementary nature of who we are as created in the image of God-each unique, each very special-there’s a joy and excitement present.
There’s a footnote I must add that God’s gift to us of children in a marriage is both amazing and amusing, when we stop to reflect on how three children coming from the same parents, who everyone can look at and know are product of John and Anne, but at the same time are so different both in appearance and temperament. Isn’t it great to see the individuality, the uniqueness in each of us?
Lesson 6: I dare not take myself too seriously.
Now, most of these lessons I have learned. This one I have not fully learned. I’m still in the process of trying to learn it.
By nature, I’m a serious person, and I have a tendency to take myself too seriously. I can be hurt by slights. I am sensitive to put-downs and criticism. I want to be liked.
Throughout the years, I’ve tried to learn to laugh at myself. Sometimes I’m good at it. Then, just as soon as I’ve learned it, I unlearn it and have to start all over again.
The biblical characters I admire the most are people who were so secure in who they were that they were able to take a lot of abuse. The Apostle Paul was one of them. He gives a grocery list of some of the difficulties he faced in life.
The one who models this the best is Jesus. Just stop and think of how secure He was. Granted, He was the perfect God-Man, but part of the miracle of the incarnation was that He experienced everything you and I experience without letting it destroy Him. He was despised and rejected, laughed at, scorned, betrayed, beaten, spit upon, and crucified. In a way, He took Himself very seriously. In another way, He did not take himself so seriously as to fall into Satan’s trap. He responded to the temptation to take Himself too seriously in human terms by quoting Scripture and defeating Satan’s power over Him.
I remember receiving Jesus Christ as my Savior as a 5-year-old. That was a very important time for me. Don’t ever minimize decisions our children can make for Jesus Christ at an early age.
At age 14, I came to the point where I was willing to surrender my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, realizing that not only was I privileged to have Jesus Christ as my Savior, but also as the Person in charge of my daily life.
It wasn’t until my senior year in college, as a 22-year-old, that I discovered that which went beyond the individualistic in the Christian faith. Dr. Richard C. Halverson came to my college for a spiritual emphasis week. He challenged us as young people to get into a covenant group and never to be without peer group accountability in any point in our life.
Covenant groups have been very important to me in the churches I’ve been privileged to serve. I was in a covenant group at Princeton Seminary. I’ve been in one in each of the churches I’ve served-Tulsa, Oklahoma; Key Biscayne, Florida, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and here. I’ve found in a covenant group relationship of peers that I’m forced to be honest, not allowed to take myself too seriously. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point that I can even begin to laugh at myself and my idiosyncrasies. Everybody knows I have them. Some of them I’ve worked to change. Some of them I’m afraid I’m just sort of stuck with. Frankly, it’s quite liberating not to take myself too seriously.
I had a most significant phone conversation the other night. One of my dear friends, who also has been a pastor, is a decade older than myself. I hadn’t been with him for several years. He had stopped by the church here hoping to see me a few weeks ago, and I was not in, so I gave him a phone call. During that call, talking to him and his wife, he broke through with one of the most amazing statements. He said he was experiencing some early dementia and would appreciate my prayers that he would be able to handle it wisely. He described, also, some debilitating hearing loss and some difficulty in driving. My instinctual reaction was, here’s a real man-a high achiever in life, yes, but one who is self-aware, not taking himself so seriously that he’s trying to cover up his humanity. What a privilege we have to be accountable to each other, to be able to chuckle at the changes of life we experience, and not to take our self too seriously.
Lesson 7: You never get it all right-being a good dad and husband.
In a way, I wish I could end this message differently. It’s important for me to acknowledge what I don’t always want to, and that is you and I never can say we’ve arrived in this life. That’s why we need prayer. Oh, we come to significant plateaus, places of manifest growth and maturity. But the reality is we are dynamic human beings, not static. Our environment constantly is changing. We are in a constant developmental process of responding to the changes in our environment. Our children and spouses are continually changing, also.
The other day, one of my covenant brothers was describing how, through the years, he has worked so hard to take care of his children. He talked about a time in his life when he realized his mother was at a stage of life where he had to take care of her. Now he’s realizing that something is shifting in relation to his children, because one son with his family came out to visit from back East and said, “Dad, usually we borrow the car and head off to Disneyland, the beach, and all other kinds of activities. This time we’re here simply to help you and Mom around the house, in the garden, and cook some of your favorite food.” The reality is we are in process, are we not?
I’d like to say I’ve finally come to the place where I’ve got it all together as a father and as a husband, but if I read the Bible correctly, if I understand a spiritual principle, that spiritual principle is: There is the act of regeneration as we repent of sin and put our trust in Jesus Christ. Then, there is the process of sanctification, in which we grow toward wholeness in Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit is operative in our lives.
Part of both this regeneration and sanctification is our need for God’s grace, His unmerited favor, His forgiveness and the capacity not only to be forgiven but also to forgive others.
I’ve learned that, when I function at my very best, I’m a person who realizes how important I am, but also how needy I continue to be. As one who would like to see myself as strong, the longer I live the more aware I am of my weakness. And that’s okay.
That’s okay, because when I face up to the fact that I haven’t gotten it all right as a dad and as a husband, it doesn’t mean I’m going to throw in the towel and declare myself a failure. Instead, it helps me understand my humanity. I’m learning to quote those words the Apostle Paul quoted of our Lord, who said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (
Copyright© 2007, Dr. John A. Huffman, Jr. All rights reserved.