(Author’s Note: This message was written while anticipating the birth of our first child — who turned out to be twin boys.)
As you can well imagine, lately I have been giving more thought to fatherhood than ever before. The thought of my being responsible for a wiggly, puffy-cheeked child scares the daylights out of me. I find great comfort in the fact that almost everyone I know said the same thing about their feelings.
We have been married 7 1/2 years, and in that time we have been accustomed to thinking in terms of a bicycle built for two. Now we must think in terms of tricycles!
As I reread Proverbs 3, I was struck anew with the love and wisdom pouring from this passage. We sometimes think of the ancient Hebrews as primitive people who were rougher than a corn cob. But here you see a man who, like all fathers who deserve that title, wants the absolute best for his child. He doesn’t ask for perfection. Being a realist, he knows perfection is not to be found this side of heaven.
The author of Proverbs wants his child to grow up strong and to possess qualities that will make him a real adult. Forget the quest for becoming a macho man or an urban cowgirl. I bequeath these same ideals and goals for my child.
The writer of Proverbs 3 wanted to give his child faith. But what kind of faith? An empty, half-believed and accepted faith may be worse than none at all. If it is only seen as insurance against some calamity, then it is not faith — it is delusion.
Look again at Proverbs 3. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.” That is faith. It is simply believing that God will take care of you.
Did I say “simply” believing? That’s a laugh, isn’t it? As if it were all that easy. As if, when someone you love is critically ill, all you have to do is snap your fingers and wish away the trouble. True biblical faith is not “Pollyanna” thinking, but rather a basic outlook based on our experience with God. For example, I believe that God has taken care of me up to this point. When things go badly for me, as they have and will again, I look back on those times of care and draw strength and hope. Faith doesn’t remove us from our difficulties. It makes us strong in them.
Consider the faith of the psalmist who wrote in Psalms 121:
I look to the mountains; where will my help come from? My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let you fall; your protector is always awake. The protector of Israel never dozes or sleeps. The Lord will guard you; he is by your side to protect you. The sun will not hurt you during the day, nor the moon during the night. The Lord will protect you from all danger; he will keep you safe. He will protect you as you come and go, now and forever.
This is not a money-back guarantee. This is a statement of heart-felt beliefs that draws on past experience to sustain present difficulties.
Someone has suggested that, “Without faith we are like stained glass windows in the dark.” That image speaks to me. We are at our best admitting faith, just as these stained glass windows are admitting light.
I know — we sometimes delude ourselves claiming things we do not really believe. Perhaps you have heard Paul Sweeney’s definition of self-delusion. He says, “Self-delusion is pulling in your stomach when you step on the scales.”
Contemporary legend has it that when the first Russian cosmonaut returned from orbiting the earth, he was interviewed by the officials at the Kremlin. The cosmonaut told them that he had seen God in space. They replied, “We were afraid of that. Don’t tell anyone else.” Later the cosmonaut was interviewed by the Pope, who asked him if he had seen God in outer space. Doing as he was told to do, he said, “I didn’t see a thing.” The Pope said, “I was afraid of that. Don’t tell anyone else.”
Faith is not belief in spite of evidence; it is life in scorn of consequences. So the wise father, writing in the Book of Proverbs, wants to instill in his child that kind of faith.
On the walls of Hind’s Head Inn in Bray, England, is this inscription:
Fear knocked on the door.
No one was there.
Words are as slippery as eels. How can we use them to grasp an idea so amorphous as gratitude? Writer Robert C. Newell gives us a good example in a story he tells: “Late one night when I was driving along an isolated road, the motor of my car stopped. A friendly traveler came along, took a rope from the trunk of his car, and towed my stalled car nearly thirty miles to a garage. When I insisted that he accept pay, he refused. He rejected my offer to fill his tank with gas. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I must in some way return your kindness.’ The stranger replied, ‘If you really want to show your gratitude, buy a rope and always carry it in your car.”
The writer in Proverbs reminds his child to honor the Lord by making regular offerings from the best of all his crops. He was trying to instill in his child a sense of gratitude. He realized how life is fabricated. It is simply a fact of life that you cannot always take without giving. You simply have to develop an attitude about life, an attitude that makes you remember what others have given to you. That attitude is gratitude.
We do this, of course, on special days like Thanksgiving. But gratitude is too important an ideal to relegate to one day a year. We should be like a pack rat — leaving something every time we take something. Think of peanuts. Farmers discovered peanuts are excellent to grow on the less-than-best soil because they put nitrogen into the soil. They enrich the very soil which gives them life. Isn’t that a parable of gratitude?
A part of gratitude is also knowing when you have enough. As someone put it, “It’s possible to own too much. A man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.” In this frenzied race to accumulate more and more, isn’t it about time to slow the pace and simply enjoy what we already have?
The father in Proverbs 3 advises his son to pay attention if the Lord corrects him. In other words, “Don’t fight back, don’t rebel.” Listen to what the lesson is trying to teach you.
Someone has suggested that the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. God, in His efforts to educate us to live together peacefully on this little planet, assists in the discovery of life principles. One of those principles is that we never know it all, our opinion is not always right, and that maybe, just maybe, even our political opinions could stand some readjustment.
But teachability is more than that. A college administrator and professor wrote, “I believe the true purpose of education is not only to fill man’s mind with knowledge and his belly with food but to deepen his spiritual insights.”
That is precisely what this wise father in Proverbs is saying. There are spiritual lessons to be learned. Sometimes we listen only when the Lord corrects us. We rebel and kick. I think Harry Truman was talking about us when he said, “I have found the best way to give advice to children is to find out what they want, and then advise them how to do it.”
“Life” here is not simply providing the child with flesh and blood. That’s the easiest part. By “life,” that author of Proverbs means quality of existence.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Life’s no brief candle — it’s a splendid torch!” That’s it! That says it. How many people do you see every day who are physically alive but who are not living, in the fullest sense of that word?
We do not have to be rich to achieve this quality of living either. The most important thing is strong, healthy relationships. That is the basis of both our spiritual lives and our physical lives. A child who grows up poor but with good care and plenty of love at home will turn out okay. A child who grows up with anything less may be handicapped all through life.
There is a movie entitled, “The Four Seasons.” The movie centers around the relationships of six people who are close friends. That friendship is stretched, strained, abused, shoved, and ignored. But it lasts! Many of us are so fragile that we cannot stand even the slightest strain on our relationships. But that really hurts our lives — the quality of our existence.
All of this sounds like a last will and testament, doesn’t it? A father bequeaths all the qualities and life goals to his child, and to us. Faith sustains our relationship with God. Gratitude reminds us that others have given generously to us and we need to pass it on. Teachability keeps us from being a one-trick pony. Life assures us that God intends more for us than physical existence.
These are the things I would like to give to my child, even as our Heavenly Father has given them to His children.