Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This is a goal that none of us have arrived at yet. The perfect person doesn’t lack anything, but the fact that we lack suggests that we have not yet attained to being perfect. Then what do we do about living with imperfect people? 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all love each other deeply for love covers over a multitude of sins.” The realities and principles involved here really apply to everyone, so we’re only going to partly focus on fatherhood.
I am keenly conscious that I am not a perfect father. I looked through scripture trying to find a passage which would lock on the ideal father, and I really can’t find one, other than Jesus’ great story of the lost son in Luke 15. In fact, when you look for a role model of good fathering in scripture it is simply not there, with the possible exception of the earthly father of Jesus – Joseph.
I searched through the Old Testament and all the major characters are not described in terms of being ideal fathers. Abraham, for example, the patriarch, was a great man of faith, but ask Ishmael whether he was a good father or not. The seeds of preferential treatment of one son over another are still being sown in the world today because Ishmael was kicked out when he was 12. Isaac had a favorite too. So did Jacob. David may have been a great king, but a great father he was not. Look at what he did with Absalom – incomplete forgiveness. Solomon, though wise, was not a good father. He had one of the worst sons, and one of the most messed up families. Fortunately for Solomon, God treated him just like he treats us. He justifies us on the basis of our faith in him.
I’m kind of stuck. I feel pressured to be a perfect father. I think men want to be perfect fathers. We hear the words of Jesus: “Be you therefore perfect.” Then we find out that we are in fact imperfect. I think there are two problems that relate to the pressure on men to be the perfect fathers. This could be used of the perfect mother or the perfect child or the perfect ____ (fill in the blank). It can fit a number of different role definitions. Let’s look at two problems I see today in homes, as they relate to the perfect father.
One problem present in many Christian families is disappointment about the husband’s role as spiritual leader of the house. It may be that the wife thinks of herself as more spiritual than her husband and wishes her husband would become the spiritual leader. It may be that the wife just cops out of her own spirituality because she thinks her husband isn’t spiritual, so what could be expected of her? Or maybe the wife is simply not satisfied with her husband’s spirituality and spiritual role as both husband and father. And the term “spiritual headship” has been used a lot in our generation, sometimes as a club over men. The term is found in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23. But the problem can arise when the wife loses confidence in her husband because he is not the spiritual giant that she thinks he should be. The problem is especially compounded if the husband is making any effort to serve Christ or if he is assuming some role of leadership in the church, because then the distinction between what he is in public and what he is in private becomes all the more apparent and it appears to be a gross hypocrisy.
As I look at this problem in the Christian family today, I don’t think it’s uncommon, but there are five things I know will not work in changing that man into being the spiritual leader the family wants him to be. They won’t work in getting anybody to change. Pressure will not work, nor guilt, nor lecturing. Criticism will not work, and neither will sitting in judgment. He may need a dash of those, but in plentiful measure those elements of approach simply do not work. The only thing that really works is a heart that is filled with unconditional acceptance and love, and seeks without language to bring about behavior change.
I want to encourage couples to ease up on one another. We live in a time of great expectations and high demand, a time when we do not have any room for delayed gratification. We want to have it all and we’ve got to have it now. One of the terrible things we do to one another is get an ideal of what the perfect person is – be that the perfect child, perfect spouse, or perfect parent. And if somebody doesn’t live up to that, then we sit in judgment upon them and we keep trying and trying and trying to get them to change.
I see the gospel as something other than that. The gospel is open to everyone. God first comes to us and offers us salvation. He unconditionally accepts us and it is out of the nurturing of God’s love for us that we are welcomed to change. Criticism is like an icy blast, freezing the object. But loves melts the objects and draws out a response.
So as men, let’s grow in the Lord. But as families, let’s encourage one another.
Another problem I want to address relates to the pressure of the perfect dad. Some of us we have had to come to terms with our dads, or maybe in some cases, needing to forgive our dads. I had a long struggle to learn to accept my dad and understand where he was coming from. I think part of the reason was I had such a rigid idea of what it means to be a perfect parent. I held it against my dad for years that when I was a kid, a teenager growing up, he never once put his arm around me. I don’t remember him ever saying to me, “I love you.” The older I got and watched the ideal that I thought a family should be the more I resented dad for that. But one day I wondered if I had judged my dad wrongly. The same dad who was unable to hug me and say I love you, was the dad who, when I was a teenager, did everything he could to get me on the straight and narrow path. He instilled a vision in me to take the future on, to be confident, to not be afraid, to believe that God and faith will outlast all the obstacles and hindrances life brings.
But I was thinking, Dad you don’t love me because you have not put your arm around me and said, I love you. I was thinking, you’re not my ideal. And all the time he was out there trying to instill a vision for life in me. I have a file of my Dad’s letters to me. I’m so glad I kept them. They bring me such rich inspiration now.
I want to encourage Christian families to ease up on one another, to accept one another and to forgive one another. Maybe there’s some real legitimate reasons why you haven’t been able to do express affection because of abuse in your life. Then begin with saying to God, “I forgive and release _____ of this.” Even if that person is gone, say it. Unforgiveness will wind up hurting you.
We need to express our feelings to one another, not “dumping” on somebody, but sharing from our heart without worrying how something is going to be taken. There needs to be room in our family life for open and honest communication.
The gospel songwriter said, “I must tell Jesus all of my troubles. I cannot bear my burdens alone.” That’s so true. I am praying that this article speaks to many fathers who really want to be the spiritual head of their home, but who don’t know how or have fears of failure. I pray it speaks to mothers, sons and daughters as well. Take courage. You can be all God calls you to be. Open the door. Be vulnerable. Talk with your family and admit that you aren’t everything that you had hoped to be. Ask for their help and their hand.
“Be perfect”, that’s so hard. Thank God the scripture says that what is lacking in our faith can be completed. While it’s being completed, love covers. Love covers a multitude of sins.