Monday, June 28, 2010

Why are You a Door?!

I went to a pastor’s spiritual retreat a few months ago. Luckily I work at a church where our entire staff was encouraged to go to this all-day reflective retreat. One of the exercises was to pick one of Jesus’ “I AM” statements, and really meditate on it. (Here’s a quick list I found) So I picked the statement: “I Am the Door.” If I am honest, I picked this one because I could not figure out what it meant, nor could I remember its context. Since it was a pastor’s retreat, I came up with a more spiritual reason for picking it. Something like, “I was really drawn to that one!”

I ended up spending several hours meditating on John 10 where Jesus describes Himself as the shepherd. Although I have always enjoyed this passage, John 10:9-10, where Jesus refers to Himself as the gate (or door), really hit me in a new way

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The part that stuck out to me the most was the second half of verse 9. I grew up in a more legalistic environment. I’m not throwing my childhood church or my parents under the bus whatsoever because I had an amazing childhood. Every restriction I was given as a kid was saturated in love. But the reality is, when you grow up in Amish country, the entire culture is focused a bit more on the “do’s and don’ts”.

When I first imagine the wall around my grazing area (I’m in character… I’m a sheep!!), my gut reaction is to think of it as restrictive. I chose to be a Christian, so I need to stay in my area. If I look over the wall, I can see the other sheep playing kickball, high-fiving, and laughing so hard they are crying. They get to do whatever they want and have a blast! When I ask Jesus if I can go out and play, He lets me know that He loves me, but I can’t partake in those activities. I need to focus on my math homework. I basically looked at the guidelines and boundaries in my life as a test from God to see if I really loved Him. Not really any meaning behind them, just random things to follow. If I really love God, I will show Him by blindly following His rules. Since Jesus died for me, I should not have a desire to have fun!

But Jesus says, “They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” Nothing is forced! The sheep are free to come and go! What?! There is freedom? This has been one of the most monumental learning’s for me in my adult years. Verse 9 and verse 10 are related. Our fulfillment in life, which God came to give us, is directly linked to the wall constructed around us. Yet this wall has an opening, and we are free to leave whenever we want.

But the more I have examined the wall, and each “law” or “commandment” which are piled up to make this wall, I’ve started to see the boundaries are not restrictive for arbitrary sake. They are invitational. God’s commandments invite us to trust Him with our lives. Each commandment is there for our ultimate well-being. They are placed there because God loves us dearly and wants us to experience the most fulfilling and exciting life possible. Although it does not make sense to us at times, and may not seem as attractive as the fleeting and momentary happiness we see around us, it is true! If God was willing to sacrifice His Son in order to have a relationship with us, we have to trust that His laws are tied to that love. He wouldn’t die in our place to merely have the ability to test our love and obedience. He invites us to trust Him because He has proven without a doubt that He is worthy of our trust and He has our best intentions in mind. It’s an invitation with freedom, not a command with judgment. Jesus is the unlocked door.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Protecting My Daughter

I realized early on, even within the pregnancy, that one of the strongest fatherly instincts surfacing within me was the desire to protect my daughter. Once Avery was big enough in the womb that we could feel her kicking, Tatum would often treat her like a circus trick. If she wanted to somebody to feel Avery’s kick, and Avery happened to be dormant, she would poke her belly and wake up our resting daughter. I would often try to defend my daughter, but to no avail. The attacker was too persistent, and in reality, stronger than me.

I’ve seen this trait come out even more after she has been born. Although my wife is well-researched, and I trust her wisdom as a mother, I’m often more cautious with taking her places and need my wife to reassure me. I want to protect her from anything that could harm her. I’m sure this desire for protection will become quite challenging as she gets older, and especially when she starts dating (in her late 20’s).

One of the worst feelings I have had so far as a father was listening to my daughter try to sleep with a stuffy nose. I felt helpless! When Tatum tried to feed her in the middle of the night, Avery was forced to eat, breathe, and cry through her mouth. And she was so hungry she was trying to do all three at once! I wanted to punish whoever got her sick, but unfortunately that person is WAY too likeable. (innocent smile)

So I got sick one day before Avery, and then watched my daughter follow suit. I hated the fact that I was the cause of her discomfort and pain. And since I was sick, I couldn’t hold her. So I get her sick, and then am banned from her presence. Not fun at all! The one bright spot is that Avery takes after her mother, and was an absolute trooper through her sickness (I think I cried from my stuffy nose more than she did from hers). But what I realized through the week was that this cold is just the beginning. Not only will I get her sick again, but there will be many other ways that I will not be able to protect Avery from her own father. My parenting is going to be drenched with my flaws and weaknesses. No matter how much I try, I will not even be close to being a perfect father, and Avery will be influenced by my shortcomings.

It’s hard to swallow. Although my character has grown throughout the years, and I continue to be molded by Christ, it’s inevitable that I will hurt Avery with my sarcasm. I will be selfish and pick me over my family. I will be unreasonable, angry, and judgmental at times, but hopefully I will also be apologetic, authentic, and forgiving.

And here is the greatest hope! Fortunately, Avery will have a perfect Father to balance me out. All I can hope is that my attempt at fatherhood will give her a small glimpse of His love for her. That when I show forgiveness and grace, Avery will understand it is Christ shining through me. I will shower her with my unconditional imperfect love and teach her of God’s perfect and persistent love. I will pray that Avery will choose to trust God enough to allow Him to lavish His love on her. And if my hopes and prayers are answered, and she chooses to receive His love, God will fill in the gaps that remain from my parenting and she will become the beautiful woman that God created her to be.

That truth gives me the grace that I need to be the best father possible.