I devoured a bunch of parenting books back in my child-rearing days, and they all left me feeling somewhat inadequate. They influenced me positively, I'm sure, but when reading chapter after chapter of solid techniques and creative ideas, I couldn't escape the feeling that I had missed the perfect parenting train. I was running behind trying...
My father was not a fan of Father’s Day.
He appreciated grateful children as much as any father does. However, he didn’t want our family to spend money on gifts he considered frivolous: ties he didn’t need, books he wouldn’t read, and doodads he couldn’t use.
One gift he received, however, stands out in my mind. My brother David gave Dad an upright brass eyeglass holder lined with maroon felt for his bedside table. Dad used it every night for more than forty years.
It may not have been the best gift Dad ever received, but it certainly symbolized him: practical, protective, and enduring. Maybe those are also the reasons he loved God’s Word so much. In the Bible, he found practical truth on every page—truth that protected him from many missteps, enduring truth that guided his decisions.
Dad wasn’t perfect. He didn’t shower me or my siblings with praise. He didn’t attend all our activities. He was more likely to respond with sound counsel than with gentle comfort when we shared our problems with him. But we knew the desires of Dad’s heart: to know God’s Word, obey it, and model godliness as best he could.
No human father will ever attain perfect-father status, no matter what they do or don’t do. Consider Abraham. Romans 4:16-17 says Abraham is “the father of us all … our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed.” But Abraham wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes in matters of fatherhood just as any man does.
Abraham Wasn’t Perfect
For more than twenty years, Abraham struggled to understand what God meant by “I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). Because Abraham had no children, he once implied that his servant Eliezer could be his heir, the fulfillment of God’s promise (Genesis 15:2-3). Later, Abraham followed Sarah’s advice and fathered a son by Hagar, a maidservant (Genesis 16:1-4). Both episodes indicate that Abraham believed God’s promise on some level, but still tried to fulfill the promise on his own.
In Genesis 17, God once again assured Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a son. Abraham laughed. How could a 99-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman produce a child? In his disbelief, he lamented, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing” (v. 18).
I sympathize with Abraham’s reasoning. If God could enable an old woman to bear a child, why couldn’t he make Ishmael pursue godliness? Maybe Abraham was thinking, Choose Ishmael, Lord. Make him my heir. Everything will be much simpler that way.
But what seems reasonable to us isn’t always what God knows is best. He refused to choose Ishmael as the primary heir and eventually told Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away. Genesis 21:11 indicates that the departure of his eldest son broke Abraham’s heart, but he obeyed God anyway. He chose to trust God’s wisdom even though it seemed inexplicably cruel.
The Sanctifying Perfection of Christ
I look at many situations the way Abraham did in Genesis 17 and 21. Maybe you do, too. Just give my son this job, Lord, I think. Maybe then he’ll see your hand in his life. Or I pray, “Please send a godly young woman into his life, Lord, one who will motivate him to serve you. What’s wrong with that plan?”
But God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). The Hebrew word gabbah, which is translated “higher,” means “exalted” and suggests the unreachable heights of an eagle’s nest or the stars in the heavens. It’s as if God is saying to us, “Trying to understand some things I do will only lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Please trust me. I will do what is best.”
I once asked my dad what his favorite Bible verse was. He said, “Order my steps in thy word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me” (Psalm 119:133 KJV). Abraham didn’t know that verse, but he attempted to live his life according to the word of God he had received. Paul wrote that Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).
Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he prayed for “those whom you gave me” (John 17:6). He said, “I have given them your word,” and he asked God the Father to “sanctify them by the truth” (vv. 14, 17). Sanctify sounds scary, but it isn’t. It refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives—the way he transforms us so we look more and more like Jesus. If we’re willing, the Holy Spirit eliminates what isn’t Christ-like and cultivates what is Christ-like within us. Here’s what Ephesians 4:17-32 says about attitudes and actions that resemble Christ and those that don’t:
What doesn’t look like Jesus:
- excusing sin and mocking righteousness
- yielding to anger and arrogance
- condemning others and refusing to forgive
- pursuing indulgent, sensual activities
What does look like Jesus:
- pursuing godliness and upholding righteousness
- speaking words that heal and edify
- yielding to the Spirit’s direction and desires
- practicing generosity and humility
Clinging to the Perfect Father
As we meditate on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit illuminates the right path. Sure, like Abraham, we may make some missteps. But if we strengthen our faith by clinging to God’s promises and if we give glory to God for what he is doing in our lives and in our children’s lives, then he will continue to manifest his grace and goodness in us.
Genesis 25:9 affirms God’s goodness to Abraham: “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.” Why is this verse significant? Even though Abraham obeyed God and sent Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, away, somehow Abraham maintained a relationship with Ishmael. Otherwise, how would Ishmael have known to come to the funeral and why would he have wanted to come if he and his father were estranged?
God didn’t require perfection from Abraham, and he doesn’t require it from any man—or woman. Jesus clarified God’s expectations when he said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command”—even when it doesn’t makes sense (John 14:15). Jesus also said, “Remain in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). If we stick close to him, if we follow him step by step, then like Abraham, we’ll trust him to do what is best for us and for our children. And maybe we’ll trust him enough to discard the perfect parent illusion. Instead, we can focus on the perfected image of Christ that the Holy Spirit is creating in us and in our children.