On Fathers and Sons (Ephesians 6:4)

We ended Life Teen and Edge last night with a moment of worship. At 8 PM, the middle school students came over and we spent about twenty minutes just lifting up praise. It’s something that we do regularly at Saint Martha. These moments are often the ones that our alumni point to when we ask them where the faith came alive in their lives. I love these moments of worship. Last night, as our music minister led the group, God really placed it on my heart to challenge the teens to invite God into their private struggles; the sin that no one knows about, the relationship that just ended or that needs to end, or their relationship with their parents.

That last one, “their relationship with their parents”, is the one that caught me a little off guard. Now, I have led teens in this type of prayer before. I’ve been a youth minister for sixteen years. I have often encouraged young people to invite God into the dark corners. He is a God who wants to be invited into our mess. He died to set us free from the mess. As a youth minister, I work to lead teens to trust and have faith that God wants to come into those areas and bring healing. But last night, it was different for me. As I spoke the words, “your relationship with your parents,” God profoundly confronted me with one particular young man in that crowd of two hundred adolescents. He was sitting towards the back, surrounded by a cohort of eighth-grade compadres. To his credit, every week this kid pours into prayer and worship with an earnestness that I personally did not have at his age. As I spoke the words, encouraging these young people to seek the Lord’s healing, particularly in the relationship with their parents, this young man’s presence just convicted me.

Why? It was my son. My first born. As I prayed with those teens, God convicted me that maybe that young man might be feeling the need to invite God into our relationship, and that part of that was on me.

Being a parent is hard. I joke around that my son is Chris 2.0, the newer version with a better operating system. “Now, with the ability to do math!” He is incredible: smart, creative, funny and stubborn. I am pretty sure that that last trait is a holdover from the earlier operating system. It seems like, too often, lately, I am encountering that stubbornness, and too often meeting it with my own. The kid is hardly a kid anymore. More and more, he is taking on the shape of a man, and I know he feels the need to start taking on the responsibility of a man. I know he desires freedom. And, I know he sure has a lot less than I did when I was his age. My struggle is in teaching him the discipline of manhood that goes along with that freedom. That the freedom he wants, the freedom he needs, is one that has to be tempered with habits that will enable him to excel in whatever he sets his amazing mind and personality too. I am teaching him lessons that, in all honesty, I still struggled to execute. But Chris is 2.0. I want him to be better than me! I want him to have the opportunities I squandered while I was young and determined to win by proving I was able to lose. I want the doors I closed to be open to him. And sometimes . . . well, sometimes I act like a real jerk because of it.

I cannot help but think of Saint Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:1-4. You might be familiar with them.

Children, obey your parents [in the Lord], for this is right. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.”

We parents love that part. It’s good. It’s easy. “Kids! Honor me!” But that’s not the part the Lord is pressing into me right now. The part I need to pray on comes next. It isn’t quoted nearly as much. I need hear it, and I think some other parents, the ones like me, need to listen too,

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.

Last night, as I led our teens into prayer, God convicted me. He wants to be invited into my relationship with my son. He wants to help me raise this boy to be a man. The Lord wants me to listen as the Holy Spirit whispers, “Shut up. Enough.” He want’s me to listen as the Spirit counsels me to look into my son’s eyes and see that he isn’t hearing instruction anymore, but is just feeling attacked.

I love my son and I know I am an imperfect father. Yes, I need to raise my son in the discipline of a man, but in my desire for his good or my fear that he will fail in the ways I have, I can never forget that ultimately, this boy is not mine. He is the Lord’s. The day we baptized him I took the role of St. Joseph in his life, a steward of God’s beloved son. My job, my first job, is to lead Chris back to his perfect Father. So, I need to pray. I need to trust. I need to listen to the Spirit, and to my son. It’s not just the teens that need to invite God in. I need to invite God into the relationship with my son too.

God, grant me the grace to be an image of you, a signpost that points my son to your perfect love. Make up for my failures, and magnify my love in your own. Amen.