I love rivers; the sound, the light. I love the way rivers pass us by. As I'm fixed on the bank, the water flows away, replaced immediately by a new supply.
To me, a father is a river. He is a constant flow and supply. He is a source of life, pouring out newness.
Paul had concern over that fatherly river. He saw the potential within fathers to create discouragement in their children. Discouragement, to Paul, was the result. Provocation was the cause.
*"Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." *- Paul (Colossians 3:21)
"Do not provoke," Paul wrote. Don't irritate. Don't exasperate. Don't make bitter.
I won't attempt to give an exhaustive list of provocations here. Partly because many, like abuse or neglect, ought to be obvious. But mostly because many more are unknown to me. My insight is limited.
What I will offer are a few basic suggestions on how this might be done in your life. I long for my children to run because of the encouragement I have produced in their lives. I want a fearlessness to pervade. A fearlessness at least partly caused by my flow into their lives. Like you, I want to bless my children.
This stands at the crux of the issue. Our Father in heaven paid a steep price to win relationship with us. We enjoy the privileges of it daily. He did not adopt us, so that he could then, for all practical purposes, distance himself from us. No, he pursued us to pursue us.
As fathers, we must pursue our children. We must get into their world. We don't need to be their best friend. We offer too much teaching, seniority, and counsel for a friend. The responsibility we have for our children goes way beyond any friendship. But we do offer relationship. We want to know them. We want them to know us.
The other day an opportunity opened up to play soccer with one of my daughters. She tends to reveal herself after playing for a while. After 45 minutes of trick shots, drills, and mini-competitions, her heart was soft. She began to speak. Nothing earth shattering, just her. She let me in. For her, I think this flowed from relationship.
Beyond simple relationship, a father must also use his mouth. He must speak. A dad has a God-given weight to his words. There is power there. This influence must be used well.
I can be loud and boisterous when the mood is right, but most often I am quiet. I don't mind silence. I don't fill in the gaps with talk.
I also prefer to be asked for input or advice. It is difficult for me to speak without solicitation. All this can make speaking to my children difficult.
But they need my words. To receive a father's instruction and guidance is healthy for a child. They need to know where I stand.
I don't need to be overbearing. I don't need to lecture. I should not err on the other extreme though. I have lived more of life than them, so my counsel and direction can be life giving. I am to teach them.
Be a man who opens his mouth to teach his children. You know things. If you have built a relationship with them you can share those things with them.
Live with consistency.
Children also need a non-hypocritical life. A lack of consistency between what I preach and live can greatly harm my children. They need to see constancy.
Kids are forgiving, gracious people. They love to extend another chance. So it is not a perfectionism that we need seek. That is a futile pursuit. Because of its impossibility, perfectionism only breeds more hypocrisy. You have to fake it to act like you made it. No. Instead we need to look for a consistency of direction.
The fact is, children will help draw the inconsistencies out of you. I admired myself before marriage, but once wed I discovered more gaps in my character than I care to mention. Each child has only compounded this issue. The times I've used harsh words to tell my children to stop using harsh words have been plenty.
Moments like these should humble us. We ought to graciously seek forgiveness and personal growth. If left ignored and unchecked in our lives, our children will become provoked and discouraged.
Believe the best.
Don't say unkind things about them. Ever. Even a negative word about your kids behind their back, one they never hear, will be felt. Your attitude about them is contaminating, and it will show up during the moments you are with them.
Make sure the words you speak about them are life giving. You might have to correct them, but that doesn't mean you have to tear into them. Condescension isn't helpful.
Often a parent will tear down their children to another parent. I'm not sure what this is, but I've gone there. It can be ugly. I've discovered that toxin makes its way out of that conversation and into my heart. My heart produces the toxin, but once released it only perpetuates. Instead, I must believe the best of my children.
What could God do in them? How might they overcome? Rather than fall into a cycle of complaint, I can give life by seeing my kids through the lense of grace.
We are much more forgiving of ourselves than we are of others, including our children. I am thankful my Father in heaven has seen something in me. My Lord saw something in Peter that none of us would've. He extracted it out of Peter with endurance and grace.
I want to have vision like that. To see in my children that which they cannot see themselves. To draw it out graciously. To mine for the veins of gold. To believe the best of them.
Remember This Statement: Do Not Provoke.
It would be good for us to embrace the Pauline word: do not provoke. Allow the fire of the Spirit to brand it on your mind. Am I provoking them at this moment? Will they become discouraged?
As is the case in any home, spills are commonplace in mine. Accidental breakage is constant, but I barely spill or break. I'm not just saying that. When I do spill, it is almost a mini-celebration for my family, like I have become one of them.
This combination, along with my own internal weakness, can be problematic. How I react to the inevitible is all important. Harsh? Angry? Gentle? Understanding?
Again, we are that flowing river. When I calmly help my kids in the aftermath of some breakage, teaching them how to clean up, I am at my best. I want them to stand encouraged. When discouraged, their future is grim, but when they stand in encouragement, they will surpass me, and that is a good thing.
Let this word from Colossians "be as frontlets between your eyes." Let it guide you in your every familial interaction. Let us remember to always be cause for health, not harm.