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A different view of parenthood

Did you hear?

So much for doing away with helicopter parenting. Apparently, hyper-involved parenting works. They’re saying it leads to higher test scores.

Oof.

I took my daughter to our first daddy-daughter dance recently. Before I did, I remember the comments when I told people it was coming. “How special!” “Once in a lifetime opportunity!” “You never get these moments back!” It felt like a lot of pressure for a dad rolling in from a long, long week.

Oof.

And Christian parenting even ups the ante. We don’t just want our kids to grow up and be successful (whatever that means). We want them to serve people with their lives. We don’t just want to love and connect deeply to our kids along the way. We want them to believe in the grace of our Lord Jesus. That’s A LOT!

Oof.

What do I do with that? Punch back with my daddy manifesto. What does that look like?

I will remember: She’s not mine. She hasn’t been ever since Christ claimed her in her baptism. Therefore, I no longer shoulder final responsibility for her. What I will do is be her dad. I will teach her, cuddle her, discipline her, protect her, love her. I will work on her sight words with her. (I’ll obviously have to update this list as life progresses.) I will take her to gymnastics. I will teach her how to work through her emotions, what it looks like for a man to love a woman (her mom), and to understand the commandments. I will work to crystallize in her an identity as God’s child. I will be her dad. I will refuse, however, to be more than that.

I will not take up a God-sized burden I’ve never been asked to carry. I will not expect myself to be there for her everywhere. I will not expect myself to protect her always. That’s too big for me! I will content myself to be her father—not her Father!—which is all my circumscribed, located, finite self can do. I will empower that contentment by remembering who her Father is. He is her Creator and Redeemer who will shape her far better than I can; love her more than I ever will; and protect her everywhere and at all times with so much grace and power that, finally, he will resurrect her.

I actually think that last part is incredibly life-giving even now. I refuse to believe that my moments with my daughter are here today and gone tomorrow. I’m not going to let the heavy tonnage of that thought rest on me. I have every confidence that through Jesus my moments with her will never end. Try thinking about that the next time you’re watching your daughter doing “the floss” at the daddy/daughter dance. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. There I was, this dad weirdly proud that his daughter knows how to do stuff like that and simultaneously divinely happy thinking, My Father has made me a true father to that princess—well—forever. I’d call it a once-in-a- lifetime moment, but I don’t think I should. I have moments like that too often.

Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter.

Thoughts from an experienced dad

If the 2018 version of Jim Aderman could advise the late-1970s Jim Aderman about parenting, the first thing I’d tell that whippersnapper is, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E. Spend time with your kids, Jim. Quality time. Focused time. Time free of ringing phones and buzzing text messages. Time divorced from nagging work projects.

“Will using time for your kids threaten your career goals? Yup. But your children are extraordinary gifts from your Father to you and your wife (Psalm 127:3). They are meant to have a higher value than your career. Even a pastor’s career. Forty years from now you won’t wish you could go back in time to get more done at work.

“Jim, my second piece of advice is, demonstrate how much you love your kids by loving your wife first. Children feel most secure when they see that Mom and Dad are ‘I-love-you-to the moon-and-back’ committed to each other. Assure them that your marriage is solid because God’s commitment to you in Jesus prompts you to prize their mother above everything else. Even when—no, especially when—she is hard to love. And, by the way, when you love your wife like Christ loved the church, your wife will find it easier to love you and your kids too.

“And that reminds me about something else. Jim, your children need to know that you love them because of God’s cross-guaranteed love for you. Rejoice over your kids when they excel in school, when they score in soccer, and when they live their faith. But tell them—every day—that you love them not because they please you, but because of Jesus’ love for you. Tell them that, since God’s grace is constant and measureless, your love for them will never change or fade. Never. Regardless of their grades, their athletic prowess, or their moral standards.

“Now, you won’t be able to parent your kids like this driven by your own gumption. If you are going to love your wife and kids like Christ loves you, you need to fill your heart and mind and life with Christ. Immerse yourself in his Word. Read it. Think it through. Study it with others. Share it at your family altar. Celebrate its assurances at worship. Talk with Jesus about it.

“By the way, Jim, I asked your future granddaughter to review this post. She suggests I should also tell you that you won’t ever be a perfect father. Be sure you apply Easter’s forgiveness to yourself. Then live in its power.”

Of course, 1977-Jim-Aderman will never hear this advice. But, perhaps, it will help you, young father. Why don’t you let me know how it works?

James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their ten grandchildren.

Dads: Just breathe

Take a deep breath and see how long you can hold it. Ready . . . set . . . go!  

Sixty-five seconds. That’s all I got. Can you beat my time? In 2012, German freediver Tom Sietas held his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds! That’s a long time without taking a breath! Now try making it a day without confessing your sin and hearing the wonderful assurance that your sins are forgiven. Actually . . . don’t. 

Dads, here’s my advice on how to be a better dad: Breathe. Just as you exhale the carbon dioxide from your lungs and inhale the fresh oxygen you need to live, so to a Christian needs the daily life breath of confession and absolution for their souls to live.  

Dads, one thing I’ve learned in being a dad is that we all mess up. We are selfish sinners. So we will grow impatient, speak harshly, and criticize unfairly. Our selfishness will conflict with the selfishness of our wives and our kids. This is unavoidable this side of heaven.  

But I’ve also learned, dads, that when you mess up, it’s best to fess up. Admit it when you’re wrong. Admit it to God and ask for his forgiveness. Admit it to your family and ask for theirs. In this way you will exhale the carbon dioxide of sin, guilt, and shame that would otherwise poison your soul. 

But don’t stop there. If you only exhaled and nothing more, you would still die. Inhale too. After you’ve exhaled your sin in open, honest confession, then inhale the life-giving oxygen of the gospel. Breathe in the wonderful, joyous, blissful truth that your sins are forgiven by Jesus. He’s paid for all of your sin, guilt, and shame. And he’s taken it all away. Take a deep breath and feel the life, peace, and energy that absolution gives. 

Sound too easy? God promises it! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As God breathed life into Adam’s lungs, he breathes spiritual life into our hearts by his forgiving grace. 

And as we dads model the daily breath of the Christian through confessing our sins and trusting in the absolution Christ gives, we’ll help our kids breathe a little easier too. They will be able to confess their sins to us, knowing that, even while we enforce consequences, we will also be quick to forgive and to assure them of God’s forgiveness. 

One day soon, unless Jesus returns first, each of us will take our last breath in this world. But with confession and absolution a part of our daily routine, as common as breathing, we will stay ready for that day and help our kids to be ready too. So let’s continue to exhale our sins in confession and inhale the life-giving Word of forgiveness that’s ours in Jesus. It’s the only way to live. 

Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, have four sons ages 5 -14. 

What legacy will you leave your children?

Math word problems were never my “thing.” But math was my dad’s forte. As a paper scientist, he loved its logic and precision. I would struggle for what seemed like hours with “One train starts from Chicago at 10 a.m. . . .”—then go to Dad. He would look at my scratchings, smile, and say, “Okay, let’s start fresh—a clean piece of paper is a clear mind!” Then off we would go as he explained how to solve it in a way my young mind could grasp.  

Dad is gone now. But his lessons live on. What legacy will we leave for our children and grandchildren? Dad supported my dream of teaching, and, after nearly 40 years in a Christian classroom, I’ve gleaned a few “dad” lessons.  

Enjoy the adventure! From the time our little ones arrive to the day they leave home is a precious window. It’s easy to get caught in the everyday grind. Before we know it, they’re gone and we wonder, “What happened?” The diaper days, toddler years, school days, and adolescence—they all pose challenges. Do your best to treasure those times. Make the most of your hours with your sons and daughters. The Lord promises “a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). 

Play show and tell”be involved and supportive. Dads need to intentionally “be there” for their children, building relationships and making memories. “Teaching them the way they should go” (cf. Proverbs 22:6) means talking, asking questions, hanging out together. Know your children’s dreams and be their cheerleader. Most important—tell them that you love them. Dads can have a hard time sharing those words their children long to hear. Remember to “show and tell” them they are loved. 

Be yourselfnot your kid! Guard against forcing your own “agenda” of unmet needs on your children.  

Discipline in love. Children make lots of mistakes. They sin often. We sin often. A life of forgiveness is what we need to model. We have been forgiven much. Avoid disciplining in anger and shaming your children. God reminds dads to never “exasperate” their children (Ephesians 6:4). 

Live your faith and be honest. Children are God’s gift to us. Being a Christian dad isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s messy; often we’ll fail. That’s the nature of our Christian walk. Our heavenly Father knows that. His Word is our guide. He offers full and free forgiveness. We need that forgiveness from our children as well. Being authentic and honest in our faith walk will leave a lasting legacy for our families.  

And just for the record—I jotted these thoughts on a clean sheet of paper.  

Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wisconsin, and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton. 

Parenting our children as God parents us

It’s been said that we get our view of God from our relationship with our earthly father. If that’s true, then we parents, and especially fathers, want to do the best we can to give an accurate view of God the Father. We want to parent our children the way that God parents us.

Here are some observations I’ve made about the way God parents me and some things I’ve done as I try to father my sons the way God has fathered me.

  • God takes his law seriously. He makes that clear by allowing and even sending consequences into my life. Likewise, as a loving father, I will allow and give my boys consequences for their sinful actions when they rebel against God and me. These are given in love, not anger, and are meant to teach my boys that God’s way is always best.
  • But, even as I suffer the consequences of my sin, God regularly assures me of his unconditional love based on Jesus’ work in my place. I am forgiven. I am always his dearly loved child. Likewise, I want my boys to know that my love for them is unconditional. I always try to be quick to assure them of my forgiveness and of God’s. In our house we don’t answer, “I’m sorry,” with “It’s okay,” (It’s not okay. It’s a sin.) but with, “I forgive you. And so does God.” We live confession and absolution on a daily basis.
  • God makes it clear that he’s not too busy running the universe to make time for me and to listen to my prayers. Likewise, I want to show my boys that I’m not too busy for them. To get to know my boys’ hopes and dreams, worries and fears better, I’ve been occasionally taking each one out for breakfast—just the two of us. They promise to answer my questions honestly. I promise to try not to embarrass them.

Role models have an important place in the lives of those who are seeking to grow. But it’s not just children who need role models; parents need them too! And what better model can we find as we seek to grow as parents than our heavenly Father who parents us perfectly? So we study his Word to know him better, to be assured of his forgiveness for our failures to be like him, and to find the gospel motivation to mimic him more closely.

Just as God loves me and parents me, so I want to love my children and parent them. We want to, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children . . . ” (Ephesians 5:1).

All about Daddy and me

Elliana Bourman, age three, answers questions from her mom, Melanie, about her dad, Jonathan Bourman, one of Heart to heart‘s contributing authors.

‪Melanie: Does your daddy love you?

Elliana: Yup!

Melanie: How do you know?

Elliana: Because he tells me.

Melanie: What is your daddy’s job?

Elliana: I don’t remember.

Melanie: Daddy is a pastor, remember?

Elliana: Oh, yeah. He’s a pastor.

Melanie: What does Daddy do as a pastor?

Elliana: He stands on top and talks a lot.

Melanie: What does Daddy teach you about Jesus?

Elliana: That he washed my sins all gone.

Melanie: What is your favorite Bible story that Daddy has read to you?

Elliana: I like the big storm [Jesus calms the storm] and baby Jesus away in a manger.

Favorite memories of our dad

Kayla (14 years old) and Josh (11 years old) reminisce about special times that they spend with their dad, Dan Nommensen, a contributing author for Heart to heart.

When I was about seven and eight, my dad took me up north a couple times to a cottage that my great uncle used to live in. On our four-hour drive up to the cottage, we had a great time singing camp songs, talking, and telling stories and jokes.

Kayla and her dad, Dan.

Kayla and her dad, Dan.

When we got up there, it was usually dark. Being the great dad he is, he let me trudge in while he took everything in out of the cold. He lit the fire, and we watched the temperature slowly rise, degree by degree. Then, after about an hour-and-a-half of sorting, putting things in the fridge, and setting up heaters, he would finally get the bed ready and we would hop in. We sometimes watched a movie on the small screen of the portable movie player. Then we’d go to bed after saying prayers.

In the morning, I got up to a nice, warm, handmade meal. He already had everything set up and ready for us to eat and go. We then got our fishing things on and walked down to the lake just as the sun was rising. We got into the rocky boat with cobwebs and all and floated off. Dad rowed while we searched for the perfect place to cast our lures. When I finally threw a lure out with as much strength as I could, it would go off course or cross Dad’s line, but he always said, “That was a good one,” and helped me do it correctly.

I loved having those times with my dad. I love my dad and am thankful that I have such a loving Christian father to always watch over me.

Kayla Nommensen

At night when my dad tucks me in we pray five special prayers, including one in German and the English meaning that he learned from his dad. My dad learned two prayers from his mom that we also pray. Then Luther’s evening prayer. This is special to me because he is passing them on to me from his parents, my grandparents, that I didn’t get to know. He plays basketball with me, and he plays Wii with me. He is very patient with me. My dad is special because he helps me get through tough times, and I love him very much.

Josh Nommensen

A lesson from my dad

He listened quietly and patiently while I poured out my frustrations concerning the new place I was living. Out tumbled discontent with my job, the church, the choir, the location, and more. When I finished my long string of aggravations, there was a brief pause. Then, “Well, I am sorry to hear all of that. Life isn’t always easy, nor what you had hoped. But, God does have a plan and purpose for your life there. Grow where you are planted, Rachel.”

Rachel and her dad, James.

Rachel and her dad, James.

As we hung up the phone I have to admit I was far from satisfied with Dad’s answers. I don’t really know what I was hoping for, but “grow where you’re planted” was not it. At least that is what I thought in that moment.

As I considered what he said, I realized it was what Dad had been teaching me all along—through new family houses, financial hardships, the anxiety of his pastoral calls, different schools, moving hours away for college and law school, breakups, and job loss. It was, in fact, even an intrinsic part of my confirmation verse that he, as my pastor, had chosen: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The context for this Bible passage was the Lord finally allowing the Israelites to enter the promised land of Canaan. God gave them the promised land but didn’t promise them a perfect life in that land.

Dad has shown me this throughout my life.

God puts us in certain places and situations for a reason. We can either follow God’s command to not be afraid and discouraged, living our lives to reflect his love and be joyful in our circumstances—or wallow in self-pity and push away our loving God who has plans beyond measure for us.

Life has changed significantly since that phone call. I have since married; become a mom of four children; moved two more times to two different states, two different churches, and three different companies, yet I continue to apply Dad’s advice.

Rachel Learman is the daughter of James Aderman, one of Heart to heart‘s contributing authors.