Noah and Micah,
I prayed for you before you were born. I thought about holding you and playing ball with you and teaching you about life. Maybe I thought about these things because I never had a dad. Well, I had one. But he wasn’t present. Maybe I sat awake at night as a teenager, thinking about you, because I wanted to be the dad I never had myself. So I dreamed up all the things I thought a good dad would do. I rehearsed entire scenes in my head, then I would smile and say, “One day…” and turn over on my pillow and go to sleep.
Now, you’re here. The moment you were born, I held you close and felt a strange paradox: joy and dread. Joy, first, because of your presence. A piece of me is here, in my arms. When you become a parent, something in you changes. You become someone new, almost instantly. When you arrived, the world seemed good, even the worst parts drowned out by the love I felt for you. Evil didn’t exist in those first moments after your birth. Eden was reborn in that hospital room, and I will never forget it.
I also felt dread, though. I felt dread because I knew the kind of world you were entering. This world is beautiful and the people in it are good and try their very best. I believe that. But the world is also broken and people carry around all kinds of wounds, from failed expectations and abuse and so on. You will suffer. You can’t avoid it. As I held you that first time, I shed a few tears, wishing this weren’t true. I want to shield you from the pains of life. If I could, I would absorb every mistreatment, every misspoken word, every scrape and scar to your physical body and your heart. But I can’t. Few things are more central to life than suffering. My role as your dad is to prepare you for it, to show you how to endure suffering, to learn and grow from it. This is a daunting task, and I fail often.
The Most Important Thing I Want You To Know
Of all the things I want you to know about suffering, dear sons, this is the most important: God is the only source large enough to take your pain and transform it. If I teach you anything, I want to teach you how to hold you suffering, like Christ held his on the cross, until God takes it and transforms it. When you’re hurt, you will be tempted to hurt others. You will want to find a scapegoat, somewhere to offload your pain, a friend or loved one or spouse. Suffering is like a virus. It needs a host to survive. Remove the host, the virus dies. The same is true for suffering. Don’t spread the virus. If you need an example, look to Christ. He shows us how to end the cycle of suffering and bring heaven to earth. Follow his example. I will try my best to lead the way for you.
I struggle with intimacy. I always have. I refuse to settle for a life of distance, but drawing near to people is really hard. I tell you this because I want to apologize for all the times I’ve been with you and settled for meaningless chatter or no chatter at all. I want to talk to you about things that matter. I want to ask you how you saw God today, in your conversations at school or in the trees as you ride down the road. But I don’t. I ask you how recess went instead.
I want you to have an awareness of God in all things. I want you to know God is with you at all times. God celebrates with you when you win a big game or pass a test. He also cries with you when your friends leave you out or when you’re scared at night. God is with you at all times, always loving, never judging.
What It Means To Be A Man
The world will try to tell you what it means to be a man. Many of these things you will know, not because someone tells you, but because they hover in the air, invisible but active, like oxygen. Most everyone breathes the air and falls in line. Don’t fall in line, my sons. Don’t believe the lies you see lived out in men on tv or on the news. You will notice that most men don’t show emotions. You will also notice how most men love certainty and avoid failure. They equate success with identity, and they refuse to ask for help. Most men think this shows strength and, God helps us, maturity. It shows neither.
Don’t get caught up pursuing our culture’s picture of manhood. It will make you heart hard as stone, and you will live your days hopelessly insecure. Unhealthy men have caused more harm to people than we have created good in the world. I hate to say that, but it’s true. Men have used their strength and power to abuse and manipulate, often at the expense of the weak and vulnerable. You don’t have to settle for this, though.
Try to be a good human, instead. Try to live like Christ.
People are more important than progress. Never forget that. Success is enticing, but you often have to step on a lot of necks to reach the top. If you gain the whole world, but sacrifice even one person in the process, you gain nothing. Your life is worth nothing. I want your life to be worth something, not in the world’s eyes, but in God’s. In God’s economy, people are the only currency. Become rich in God’s economy.
Don’t support laws or systems that dehumanize people. Stand up for injustice. Find the outcast and the marginalized wherever you are, in your school or on the street, and befriend them. Jesus is always with the least of these, and I want you to always be with Jesus. I haven’t modeled this well. I will try to do better.
Strength has nothing to do with violence or weapons. Weapons don’t heal. Weapons create more violence, more suffering. Strength has nothing to do with certainty, either. Strength is an inner resolve, a deep, abiding security in who you are and a willingness to live fully present in this very moment. It’s a willingness to love at all costs, to give yourself for the good of the world, to stand for truth and for justice, even if you lose friends or a job, or your reputation or even your life. Certainty is a sign of immaturity. You can’t follow God and certainty. Choose the former.
You Will Suffer
At some point in your life, someone you know, someone you love, will hurt you. It will feel like death. You’ll want to build walls around your heart so you never experience pain like that again. Please don’t build walls. If you do, many toxic and unhealthy seeds find the necessary environment to germinate, seeds like apathy and cynicism and bitterness and others. If you continue watering these, they will grow, and like dandelions, they will eventually infest the landscape of your heart, drowning out the things of God, things like love and joy and peace.
Open your heart all the way to love. When someone wounds you, it’s okay to be angry and upset. It’s okay to cry. Call me. I will listen. I will walk with you as long as it takes. Your mom is a far better listener than I am. You can call her as well.
When You Fall In Love
One final thing. Your mom is an amazing woman. I love her beyond vocabulary. Sometimes you ask why we argue. You don’t ask this often because we don’t argue often. But sometimes we do. That energy you see is the energy of love. In our arguing, I hope you see that we respect each other. We don’t call names or degrade. We argue. We find a resolution. We move on. This is a necessary and important part of loving someone for a long time.
One day you will feel for someone like I feel for your mom. If you don’t, that’s just fine. But you probably will. You will fall in love, as they say. I think that’s a fair way to put it, because you lose control, and it feels like you’re plummeting into the unknown. It’s scary. It’s also exhilarating . When you find this person, remember that while the feeling you have now is beautiful and euphoric, the feeling isn’t love. You’re falling into love, but you’re not there yet.
Our culture knows very little about love and even less about commitment and covenant. Don’t allow our culture to define love for you. Our culture gives up on love way too soon. It looks for love in the wrong places. It tries to make love an idol. Me and your mom have been married twelve years. I’m just scratching the surface of what it means to love her and to be loved by her. Love takes time, that’s all I’m trying to say. Be patient with love and with the person you choose to spend your life loving.
My sons, you are strong and brave. You will make mistakes, but never let your mistakes define you. Forgive those you hurt. Repent. Learn from your failures. Then continue down the road of life. Don’t forget to laugh. Life is full of joy. Don’t forget to cry either. Most of all, remember God. If your one and only desire in this life is know God, your life will have joy and peace and meaning. He is in all things and all people at all times, but you must have the eyes to see. I pray you have the eyes to see.
I love you,