Originally published Oct. 26, 2016
Being a parent is humbling. I remember when my wife Keonna was pregnant with our first son King. I couldn’t wait to be a dad. His birth was one of the greatest days of my life. It took more than 28 hours for Kee to deliver this 9 pound, 10 ounce behemoth. When all of our family and friends went home my courageous and exhausted wife was finally able to sleep.
At 2 a.m. I sat in an empty hospital room with my son all bundled up, looking out the window over the Seattle skyline. Fireworks from the Fourth of July still shot gloriously into the sky as if celebrating the arrival of our son. As I held him I smiled over him and whispered promises in his ear – that I would always love him, always protect him and be there for him the rest of his life.
“We are going to be best friends and I’m going to teach you everything about being a good man.”
Sitting in that dark room 20 years ago, looking down at the face of my son, I was determined to be the perfect dad. It’s humbling being a parent.
We now have four boys. My oldest, King, is a junior at the University of Washington and recently moved out to live closer to school. I love each of my sons with all my heart and I’m so proud to be their dad. I hope I’ve been a good dad; however as they get older I am more and more aware of how far I missed my goal of being a perfect dad. If I could do it all over again I’d do some things differently. I’d listen more when they were upset or angry so they knew I understood and cared about their hearts. After their soccer games or when looking at their report cards I wouldn’t focus on the things they could do better. I would never let my face make them feel dumb, inadequate or uncomfortable in my presence.
My sons never wanted to disappoint me, but I’d rather they knew that they never could.
I’d speak gracious words over my boys consistently and make sure they never missed my heart. I’d have fewer rules and expectations that sometimes strained our relationship and made them feel they weren’t measuring up. Sometimes enforcing all of the rules not only strained our relationship but at times it became our relationship. What a waste of precious time.
For years I think I totally missed God’s heart. I thought Christianity boiled down to rules and being good. I thought it was about me trying not to disappoint God…again. I could never really measure up. I often felt unworthy to pray or even come to church. I tried to be good but it seemed like I was set up for failure. I was sure I was the worst Christian of all and a total disappointment to God. I just imagined God’s face looking at me a lot like the face my sons saw when they scratched the car with their bicycles or got in trouble at school – ”What’s the matter with you, boy?”
I was totally missing his heart. Our relationship was lacking. It was more about a bunch of rules and expectations that I couldn’t seem to meet. I felt like my failure to meet God’s expectations was the cap on how much he could love me.
But God relentlessly pursued me and started to reveal his heart to me. He told me I could never disappoint him. His love covers even my worst faults and sins. I am worthy to be in his presence because I am his son and his blood has washed away my guilt and shame. His face smiles upon me like mine over my newborn son as we sat watching the fireworks. We are best friends and I want to be around him all the time. His presence is the one place I know I am good enough. His words are consistently gracious and kind, speaking purpose and a future over my life. He is teaching me to be a good man because my identity is found in the words he speaks over me. I know God’s heart and it’s glorious. How could I have ever missed it!
I’ll never be the perfect dad but the more God’s heart is revealed to me the more I am able to love my sons as he loves me. I haven’t done everything right but I have taught my sons to know a God of grace and unrelenting love. It’s humbling knowing I’m not the perfect father but it makes me so happy to know my sons already have one.
Heath Rainwater is lead pastor at Grace Point NW Church.