It has taken a while to get to this point, free from the daily grind and free to be able to step back and discern my own world with enough clarity to write.
In 2005 I married a beautiful lady and immediately emigrated to the Middle East, and after three years there, on to New Zealand, moving again to a second city in two years.
One of the most profound consequences of relocating between countries, as I have done twice over the past 5 years, is the shallowing out of spiritual relationships – most profoundly of all, the loss of intimacy with spiritual fathers.
I have spent the majority of my spiritual walk in the company of great men who it has been my privilege to know intimately, and to have walk alongside me as I have grown. In fact in many cases, it has been their companionship and counsel that has enabled me to choose growth over self-preservation, to mine for a vein of resilience and strength in times of hardship. Submitting to their counsel, bending my will to their advice and choosing a more mature path has been my “salvation” – often from the folly of my own immaturity. Without fail, the testimony of their guidance has been that they have already walked the path I am on, already scraped their knees and blistered their feet discovering what is wise and good, and the fruit is there to be seen in their own lives.
To my shame, I have not always followed their counsel, and have not always stewarded well the wisdom they showed me. There have been lessons learnt and then unlearnt, hardships revisited in times of weakness that have undone me and at times, sadly hurt my family alongside me.
At times though, as well, a spiritual father has betrayed himself, and through that betrayal, others, including myself, have at times been hurt. Although this is sad and deeply regretful, fatherhood is not only a call to invincible men – it is a call to ALL men – all who once were sons, and now must become fathers in order to establish Gods order in their own lives. Perfection is not required, in fact it would be counterproductive, I believe, to proper parenting. Rising above flaws and rising above the hurt and disappointment of the failings of others, is part of what makes us mature and strong. Only God is perfect, and only God is a perfect Father. We are required to be good fathers, not perfect fathers, and part of our mantle as good fathers, is demonstrating grace towards others’ flaws, and indeed towards ourselves when we fail.
The spiritual lesson is sometimes hard to grasp, but the lessons of biological fatherhood are impossible to ignore. Once I was a son, now I am a father, laying foundations in the heart of my own son. And my son, unable to comprehend his own foundations yet, will one day become a father to his own son, on the foundations I am laying down today.
Now I find myself far from these fathers of mine, and far from my own biological father, who although he came to know the Lord many years after I did, possesses a God-given wisdom and insight into my heart. Now it is up to me to “father” myself in a way, and to stand and be counted before God completely as an individual. I cannot take refuge in “the church” and all its collective doings and thinkings – as I write this we have yet to call another community our home. I cannot take refuge in the counsel of others – it is me alone before God, making choices and determining my path and the path of my family.
So, to my fathers in the faith, and to my own father, thank you for roads walked together, for the strength and the safety of relationships where admitting failure is OK, where humility and gentleness are prized over macho denial and posturing. Thank you for value based choices, for coaching and counselling and partnering. Thank you for leaving space to fail – and succeed – on my own, and for being there shouting encouragement and showing the way by example. Thank you for teaching me that we never walk alone. We are not built for it.