September is here marking the beginning of a favorite season for many. No, that best of all seasons is not fall . . . it’s football. The shorter crisp days, changing colors on the trees, and the start of a new school year signals Autumn for some and the gridiron for others. And I think those others may now include my eight-year-old sons, no doubt influenced by their Dad’s excitement and antics during critical moments of a college or NFL game. A couple weeks ago we all sat watching a preseason game looking forward to when the real competition would begin. It was then that my boys came up with a dead serious question that was at the same time preposterous and profound. Knowing I played high school football one of them looked at the stadium on the screen and then questioned me asking, “Hey dad, is that where you used to play?” After narrowly avoiding choking to death on my snack I managed to keep a reasonable expression and explain that no, that was not where high school football is played.
“Yeah, but you could have played there, right?”
“No, I didn’t even play in college, not even small college, it was just a fun sport for me as a teenager in high school.”
“Are you sure? I think you could play with those guys right now dad. You’re really good at catching the ball when I throw it to you.”
Ah, the mind of a child, to think that the only thing separating dad from playing NFL football is transportation to the stadium. To their surprise and disbelief I let them in on the secret that at over 40 years old (I don’t want to hear it Tom Brady!), standing five-foot nothing, weighing one-hundred nothing, with slow speed, and little strength, I was about as close to playing professional football as I was to winning a heavy weight boxing title, being elected president, or being the next person to land on the moon.
The longer I talked the more disappointed they became as their grinning little faces turned slowly to bewilderment and their shoulders slumped just enough that I knew they understood. Unknown to them but very real to me was the fact that this scene would replay itself many times in the coming years as they slowly discovered that dad is not the strongest arm wrestler in the world, nor the smartest person they know, nor the best at, well . . . anything I guess. With each passing month and year, the pedestal that they have put me on will be cut down shorter and shorter as I fail to meet their childhood expectations of a hero dad. One day that pedestal will be completely destroyed and we will stand looking at each other eye-to-eye, what then will I have to offer them?
Now for the profound part. Our silly conversation inspired me to think about who I really am as a father. Whether I like it or not, these boys are looking up to me. I am their primary reference point for what it means to be a man. My first thought was that I am a fraud, not that I am purposely deceiving my children but that the reality of who I am is different than what they currently see. I am no hero. My second thought was a desire to have something genuine for them to look up to, something that would be left intact after all the false superhero layers are peeled away. What can I pass on to my boys that is greater than athletic ability, physical strength, intellectual accomplishment, or material wealth?
When everything else fades away, what do I want my legacy to be? What about strength that goes beyond the physical to the spiritual realm? What about a steadfast heart that bears up under any trial? How about a faith that never wavers? Should these be attributes to model for my children? Am I even capable of modeling them?
2 Corinthians 12:10 says,
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Rather than attempting to display my own feeble strength to my sons and likely failing in the process, my hope is to display the contentedness of relying entirely on Christ and His great strength to work in me and through me. May they see less of my strength and more of His strength as they get to know the real me.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
When the time comes, may they see me suffer with joy and endurance that produces both character and hope, and may that hope be completely assured, not leading to shame and never in doubt that God’s love has been poured out for me and for them.
Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
More than appearance or ability, may a heart for God stand out in my life. Through my shortcomings, failures, and mistakes, my prayer is that a God oriented heart would be found in me and that it would be more visible to my boys than any physical attribute.
I cannot be many of the things my kids think I am, including an NFL player. But I pray that by the grace of God and the power of Christ who lives in me I might be something even greater. An arrow that points to the Creator. A mentor to lead them to Christ. An example to live in dependence on God. These are the lasting things. These are the real things. After the facade is stripped away, may Christ in me be the only thing left and may my boys follow in giving their lives completely to Him!