I, along with almost 50% of American children, grew up without a dad.
Don't get me wrong - I had a dad once. He was an incredible man. He was everything I knew a dad to be - big, football-player body, masculine yet charismatic, self-starting and motivated business man who loved Jesus with all his heart. I never thought anything could ever take him down - until cancer did its work in 2001.
I was 10 when he passed - just at the age of enough maturity to start asking serious questions... yet I found no answers. Entering some of the most pivotal ages of my young life without a father caused me to search for these answers in all the wrong places, and for 6 years, I lived as a hateful, rebellious, broken and deviant young boy.
Of course, after my father's death, his friends felt the awkward conviction (if you can call it that) of the burning question: "what part do I play in the life of these three, fatherless kids?" I heard claims all my life - "we'll be there..." but hardly ever saw follow through.
You can't blame them - we weren't their kids.
My mother was a powerhouse - never stayed in bed a day. She took care of us and loved us the best a mother fitting two roles could. But not having a male figure led to two major issues in my heart: I didn't know what a father was and I didn't know how to be a son.
And in the midst of all this confusion, the question still remained - who would father me?
THE FATHERLESS GENERATION
My story is one of millions in this generation who don't understand what it means to have a father or be fathered. As a youth pastor, I encountered more students without fathers than ever before - and most of the ones who DID have fathers weren't receiving the type of parenting they needed to be raised as young men and women of God. It's truly an epidemic - however, I didn't write this blog to talk about what fathers are doing wrong and how they need to fix the problem... instead...
I want to speak to those who are desperate to be fathered but don't know how to be sons/daughters.
The truth is that, as an un-fathered child, I picked up some unrealistic and unGodly ideas of what a father should do and who they should be. Being raised by a mother taught me how to receive comfort and communication, but the strong words and firm hands of a father were foreign to me.
When it finally came down to me receiving a spiritual father in my life (once I got to Bible School), I had to RE-LEARN what it meant to be fathered - or really, what it meant to be a son.
Here are a few things we as a generation need to know about spiritual fathers:
WILL YOU BE MY SPIRITUAL FATHER
1. FATHERS ARE FIRM
Many want a mentor when it comes to being FAVORED but hardly stick around when it comes to being FATHERED.
I was chatting with some friends the other day about the "parenting styles" we grew up with - around a table at Applebee's. Some spoke of "harsh words" and "time-outs." I never got time-outs... I got KNOCK-OUTS! One thing was for sure - you never messed with dad... he did NOT play around when it came to obedience and compliance. If we ever spoke back to him or disrespected mom, we knew the harsh-hand of justice was coming our way (aka - spanking).
Heres the thing - to those of you who didn't grow up with discipline this way, it may seem mean or abusive, but we never FEARED my dad in the sense of being scared enough to run away... however, we did RESPECT him enough to keep ourselves from disobeying him. The same hands that were firm with us were the same hands that held us and comforted us and loved us dearly. We never saw it as anything other than firm, strong love that kept us from doing wrong.
Fathers are FIRM. If you're looking for someone to only coddle you, you don't want a father - you want a shrink. To be fathered means to accept the fact that it might not always feel good to receive correction or discipline, but you must know that the same hands that are willing to DISCIPLINE you are actually DISCIPLING you. This brings comfort in knowing that your father is doing his job.
2. FATHERS GIVE FREEDOM
Remember the prodigal son? That spoiled brat demanded his inheritance and left his dad high and dry. Wouldn't a firm, father keep his son from making such a mistake?
One of my first spiritual fathers walked with me for two years through some serious mess. His patience and love for me was life-changing. But a time came when I felt I had "outgrown" his advice. So I decided to part ways and "do my own thing." What really frustrated me was that, during my time of wandering, he didn't seem to fight for me. A part of me wanted freedom and the other part of me wanted him to chase after me. Instead, he let me "be me" and about a year later, I couldn't take it anymore. I called him up sobbing - asking for his forgiveness. His response shocked me - it was as if nothing had ever happened. He took me in just like he did the first time.
Fathers are fighters but know when to let go.
The misconception of a good father is the idea of one who makes your choices for you and doesn't ever let you make mistakes - this is wrong. Too many prodigals think their fathers are problematic simply because they have allowed their sons to find out how much poverty comes from rebellion and isolation. A good father won't fix your problems for you - they will teach you how to steward freedom well while staying connected and submitted.
If you're frustrated with an "absent leader" in your life, check the last time you chased them down. They probably didn't go anywhere - but maybe you did.
3. FATHERS FIGHT, BUT DONT FORCE
Back to the prodigal - when he finally decided to come home, what happened? As soon as the father saw his son approaching, he became aggressive in his fight for his child.
Many fatherless Christians want someone to chase them down without first humbling themselves to pursue sonship.
Everyone wants a spiritual father. We all want to be "claimed" by someone. But the truth is that the unrealistic expectations we as orphans can place upon spiritual fathers can cripple them before they even get the chance to reach out.
"Well, they didn't call me enough..."
"He doesn't have enough time for me..."
"I don't feel valued by him..."
You sound like the prodigal's older brother.
Fathers will fight but they won't force themselves on you. You need to learn to humble yourself as a son or daughter to pursue fathers in your life. The truth that the older brother had to come to realize was that everything he desired was at his fingertips - he had it all and missed out on I because he wanted someone to coddle him into his calling.
I fear the problem is not just our lack of fathers but our lack of real SONS - sonship = submission.
How Can I Be A Son/Daughter
Here are some practical steps you can take to receive spiritual fathering in your life:
- Pursue someone - take someone out to coffee and/or set up a meeting with them. Many people have randomly approached me and asked me to "mentor" them without ever getting the chance to really get to know me or, even for me to really get to know them! Ask questions and take an interest in their life. Don't be creepy - just be normal.
- Pray about it - ask the Lord if this is the person He wants to use to lead you. Don't go by feelings or emotions - truly seek the spirit of God concerning your covering. You might think that TD Jakes needs to be your spiritual father when God has placed someone in your life that seems less "high-profile" yet has more time and is tailored to lead you well. Find the right person.
- Submit yourself - humble yourself and ask how you can learn or glean from them. Serve them. Find a way to become a son or daughter and commit to being in their lives. Care for their families and take interest in their businesses or ministries. Don't be a flake. If you really are serious about this relationship, stick with it.
- Stay consistent - chances are, this person is busy and has more people in their life that are considered sons and daughters. Don't give up because they didn't call you this week - shoot a text and continue to make yourself available. Don't get discouraged because they don't fulfill all your expectations in a few days - this stuff takes time. Be persistent.
- Toughen up - get some thicker skin. Remember, fathers are firm. BE HARD TO OFFEND. Don't be so sensitive when they tell you something that hurts - receive it and choose to grow from it. Don't be easily disappointed - no one wants to lead someone who is always "being let down." Have grace for your leader as they have grace for you. Don't run at the first sign of awkardness or difficulty.
- Be honest - communicate clearly what it is you are looking for from this person. They can't help you if you don't tell them what you're expecting. If you're wanting a call every week and they can't practically do that, you're going to get disappointed. Clearly communicate your expectations and work them out together. Help them, help you.
- Give back - don't just be a sponge that absorbs - learn how to have a 2-way relationship. How can you give back to this person? How can you serve them? How can you encourage them? Don't just receive - give.
- Start mentoring - the people who have the most complaints about their "mentors" are the ones who aren't doing any "mentoring" themselves. Reach out to someone and be to them what you need someone to be for you. This will put things in perspective for you - you will have a lot more grace for your mentor when someone else is counting on you.
Jared Ellis was called into ministry at the age of 16 years old, after being delivered out of a life of darkness, depression and depravity. He has traveled all over the world, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ and has worked with some of the leading churches in the nation such as Bethel Church and Elevation Church. He pastored in Abilene, Texas for 3 years and grew a youth ministry of 12 students to over 300 - signs, wonders and miracles happening each week. Jared is the author of "Unlocking Your Destiny: Keys To Accessing God's Master Plan For Your Life." He travels full-time as an evangelist and preaches at churches, conferences and events. He is also the GE Director at Christ For The Nations Institute where he teaches and trains Youth Pastors. While at home in Dallas, TX, he serves as a worship leader at Trinity Church.