Forgiving Fathers who Fail

by Peter Eng

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This Father’s Day, my family brought me to a new hipster joint called “Fette Sau” (pronounced “Fatty Sow”). We had a great time and there was nothing in our conversation about my failures.  But for entirely unrelated reasons, my thoughts this Father’s Day are about my failure as a father and failures of fathers in general.  Some fathers fail big-time, like abandoning the family.  But most fathers fail in less severe ways.  I kept thinking about the failures that result from the over-enthusiastic father.  Your father’s biased support for you, his protectiveness, his desire for your good, can cause him to behave badly.  His actions may embarrass you.  You may not approve of what he does.  But I like to urge all of us to remember that even when his actions are not right, they are done in your interest.

I noticed during the High School Concerts, overexcited parents launched from their seats to give a standing ovation for their kid.  They meant well, but I know I don’t want to be the kid of those loutish parents who give standing ovations to mediocre performance. I was guilty of such failures when it came to sports.  I was the overexcited dad who yelled instructions from the sideline — and to the credit of my longsuffering son, I was not told to pipe down.  Fathers can over engage, over discipline, over protect, etc.  It is easy for a father to get it wrong.

This is also true in the Christian community.  We have our spiritual fathers (or mothers).  They are the people who care for our spiritual welfare.  They love us, feed us, care for us, cry with us, laugh with us, and protect us.  It is the protection part that goes wrong sometimes.  I know that as a pastor, I am protective over the interests of those God placed in my charge. I treat them as my children according to the pattern found in the NT Church.  Paul treated the Thessalonians as a father treated his sons (1 Thess 2:11). Timothy served Paul as a son to his father (Phil 2:22); Timothy was Paul’s “true son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2); Paul repeatedly called Timothy his son (1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 1:2; 2:1). Paul called Titus “my true son” (Titus 1:4). He called the slave Onesimus his son (Phlm 1:10). The Apostle Peter called John Mark his son ( 1 Pet 5:13). The Apostle John consistently called his flock “my children” (1 John 2:1; 2:12, 13, 18, 28; etc. 3 John 1:4).

fathersdayFrom time to time, our spiritual fathers (and mothers) may do things wrongly when they try to protect our interest.  Like our parents in the flesh, they can go overboard.  I like to ask, “Why?” If a Christian leader does something wrong out of selfish motives, that is not spiritual parenting.  A pastor, or an elder may do things that are intended only to protect his own reputation.  There is no mitigating factor in that.  On the other hand, a Christian leader may get into an altercation with other folks because of competition for resources, and may even go overboard in doing so.  For example, we need to book a bus to bring us to our retreat and the bus company backs out at the last minute.  The elder then twists the arm of the bus company mercilessly to get them to honor their contract, and in the process, offends some church members.  What is happening here?  I believe it is a case of the elder being protective of his flock and going overboard. The wrong he did cannot change.  But the wrong was done because he lost sight of how things should be done in the interest of getting the thing done for the benefit of his children.

This Father’s Day, I am grateful for my children who look beyond my failures to see my motivation. I believe many children can forgive the failures of their father because they understand that even when my actions are wrong, the motivation is right.  I hope this is also the case in the Christian community.  There is a strange phenomenon we observe among Christians in our spiritual and earthly family. There are Christians who will forgive their leaders for any wrong, and there are Christians who will not forgive even the slightest wrong done with good intentions.

We have a perfect heavenly Father who gives us only good gifts (even though we may not feel it is good at that point in time).  But earthly fathers are imperfect. We see our fathers doing things in our interest through actions that are sometimes wrong.  Spiritual fathers also do things wrong–out of interest for their spiritual children.

This Father’s Day, I ask you to consider the gift of forgiveness.  Some wrongs are grave, done with selfish or evil motives. Some wrongs are no more than the excesses of an overprotective father.  Different wrongs require different remedies.  But in most healthy families, we readily forgive the over-zealous, over-protective father.  Will you forgive this Father’s Day?


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