A Father Speaks Up
By Joel Bates
Real life with God…do we pursue it, thrive in it, or fake it? Sometimes, we are unaware of what that life could be. Take Stan for instance. He and his son participated in a recent father/son adventure retreat that I led. On the first day, Stan had responded willingly but with skepticism to the series of group initiatives we had created for his group. The next day, he was more eager to align with his son’s enthusiasm for the cave as we crawled through muddy corridors and explored all the secret passages. By day three, Stan was ready for a turning point.
Standing at the base of the climb site, my fellow instructors and I extended the challenge for every father and son to attempt a climb and a rappel. Stan and his son stood at the back watching and offering an occasional encouraging word to the other climbers. We instructors could see the hesitation in their body language, so we did what we always do. We invited them to climb. Stan nudged his son, “You first.” With obvious doubt, the son hesitated and looked to his father. “I’ll be right behind you,” Stan promised. The young teen reluctantly stepped to the base of the climb. In no time, he was straining with all his might to haul himself up the rock. Stan watched and offered support to his son, mimicking the instructor’s words to give the appearance of knowing more about the advice he was giving than he truly did. His enthusiasm and impetus escalated with every foot of progress his son was gaining. Before long, Stan’s son was at the top leaning into the rope for the easy decent back down.
It was Stan’s turn now, and he was trying to think up any excuse to get out of it. However, his son was glowing over his achievement. The instructor prompted, “Time to back up your talk.” Stan paused, gave the instructor a hard look and then stared for a long moment at the rock face. “It was easier to pretend,” he said without taking his eyes off the vertical slab. Reality lay before him as he lifted a foot and stepped off the safe flat ground. With his son looking on Stan began to climb and didn’t stop until he made it to the top.
Later we circled up for a short discussion about the activity, and I asked what lessons the day’s climbing had taught these fathers and sons. Most shared poignant thoughts related to facing fears and exercising trust, and then Stan raised his hand. “I need to say something,” he said softly. He paused as he worked out the words. “I signed up for this because I thought my son needed it. I thought it would be good for him,” he choked with emotion. “But today I’ve realized that I’m getting so much out of this experience. I needed this for my faith,” he said. “I can’t keep pretending. It has to be real.” I was amazed at his powerful awakening.
I realize how susceptible I am to thinking that everything I do in ministry is for someone else, and I can begin to feel that my faith isn’t real. But when I become like Stan and let the ministry I do for others be a ministry for my own soul, my faith takes on new life. Instead of simply handing out words of insight and challenge, I can minister from an overflow of living a real life in Christ. I can minister from a heart whose first love is Christ.
Like Stan, I live more real when I realize I can’t do it on my own, that I don’t have all the answers, and when I’m willing to be vulnerable with my weaknesses. These attributes are what brought Stan to a more real relationship with the Living God.
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