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Cultivating Fatherhood – Stay Plugged In

April 18, 2024

Adam R. Nettesheim

Cultivating Fatherhood will be space made for the dads among us who love their kids and yet know that the adventure of parenting, with all its joys and beauty, can also be a perilous one. Make no mistake, showing up for your kids is beautiful, rewarding, hard, holy, brave work. My efforts are here intended to provide encouragement and understanding that equips us for our responsibility to the amazing beings who call us “dad.”

“At this time, we do not have an expected timetable for a restoration of service. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

This is what the friendly automated lady told me when I called the power company after returning home Saturday to a house with no electricity. We had driven an hour through slushy snow to get home from a full day of kids’ basketball games, and the last thing in the world we wanted to do was to deal with a cities-wide power outage. But as we couldn’t save ourselves from our present reality, we had to make the best of things while we waited for “deliverance.” We ate cold roast chicken, wrapped up in warm blankets, and played “Clue” by candlelight. (My son beat me. I don’t want to talk about it.)

As we began thinking about bedtime, we realized that if the fine folks at the power company didn’t get the lights back on soon, we were in for some challenges. What we hadn’t realized before now was how dependent on electricity we had become for our nocturnal comfort and care.

For example, and let’s get this out of the way: I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m not! I’m just . . . apprehensive about not being able to see things. (How’s that?) The kids also are afr—are “apprehensive” about the dark, so we had to figure out what non-candle, battery-powered options we had for illumination. (Non-candle because I fear burning to death in my sleep more than the dark a candle flame might save me from. We also benefited from a battery-powered light in the bathroom, as a lack of illumination there can prove disastrous.)

We had to go without a handful of other niceties, like our sleepy time “soothing noise makers,” and we wouldn’t be able to use our smartphone chargers. I wondered what I would do if I couldn’t have my smartphone. (Then I noticed I kept thinking about my smartphone and then I wondered if I had an unhealthy relationship with my smartphone. Then I didn’t like the bad feelings that came up about potential smartphone addiction, so you know what I used to help me numb those bad feelings? My smartphone.)

As the kids were tucked into their beds, they told me their worries, and though I was verbally sympathetic, my mind considered their sleep concerns “small matters” (having no self-awareness about how much time I had just spent worrying about my dying smartphone). A verse popped into my head (that I admittedly had to Google on the aforementioned dying smartphone to find the exact reference) and I had the kids look up Philippians 4:11-13 in their Bibles.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (NIV).

“You see, kids,” I sermonized. “When our ultimate hope is in Jesus, we can be content because whether we have full bellies or empty bellies, whether the power comes on or not, we can have peace because Jesus is always with us.”

Seeing that the passage did them some good, I told them goodnight and rode my high horse out of their room, feeling like I had done my Dadly Duty well this evening. Then I went right back to worrying about my smartphone.

It’s weird to have so many things we rely on just stop working because of some far-away issue. It’s like in movies where a bunch of invading robots are about to destroy the good guys, but then a different good guy blows up “the mother-ship,” and all the invading robots grind to a halt and everyone is happy. But this is the opposite of that because we were not happy when our “helpful robots” all stopped working. I could push the power button on any given machine and it wouldn’t do anything because it was dependent on being connected to an external source of power. But if I am not conscious of that, and if the power doesn’t occasionally shut off to remind me of that, I can become so shortsighted, so enamored with the “appliances” or manifestations of that “power” that I can confuse them for the ultimate “source” of power. In the end, these “machines” can do nothing if they are not receiving their “life” from “the source.” Or as Paul said about us in Acts 17:28, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being’” (NIV).

I can easily confuse “the created” and “The Creator.” To become so fixated on a manifestation of “love” that I forget about the “Maker of Love.” When I don’t follow the “cord” back far enough, when I stop at something that is powered by “the Higher Power” and instead focus our devotion on that one temporary thing, I might have a “crisis of faith” when that “machine” inevitably fails.

This can even come into play when we over-identify with our own abilities, as Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians. He listed out all his accomplishments, making the case that if anyone had reason to brag or to think pretty highly of themselves, it was Paul. Yet God saw fit to help him remember that his value and his usefulness to God did not ultimately come from his resume.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV).

Paul can be “content in all circumstances,” even in his own weaknesses, because his power doesn’t really come from him. Our power doesn’t come from inside us, and it doesn’t come from our stuff. Our power comes from “the Source.”

God’s moratorium on idol worship was not just because He is a jealous God, but because He knows that one day all idols will fail us. Even the gifts that He gives us can become idols if they consume our focus, rather than leading our gratitude back to the Giver of the gift. As the late Tim Keller once said, “Idols are not usually bad things but good things turned into ultimate things—things that constitute our most fundamental significance and security and so function as ‘gods’ in our lives.”

Sometimes having “the power turned off” can be a gift of grace, because we need to remember where the power comes from in the first place.

Our electricity did eventually turn back on around midnight, after we, in our various ways, made peace with doing without. It wasn’t a perfect night of sleep, and I was sure grateful when my groggy eyes opened to see the lamp next to my bed back on, but I do believe we were made better by that temporary “thorn in the flesh.” We benefited from taking stock of how much we depended on things that are, in an ultimate sense, not eternally dependable. As fathers, we do well to examine this as it pertains to our parenting too.

My job as a dad is not to be a good dad for my own legacy’s sake. It’s also not just about preparing my children to be successful in life. I will fail and falter, and one day I will be gone. My children will experience their own lives of fragility – maybe they’ll lose a job, loved ones will pass, friends will betray them, communities will rupture, even their own bodies and minds will one day let them down. If they believe their ultimate power comes from these things, then that power will be lost with them.

When we put our faith in idols, we will have a ‘crisis of faith’ when they inevitably fall. But as a father, if I can help teach my children that the ultimate source of their power comes from something beyond the frailties and failures of mortal life, then they, like the Apostle Paul, will truly learn how to “be content in all circumstances” because God’s grace is sufficient.

(. . . Now where did I put my smartphone?)

The featured image is courtesy of Sam Keyes and is used with his kind permission for Cultivating.


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