Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (NIV)
With Father’s Day coming up this weekend, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a father and what my responsibilities are to fatherhood. As we should, we talk a lot in this society about mothers and about how important they are to a child. We know how a mother nurtures and guides, and we honor that. But fathers have their place as well, and we’ve all seen what happens to a family when they aren’t doing their jobs.
Now, every family is a little different. Some fathers make a point of getting to every baseball and softball game and some just make the time to watch Disney movies. Some are the disciplinarians and some invite their children to see them as a mentor and a counselor. Most, in fact, make a mix of all these qualities. And all that is fine, all that can work. But one thing a father has to do is to teach his children how to let go.
Last summer, I saw my daughter, Houston, off to college. You can imagine how difficult that moment was: that last embrace before driving away, that last look in the rearview mirror at her new home where I couldn’t be there every day to protect her, to watch over her. We’re a close family, and taking those steps back to the car were harder than I can describe. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life, but I knew I had to do it, and I knew I had to show her both how difficult it was and how important it was I do it.
I was helped, I have to admit, by knowing just what it means to have a little freedom. When my parents let me leave the nest for college, when they taught me how to let go, I was able to find the personal space to accept God into my life in a way that changed everything. It was on my own in college that I received my call. I wasn’t looking for it, I wasn’t begging God to speak to me, to pull me in. I had to have a little space and I had to find myself before God could get me to truly notice Him. If I had stayed at home, stuck to the shallows of home life with my parents always watching over me, how long before I would have had the space on my own to listen for the Lord?
Now, I don’t expect my daughter to necessarily get that call, but I do know that she needs the room to see for herself where God wants her to go in life. We all know the verse from John written above: “the truth will set you free.” We also know just how true it is. Knowing God’s truth has made us all free.
But one side of this equation that we don’t often think about is how important it is to be free in order to find truth. God gave us free will for a reason, so we could freely choose Him. Under the roof of parents who raise children to love God, that choice is only so free. There’s the pressure of family and the pressure of the church and community. Everybody is telling this child to come to God, to love God, and they may do it, but they haven’t chosen to do it. We can probably all remember being young and just accepting what our elders told us.
To truly know God, we have to come to Him from our own way, down the path we chose freely. Even the disciples were no different. That’s why we have so many stories of their different calls. They needed to experience Christ on their own, seeing Him from their own unique lives, and making the free choice to see the truth.
Unfortunately for us fathers out there, that means we’ve got to let our little girls and our little boys out of our sight sometimes—we’ve got to let them experience freedom like we did—so that their commitment to God is genuine and theirs alone.
As fathers, we work hard to build up strong children with morality, faith, and decency in their hearts. We try to show them what it is to be strong and committed to God. And one of the most important ways we do that is by having the strength to let them go.
That way, when they come back to God and they come back to us, we know their love is genuine, and we can rejoice all the more in the beautiful people we have helped create.
Please also remember that in times of tragedy when we are trying to make sense of violence or heartbreak, humanity and prayer should be at the forefront of our minds.