by Brian Phipps
I have three incredible “almost-grown” kids. My daughter just started a new business and is dating a fine young man. My older son is thriving in the honors program of an excellent Christian college. My younger son is ranked eighteenth academically in his high school class and is a rock-solid linebacker on the football team.
I am one among many men who will attest that the real credit for our good kids goes to God and our wives. My kids got the best mom ever. There are definitely some things I got right as a father, but most often my memory recalls the times I blew it as a dad.
One of those times was two years ago when we were driving our older son to college. My wife was riding in his car with him, and I was alone in our car. Before I had driven even ten minutes, I was weeping with regret. All I could think about were the opportunities I missed and the times I had failed. I cried for at least thirty minutes, and it wasn’t just a small-tear-down-the-cheek cry … it was a full-blown snot cry.
If I could go back and have a chat with thirty-year-old me, I would challenge that young man to focus the majority of his fathering efforts on teaching his kids two things … and modeling one thing along the way.
Before sharing those things, you should probably know that I believe Jesus was the master in the art of living. I believe the bible provides Jesus’ master class on how to live our best lives. Jesus is attributed for saying these powerful words: “I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” *
For me, developing this “fully alive life” through Jesus is the highest goal I have for my kids. I realize you may not share my views about Jesus, but I hope you will find these few excerpts from His curriculum very helpful and inspiring.
I Would Teach Them to Bear Spiritual Fruit
In the Bible, Galatians chapter 5 provides the ultimate set of character traits a person can develop. These traits are “loving, joyful, at peace, patient, kind, gentle, good and self-controlled.” The Bible calls these the “fruit of the Spirit,” which means “this is what happens to you as you partner with Jesus to become more like Him.” I like being around people that have those traits. I am easier to be around when I exhibit those traits!
I would tell thirty-year-old me to reference that list as often as possible. I would tell him to celebrate any and every occasion when a family member demonstrated one of those qualities. I would encourage him to never provide correction to his kids without sharing how one of these optimal life characteristics would have been a better choice for them than the behavior they chose.
Focusing on the development of spiritual fruit like this would help them become the best people they can be, which would help them enjoy life to the full.
I Would Teach Them to Optimize Their Spiritual Gifts
The New Testament also includes multiple lists of abilities God gives to His people. Every follower of Jesus has at least one, and it is our privilege to use those gifts to make the world a better place.
Like most people, I long to live a life of significance. I want to leave a strong legacy of life and faith. I believe my kids will have a similar desire, and I believe that significance comes from experiencing God working through me to accomplish His purposes and to serve others. Spiritual gifts are one of the primary ways God does that work.
The thirty-year-old me did a decent job of looking for and pointing out those gifts in his kids. For example, when my daughter was about eight years old, she would regularly invite the neighborhood kids over and line them up to play school. She was a natural leader, so I had a conversation with her one evening about the spiritual gift of leadership. I showed her a few verses in the Bible about how it is a gift from God that she can use to serve others. It isn’t surprising that she provides strong leadership in most everything she does now.
Thirty-year-old me also noticed that my older son regularly befriended kids that weren’t yet fitting in with the bigger group he was part of. I had a similar conversation with him about his gifts of compassion and serving. He is now studying psychology to help people.
If I could go back in time, I would tell thirty-year-old me to do much more than point out those gifts. I would tell that young father to help his kids understand how significant those gifts are, and to help his kids develop those gifts through intentional use and goal setting. I would encourage him to set aside an hour or so every month to review how the kids have used and built on those gifts, and to set goals for how they can use them in the coming weeks. I would also encourage that dad to invite his kids to comment on the gifts they see in him!
Focusing on optimizing spiritual gifts would make them the most helpful and significant people they can be.
I Would Model the “I See in You” Conversation More Than I Did
You may have heard the maxim, “What gets celebrated gets done.” It’s certainly true when we point out how Jesus is showing up in and through a person. Nothing inspires spiritual formation in a person more than having someone they respect pointing out something beautiful or meaningful in them. The “I See in You” conversation is a simple way to do that for your children time and time again.
You have probably already made the connection that I have been giving examples of the “I see in you” conversation in the above sections. I described “seeing” spiritual fruit in my family and pointing it out. I shared two stories of “seeing” spiritual gifts in my kids and pointing them out. That is the essence of an “I See in You Conversation.”
It was easy for me to see and correct unhelpful behavior in my kids. I wish I would have been as quick to see and encourage the good.
How Would Life Be Different at Fifty?
I can’t go back and talk to thirty-year-old me, but I can speak up to those who are just entering into the fathering world. My message to young fathers is this: “Even a great ‘kid-resume’ will not protect you from a big drawer full of regret for those ‘fathering-gone-bad’ moments. But focusing how you raise your kids on spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts will help you minimize those failures and give the good memories a better place to stick.”
Brian is the founder of Disciples Made, a ministry that provides disciple-making tools and coaching that foster disciple-making movements. He is also experienced as a pastor and church planter, including nine years as Next Steps (Disciple-Making) pastor at Westside Family Church in Kansas City, KS. Brian and his wife Carol were married in 1994 and have three children, Hannah, Sam, and Caleb.
* John 10:10, New English Translation