By Jeff Goins, Editor
Continued from Searching for a Spiritual Father, Pt. 2
Like I said, there were other father figures, but I just can’t take the time to talk about all of them. One was a man named David. A little bit thin on the top of his head, with a slightly metro-sexual bent to him, and a great tenor voice, he and I were a weird match, but he poured some key life lessons into me.
The main conversation I won’t ever forget having with David was in Taiwan, when he took me and some other guys out for tea (because that’s what you do in Taiwan) and asked us if we had any questions for him. He explained that growing up, no one ever taught him how to be a man, and he wanted to break that cycle. We each asked whatever was on our mind. One asked if sex got worse or better after you got married, and he assured us that it only got better and that he was looking forward to returning home, because… well, never mind.
I asked if it was more important to travel around the world for Jesus or pursue the woman that I thought God had for me. He didn’t directly answer my question (which proved to me that it probably was from the Lord, since he’s always speaking in mysteries and parables), but he said that having a godly woman by your side in ministry is worth just about any sacrifice you could make.
On another occasion, he cried with me, which is always good for a man to do with another man. On top of that, we had a great prank war, which resulted in both of our wardrobes and his car stinking of fish. A month or so later, I pulled out a pair of black dress shoes for a wedding, only to find some freeze-dried Fishnacks (TM), lingering inside near the toe. He won the war.
I said goodbye to David. He gave me a hug and told me how proud he was of me, that I was an inspiration to him. He gave me one of those looks that makes you feel completely vulnerable and in touch with your touchy-feely side; yet, I knew it was safe. We said farewell, and I thanked him.
I moved home and spent the next month and a half helping my real dad start up a restaurant. Before we moved my mom and siblings down to Alabama from Illinois, we had about four weeks together of living in a lakeside cabin together where we would go out on the water in a canoe, play guitars, eat steaks, and just hang out. It wasn’t like Andy Griffith and his son going fishing or anything, but it was genuine and enjoyable, nonetheless. We connected deeper than we probably had ever done so before. It’s curious that this search for fatherhood ended with some quality time with my biological father, because I began to see him in a whole new light, not as some perfect robot with impossible standards, but rather as another human being who had issues and junk to deal with just like me. And it was a blessing to see him in that new light.
Moreover, I also got to see my dad succeed in one of his dreams of starting up a business, something he had always talked about but had never done. It as inspiring; it encouraged me to realize one of my own. So, I left Alabama, moved to Tennessee, and tried to see if I could pursue the love of my life (thanks to David’s advice) and somehow find my destiny. I guess that’s the greatest gift a father can give a son apart from telling him how proud he is of him – to send him off on his own journey towards manhood.
In all of this, I realized that I was still broken, that there were parts of me that were still afraid to ask, and other parts that still refused to believe that I could be great. I was in a new place, facing a new kind of brokenness amidst this challenge called “growing up” and encountering this unforgiving force called “the real world.” I’m not joking when I say that the transition from college life to reality was painful – it was almost jolting. I found myself once again wondering if my dreams were good and true or just another childhood memory. Is this what happened to all those middle-aged, disillusioned people that I had met who told me to enjoy life “while you still can’?”
There are a lot of people my age who have more questions than answers. I asked several men during my late teens for direction, and none of them, for one reason or another, really stuck with me. They were relationships that I had to maintain and were awkward at best. It’s always been about discipleship – the history of the family of God has been the story of the Father raising up sons and daughters who would stand and represent heaven on earth.
Abraham taught his sons, and they taught their offspring. Just like them, our own stories are a bit dysfunctional, full of frustrations and disappointments. But then again, what human relationship is free from that? They tried to manufacture God’s promises themselves, lied about their wives, sold off their daughters to perverts, sacrificed their children to demonic spirits, and so on… talk about a messed-up family! In the New Testament, we see Father God sending his Son in human form to redeem our dysfunction and to “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). In Christ, we become true children of God and enjoy the beauty of true family. And yet, I’m still on a journey of discovering more of what it means to really be a son. So, I keep pressing in.
I imagine Elijah being taken up into heaven by chariots and seeing eager, young Elisha staring up at this display of glory, expectantly. And then, his master’s cloak falls to the ground – a sign that Elisha has won his discipler’s favor and will inherit a double portion of his spirit. He goes on to do better miracles than his master all because he wasn’t afraid to ask.
I guess part of me is still watching the skies for those chariots, wondering if I’ll ever see a cloak floating down to me. I used to be afraid to ask and still am a little bit.
Someone always came along; someone always left. And I began to think that there was nothing inside of me worth investing. I’d ask questions or seek advice and excuse the man I was consulting before he could answer: “I understand if you’re too busy…”
I wasn’t surprised when I recently found out that another father figure wanted to disciple me. I knew that I had potential; I just didn’t know what to do with it, or if it would really amount to anything. I was surprised, however, when he stuck around. When our weekly meetings and phone calls didn’t wear out. When I became a priority, even amidst a rigorous weekly schedule, it was awesome. Maybe someone did believe that I had what it took – that I was worth the time and effort. I began to experience the excitement some ordinary fishermen must have felt when a rabbi came up to them and said, “Follow me.”
Of course, he’s not perfect, and I ought not to place him on a pedestal, but I don’t know of another way to pract
ice what we call “discipleship,” which is really a word for spiritual parenting, training up youngsters in the way that they should go. I often think that the first disciples were crazy, willing to lay down their lives, discounting the possibility that anything resembling that kind of radical faith still occurs today. But if you’ve ever been left on the sidelines, you know what it feels like when someone finally believes in you. You start believing in yourself. And you’ll do anything to keep that, including trying to walk on water.
This is the Great Commission.
Jeff graduated from Illinois College, a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits this silly little magazine, and loves to do new things. He just got married in January. Check out his blog: Pilgrimage of the Heart.