“This is like my family,” the little boy in my after-school reading group said, looking up from the book. “My parents are divorced, and I don’t see my dad anymore.”
Another boy nodded. “It’s like mine too.”
Two others said their homes were like that too, and my heart broke as I realized that four out of my five boys didn’t have their biological father present in their lives. Two or three had no fatherly presence at all.
I was blessed by a father who prioritized being there. He worked hard and was busy, but he was there for all the important things. He came to every soccer, volleyball, and basketball game. He played school, picnic, doctor, tornado, and library in numerous games of “pretend” with me. He told me I was pretty and said he would love me no matter what. He showed my sister and I how we should expect to be treated and my brothers how to treat a woman through how he treated my mom.
Last summer, I had some really weird dreams. (Yes, I realize that’s a strange transition. Stay with me—it will make sense in a minute.) Like, really weird. Among the things that made them weird were an abundance of vicious wild animals like bears, alligators, tusked boars, boa constrictors, and dragons, as well as strange scary villains who were after me or someone I loved. Thinking back on them brings to mind the Dark Island from Voyage of the Dawn Treader—an island where every sailor’s worst fear came to life in vivid, terrifying detail. That’s the kind of dreams these were.
Even so, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it (I’ve always had vivid dreams—I think it runs in the family), but I had started writing down most of my dreams several months before that. Because I had them written down, I started noticing some patterns—like the fact that the person being injured or threatened in the dream was almost always a man.
My dad, clawed at by a tiger.
My brother, shot at by terrorists.
Other young men I knew, manipulated, overwhelmed by darkness, killed at war.
In many of the dreams I held or protected a small child. In a particularly odd one, a mining accident killed several men, and a little girl wandered around afterward, worriedly calling out, “Daddies? Daddies?”
It felt like God was opening my eyes to the warfare against fathers, and perhaps especially against today’s young men who are called to be fathers of the next generation. The idea made sense to me—it matched up with stories I’d heard through countless studies, books, friends, and family.
Take this opinion with a grain of salt because it’s a fairly uneducated one, but it seems to me our culture has produced plenty of Luke Skywalkers and very few Obi Wan Kenobis, a few Frodos but hardly any Gandalfs, many boys eager to join the Dead Poets Society but nary a John Keating to guide them (sorry, my inner nerd is coming out).
Since having those dreams, God has laid a new burden of prayer for fathers on my heart. I haven’t always been faithful to follow through on that burden, but God is gracious to bring little reminders of it to me all the time.
For example, lately I’ve loved watching the new TV show This is Us. Sure, it has its cheesy moments, and the writers probably try a little too hard to surprise their audience every single week. But I love that it has fathers and fatherly characters who aren’t there just for viewers to laugh at and make fun of. The fathers in this show love their wives and protect their children. They make mistakes like all of us do, but they’re strong enough to apologize and make amends.
A lot of the episodes are tearjerkers, but none of them quite got to me like this scene from episode 9 when Jack promises to be Randall’s foundation to carry him through life, to raise him to a strong man, to push him to be the best man he can be.
As I read the comments on this Youtube video, I realized that this particular scene was actually inspired by the Cave of Adullam, a training academy for young men in Detroit, Michigan. (This one’s a little longer, but it’s worth the watch.)
The image portrayed in both of these videos is such a beautiful picture of the kind of Father God is to us. He is there when our earthly fathers fail us; He holds us safe above the storm on His strong back; and He will never stop being there for us, never stop being our strong foundation.
This is my prayer for our churches, for our families: that God will raise up fathers like this—both strong and kind earthly fathers and men who are brave enough to come alongside those who don’t have the presence of an earthly father in their lives.
I pray that He will bring Elijahs for our Elishas; Nathans for our Davids; Barnabases for our Pauls.
That He will provide strong backs, kind mouths, and brave hearts for the men who will mentor the next generation.
That He will teach women how to overcome the lies and warfare we ourselves are facing in order to be kind, consistent encouragers for the men in our lives.
That He will bring grace and redemption into all relationships—past, present, and future.
The wonderful thing is, I know without a doubt this is a prayer close to His heart, one He is happy to answer. For He is a Father to the fatherless, Husband to the bride of Christ, and the Creator who makes all things new.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”