Modern people usually seek individuality through the severance of restraints and commitments. I've got to be me. I must be true to myself. The more we can be free of parents, children, spouses, duties, the more free we will be to 'be ourselves,' to go with the flow, to lay hold of new and exciting possibilities. So goes the conventional argument.
Yet what if our true selves are made from the materials of our communal life? Where is there some 'self' which has not been communally created. By cutting back our attachments and commitments, the self shrinks rather than grows. So an important gift the church gives us is a far richer range of options, commitments, duties, and troubles than we would have if left to our own devices.
Without Jesus, Peter might have been a good fisherman, perhaps even a very good one. But he would never have gotten anywhere, would never have learned what a coward he really was, what a confused, then confessing, courageous person he was, even a good preacher (Acts 2) when he needed to be. Peter stands out as a true individual, or better, a true character, not because he had become 'free' or 'his own,' but because he had become attached to the Messiah and messianic community, which enabled him to lay hold of his life, to make so much more of his life than if he had been left to his own devices.
~ Stanley Hauerwas, William H. Willimon,
Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony
(Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1989), p. 64,65
Last weekend at my daughter’s request, our family watched the independent Christian film, Courageous. It’s about a group of men, most of whom are police officers, who agree to take their roles as husbands and fathers seriously. They have seen and experienced the many problems caused when men neglect their families, either by physical abandonment or by emotional withdrawal. At a turning point after a tragedy in the family, the main character he says, “I don’t want to coast as a father anymore. I didn’t start well. I want to finish well.”
I’m a husband and a father of four kids, and I identify with the failings of these men from the movie. We are continuing a series this semester here in chapel on the idea, “If there were one thing that I could change…” and this is what I would change: I would be as intentional with my family as I am in my professional life. In my professional life, I plan ahead, setting priorities and securing financial resources for them and releasing people who can lead in those priorities; I daily listen to teammates and students and intercede for them, counsel and coach them in their ministries; I evaluate weekly with my team of staff and provide equipping and resources for them; I spend hours trying to clearly communicate God’s story of redemption and challenge others to find their part in that story. I’m intentional. When I get home, too often, I miss the opportunity eating over dinner or chaeuffering kids to extracurricular activities to attend to how my family is doing—to probe with questions or to relay a memory from my day. Too often I rush through the bedtime routine of brushing the teeth of my younger two children, maybe reading a book to them and tucking them into bed in order to veg out in front of the TV. Too often on the weekends, I consider my own needs for leisure or home improvement needs, rather than playing Legos with Ethan or showing curiosity about Michelle’s week.
As a Christian I do believe that God forgives me for this self-centeredness and poor stewardship. This helps. It’s hard to strive towards what God has called one to when weighed down by guilt and shame. And I have some resolutions that, by God’s grace, I will stick to:
• Keep the TV off on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on those lay down in bed with one of the kids to ask about their day and to pray
• Get the kids fed and ready for school, and drive them to school Mondays and Wednesdays
• Take Michelle out to lunch once per week for a date and have another meeting to plan towards the goals and vision we have for our family,
• Each week, plan a date with one of the kids, doing something they like to do
But another means of God’s grace that I need to tap into was shown in the movie: community. By sharing these failings with a small group of men from my church and my resolutions, I hope to find the encouragement, inspiration, and accountability to keep changing as a husband and father—faithfully living out these roles God has called me to.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
~ Hebrews 10:24-25