When you get to a new place and you don’t know where you’re headed, when everything is filled with uncertainty–your relationships feel dubious, your future filled with conflict or loneliness–this is the most perfect place that we can find Father, where we can discover the quality of fatherliness our lives have. Most of us would be hard-pressed to say, I’m filled with a sense of fatherliness. We either crowd our lives with activity or relationships to amend the sense of insecurity, or we succumb to despair or depression or some kind of passive state of dealing with things. They are flip sides of the same coin, ways of controlling our circumstances, whether by not engaging with them or by manipulating them.
Father lives in these places. He is the one who speaks into the void and says, Let there be light. But only after He has hovered above that void, considering, watching and most of all, being excited in what He is about to do. The moments offstage, the anticipation before the dance begins, is one of the most thrilling of all His creative acts. We are not very comfortable joining Him in this place, because we spend so much of it in anxiety rather than in wonder. We think it is an ambiguous place, but far from it: it is part of His intentional act of creativity.
I’m not speaking of the wilderness–although the wilderness has an offstage quality to it–but of the transition spaces in which He begins to get inspired about the new creation He is about to do. Too often we interpret those places as wilderness because we feel so alone. We are hard-pressed to know His presence in them. But where is he to be found? Not in the thunder or the lightning, but very very close, imagining, wondering,… thinking and whispering. It is a place of great mystery.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
It is in the very places of anxiety that we are most supposed to know Father. These places are not there just so that we cry out to HIm; they are there so that we will experience Him, and we experience our own presence as favorite sons and daughters.
The quality of fatherliness is so poor in my generation. When I say fatherliness, I mean all the things that relationship with a Father means. It means a sense of security, a feeling of uniqueness, trust in authority and masculinity. It also impacts how we carry on fatherliness to the world: confidence to carve out our own dreams, stake our territory, care for others. Our creative willpower to say, “Let there be light!” with confidence and without fear of conflict, comes from a deep sense of fatherliness.
But for so many who never got this blessing, an earthly father who made us feel secure and inspired us to carry on into the world, we greet our lives with a great sense of anxiety. We get to the door of obstacles and unknowns and we either yield or bang on it with childishness. We had no one that said to us, “You’re mine!” so we do not know who we belong to.
I’ve for some time been thinking about the serious problems that come with a lot of the contemporary popularity of “child-led” education. In one local secondary school near me, teachers are not allowed to correct or discipline students even if they are misbehaving. They are simply to observe and then give students room to express their feelings. Something in this feels strangely fearful to me. I find that increasingly we are afraid of telling children how to live because we feel they have not been listened to enough; when it is, in fact, WE who are afraid and have not been listened to enough.
A mother and friend of mine recently shared with me that it scares children when they are given that much power to make decisions. They learn that their misbehaving or emotional outbursts earn them control and authority but deep down it scares them to have that kind of premature authority. This made so much sense to me, as I searched my own childhood and realized how anxious I was most of the time, how little direction, advice and correction I had from a dad, and in that place I tried to make it up on my own.
The world became a place in which I feared the next, feared the unknowns. I struggled with serious depression for about five years. I had so little quality of fatherliness. I was afraid of discipline, too, although deep down inside I was my own worst critic. We are meant to know His discipline because it brings us freedom and confidence–we only know ourselves truly when we are inside Him, His boundaries of Himself. We don’t know who we are outside of them–the world out there is too ambiguous. And so to make sense of it we often impose the harshest expectations on ourselves. The world outside of His dwelling is filled with a spirit of fear because creation is chaotic when it tries to live outside of Him. Thus children model this when they are given power to educate and discipline themselves.
The spirit by which I cry out Abba, Father, is my true self, who was reborn as a child of Abba. My ‘spirit of daughtership’ knows I am a child and I become relaxed in my place in the world. In this spirit we feel challenged and excited about who we are and where we are going. We yield and rest when it is time to listen and rest, we move from one day of creation to the next in anticipation and joy in the holiness of our work and relationships.