It was well past midnight, but my dad and I were still up hashing things out. I was a passionate, opinionated, God-fearing teenager who thought she had her faith and this world figured out. He was a well-educated, wise, heart-wounded Christ-follower who had buried both parents and his brother, who was his best friend. I talked and he listened. And, then I talked some more. I told him about how he and mom ought to be. I told him about how our church ought to be. I told him about how we should live and what we should say and what I believed God was doing.
Looking back on it now, I’m embarrassed that I laid so much of my ignorance at his feet, or, rather, shoved it down his throat, while he listened with patience and kindness. Once I finally ran out of things to say, he gently, carefully corrected my thinking. He showed empathy and understanding, even where my lack of life experience gave me the most ridiculous ideas. And, where he had to clearly oppose my awkward and silly notions, he did it without laughing at me or berating me or telling me to be quiet.
I’m sure at times my attitude was hard for him to take. I’m sure he could’ve told me a million different ways that I was getting it all 100% wrong. But, he never did that. It was as if he understood that in those moments when I opened up to him, when I came to him to espouse my theories and hear what he had to say about them, I was coming with my little teenaged heart in my hand. He took it, tenderly, and he gently helped to shape and mold it, without the harshness that I probably deserved. He could’ve crushed my heart with rock hard indignation and a pounding with his Bible. But, instead, he led me slowly, with a soft touch and a warmhearted understanding, showing me through scripture why many of my thoughts weren’t in line with what it’s really like to live out a true and lasting faith in Christ.
This was discipleship, in its most Christ-like form. My dad has always had a big, friendly, lovable personality and plenty of opinions of his own. But, in those moments, he was meek and mild, yet filled with godly wisdom. He discerned what I needed to hear and how I needed to hear it. He sought to know me, and he listened when I talked. He was tender with me. Never hard or harsh or impatient.
And, it has made all the difference in the world.
Dads, be tender with your kids. Yes, discipline them. Set boundaries and rules and set up consequences and stick to them. Care enough to hold them to high standards. My dad did all of these things. But, don’t lose your tenderness toward your silly, awkward, messed up, mixed up, attitude-ridden kids. They need to see the love of Christ demonstrated through your tender daddy heart. And, if you aren’t feeling any tenderness, only hardness, pray and ask Jesus to soften you up.
I think my interactions with my dad during those all-important late night discussions helped to form my view of who Jesus really is. I needed to know that He isn’t constantly frowning down on me, that He doesn’t use His word as a weapon against me, but as a loving guide for living an abundant life. I needed to know Jesus’ tender heart and His meek and mild ways, His humility and His majesty. All of these things shone clear on those dark nights, when my dad listened and my dad talked. I am forever grateful for a father who was tender toward a ridiculous teenaged girl. He gave me a clear view of Christ.