I’m sitting in the commuter lounge of the Coffman Union Building at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus. Rachel is in a meeting with the Homecoming Committee, after which we’ll hop in the car and head to Elk River together. We’re both tired, and feeling a little goofy, so we might not talk about anything substantial, but then again we might. We often do. I know my daughter well, I love her deeply, and that hasn’t come cheap.
When I was in seminary, I had a friend who grew up as an only-child and a pastor’s-daughter so I asked, “Deborah, Rachel is three now (or maybe she was four), what would you say to me as I prepare for the ministry and work with Kim to raise Rachel?” Tears welled up in her eyes as she answered, “I always wished that I could capture my dad’s attention the way the church did.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, too. I committed myself on the spot to pursuing my daughter, capturing her heart, and without making an idol of her, putting her before my ministry. So that week we went on a date, and then we went on another and then another and then another…and by the grace of God in Christ, we did this for the next fifteen years, and we still do when we can.
Fathers, if we’re to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 2:4), then we must know them. Discipleship happens through relationship, and relationship takes time. It was the love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that propelled the Son into the world, and the purpose of his mission was to enfold the elect into that love. The heart of the gospel is the very heart of God, and if we’re to teach our children the gospel we must capture their hearts and draw them close to God’s heart.
And as we do, we image God to them. We show them the heart of the Father who gave his only begotten Son, not to secure external conformity to the Father’s commands, but to create in us a heartfelt desire to do what our Father desires.
Over the years, Rachel and I (and Kim, of course) have walked through many ups and downs together, and through it all she has gained emotional security, the ability to communicate, the gift of laughter, an understanding of relational commitment, a model for what marriage might look like, and many more things. But more importantly, she has seen with her eyes an image of the God who pursues his beloved from the heart, and who aims for their heart.