I have worked with troubled youth for over twenty years. I have seen the damage that abusive family relationships can inflict on character.
Parents Play a Crucial Role in Humanity
Parents play a crucial role in humanity, with a strong impact on society's future structure. Prudent parents can affect the emotional and social stability of their children, with profound positive effects on their communities. While there are different roles for the mother and father figures in a child’s life – each with their own individual importance, the combined effort is necessary for proper upbringing. The absence of one parental role model in upbringing often leaves the child deficient. There is a definite need for both parents in a child's life. On this past Sunday, we celebrated fatherhood, with many of us remembering the men in our lives who raised and provided for us as we grew.
My childhood and much of my adult life were filled with many memories of my father. We often spent many summer days at my aunt's house in the country. He would take us down to the catfish pond to pop water moccasins out of existence with a .22 rifle. I never got to shoot the gun myself because I was too young, but my brother and I would stand at his side and relish that smile of satisfaction that came to Daddy’s face when those snakes would go belly up in the water. Later on, when I was about 15, post tables would turn. My dad bought a 410 shotgun for me and took me out to teach me to shoot it for the first and last time. He handed it to me loaded, and as I look at it, I said I wonder if the safety is working. I wasn't looking at where I was shooting and pulled the trigger. Needless to say, I did not get that shotgun for my 15th birthday. It waited until I was 21.
Daddy worked doggedly, as long as I can remember, to provide for his family while finding opportunities to spend quality time with us. We played together. We wrestled on the floor and went camping. We went to church every Sunday, even when he worked long hours on the other six days. Daddy’s faith supplemented the spiritual upbringing I experienced from other members of my family. He was my role model for how I would face the challenges my own faith later in life. He taught my brothers and I to mow a yard to make spending money. I developed my work ethics from his inspiration. You work for what you receive in life – it’s not meant to be a free-for-all. I still do not know how he could make so little money, yet still provide for a family of eight.
Daddy was not perfect either. He had a short temper and harbored prejudice against certain peoples. He often cussed when he was angry, and would throw hammers across the yard, but he never hurt any of his children. In fact, the harshest punishment I ever received from him were well-deserved paddlings or harsh scoldings, without which I might have turned out a much different person. Discipline is imperative in a young person’s life – as evidenced by the degradation of the morals and respect of many of today’s young people.
Girls and boys need the strength and stability of an upright father figure in their home life, as much as a mother figure. God willed it that way, and it behooves us to adhere to that planm eons in the making. However, there are times when the father figure is not present or appropriate. Yahweh appropriates godly men and women filled with the Holy Spirit to step up and be the role model children desperately need in their lives.
Paul referred to this type of man when he addressed his second letter to Timothy, a young man he held high hopes for. Spiritual fatherhood takes on various duties in the modern church, from teaching a Sunday School class to leading a congregation in worship. It is one of the greater, unspoken fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 2:22-23, stemming from the greatest gift of love, against which there is no law. Paul cared deeply for Timothy, empathizing with the trouble the young man experienced to maintain his faith in Christ as he grew in spiritual wisdom. While he was blessed by the teachings from deeply devoted followers of Yahweh in his mother and grandmother, his mentor made no mention of paternal figures in Timothy’s life.
1 Timothy 1:1-8
(1) This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I have been sent out to tell others about the life He has promised through faith in Christ Jesus. (2) I am writing to Timothy, my dear beloved son. May God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord, give you grace, mercy, and peace. (3) Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. (4) I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. (5) I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother, Lois, and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. (6) This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands upon you. (7) For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (8) So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.
Beginning with verse 1, the Apostle Paul acknowledged his complete faith in Christ as the Messiah. He explained the commission with which God charged him to declare the Gospel to as many other people as the Holy Spirit would draw unto him. He addressed the letter to Timothy, whom he considered his spiritual “child”. This is an indication that their relationship went much farther than teacher and student. Paul had a vested interest in the spiritual growth of the young man as a leader and fellow missionary.
Paul considered himself a spiritual father to Timothy, especially in the noted absence of a godly paternal influence in the young man’s home life. The Apostle also expressed this care to a lesser degree when he addressed the church at Corinth. (1 Corinthians 4:15) For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. Paul acknowledged the true, genuine faith Timothy exhibited and kept the young man in constant prayer day and night.
In a similar manner to which a physical father showed concern for their child’s well-being, Paul expressed he knew Timothy suffered and endured trials that tested his Christian faith. He could not wait to express the joy of seeing him again, appreciative of the young man’s upbringing, which was blessed and overseen by God through the faith of his grandmother and mother.
Though Paul laid hands on Timothy to bless his ministry, it was the Holy Spirit that empowered the young man to act in service through his faith. The Holy Spirit empowers all Christians to be bold in our faith when we trust God, bestowing power, love, and self-discipline, among other gracious gifts.
Paul instructed Timothy on how to accomplish such a feat in 2 Timothy 2:22: Flee from youthful passions (that can turn the heart away from God) and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, together with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Perhaps the man may have offered this word of encouragement: “I am willing to stand at your side to guide you in your walk with Christ. Stand with me as well. Endure the struggles just as I do and know the result is worth the contention. Together we can live in a manner worthy of God.” (see 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)
As I look back, I realize it has been nearly three decades since I began teaching young people the Word of God and leading many of them into a saving relationship with an established belief in Jesus Christ. Twenty-seven years of reaching into the communities of the churches I have served have passed. About half of the children I have taught came from broken, single-parent homes. I still remember and pray for them, hoping their lives had turned out okay. I am not saying these things to brag on what I have done in life, but to encourage others who choose to read this short study to persevere when their teaching seems to hit a wall. It does not.
There may be a few blossoms that show up early, but we do not immediately perceive all the seeds that we sow sprout into that beautiful garden. Some of them may never become evident until we have gone across the River Jordan, because God works in His time, not ours. We are simply tasked with furrowing the ground and planting the seed. Knowing this encourages me.
If you want to ask me, I will give you some examples of this which stand out the most to me. Like the young man I reconnected with several years back. He was in his thirties when I reached out to him almost twenty years after I had taught him. He was so delighted to hear from me, but the first thing he said to me when we talked was that he remembered me as the first person to ever open the bible and read it to him.
Another young man made such an astounding statement when we reconnected that it left me awestruck. One of my valued students, who I had high hopes for – still have – had a set-back in his life when his father returned home from prison. The last I saw of him was when he served as a junior staffer at one of the summer camps I taught at. He was elated at having his father, who was recently released from prison, returned into his life. His father hugged me and thanked me for being a positive role model for his son. Twenty years later, I learned of a tragic turn of events in the young man’s life that began with his father leaving not long after that emotional reunion. The boy went through a tumultuous ascent into adulthood, got married, then had his wife die in a car wreck, went into the armed services and got nearly killed, spent grueling time in rehabilitation, and then lived up in northern Arizona. After all that happening in his life, when we spoke on the phone, he told me that the only things that held his life together were his faith in God and the fact that he considered me the father figure in his life.
This year has been a spiritually draining experience for me, from the family I had been helping for almost three years, leaving my care to go into an even worse situation, to the intense negativity I experienced from co-workers at the school as I tried to do what God blessed me to do. However, God continually blesses us, and I have been encouraged to look ahead again. My daughter is coming home with her husband, and the church bus is running through the church’s neighborhood again so that we can teach the children. I am even planning to go reunite with the young man in Arizona in the fall, and become a foster parent or grandparent in the near future. There is still some fathering left in me yet.
© 2021 Eddie Dollgener