Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts tagged with #Faith

My sons,

I watched a movie once which had a great line in it. I don’t remember which movie, or whether it was a good movie or not, but this one line stuck out to me:

”True darkness is not an absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will not return”

I found that not only to be an extremely beautiful and poetic line, but also an insightful one. Life often brings about hardship, and we may occasionally feel down or discouraged in our situation. Certainly I’ve had moments which I thought were rock bottom for me - moments where I lost hope, moments where I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, moments where I truly felt lost in the dark. And yet despite that, I still believed in that age-old mantra, ”even still, things will get better”.

The key then, is to determine what we do in those times of darkness, of despair, of hopelessness. Do we succumb to it, allowing it to envelope us and draw us into a downward spiral where we eventually will not only be unable to see the light, but will become convinced that the light will not return? Or do we hold steadfast to the belief that in spite of this, things will get better?

There’s a beautiful hymn that I love called “It is well” by Horatio Spafford which has a beautiful story behind it.

Horatio lived in Chicago in the 1800s and was a successful lawyer, with much of his money invested in property in the area of Chicago. In 1871, the great fire of Chicago claimed the life of his 2 year old son, as well as much of his property investments. In 1873, after the economy tanked, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family. In a late change of plans, he had to stay behind a while longer, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead and had planned to meet them. Their ship was shipwrecked, and he lost his four daughters. His wife survived, and sent him that famous telegraph which simply read, ”survived. alone”.

After reuniting with his wife, the two walked along the beach commiserating their loss. It was there that he penned these beautiful words.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

~ Horatio Spafford

My prayer for you both is this; that when life throws you curve balls and you find yourself lost and without hope, that you may cling to the belief that things will get better, whether you can see the light at the time or not. I love you, my boys.

My son,

By now you should know that the two movies that have influenced me the most are Top Gun and Gladiator, and hopefully you'll recognize the title of this post as a pivotal line from the latter. The message I want to convey to you today is that while Commodus spits out this phrase facetiously, mercy is absolutely a critical characteristic for us to develop.

While Grace is the act of blessing someone with something undeserved, Mercy is the act of withholding judgment or retribution from someone that deserves it. Both of these are demonstrated by Jesus for us. His Mercy withholds the consequence of our sin, and His Grace gives us the opportunity to know and have a relationship with God.

As you know, the legacy that I want to leave behind is that I'm a person that inspires others, that motivates them, that instills passion and drive in those that are around me. To do this, we need to able to see people not for who they are, but for the best that they can be.

The capacity to consistently bring out the best in people is called leadership, and the ability to see people not as they are but as they were created to be requires the attribute of mercy.

Leadership requires not just an openness and intuition to see the best in people, but the corresponding amount of Mercy to allow people to make and learn from mistakes as they get there. Great leaders are able to focus on the accomplishments and successes while taking hold of failures and errors and using them as learning opportunities.

So how do we develop our ability to have mercy?

We develop our ability to show mercy when we are able to see how much we ourselves need mercy shown to us. When we humbly recognize our own position and understand the amount of mercy God has demonstrated for us, we are able to see how we should in turn extend mercy to our contemporaries, and we begin to model the characteristics that God desires for us.

My prayer for you then is that in light of your confidence in knowing who you are and what you are capable of, that you would be humbled by the knowledge of who God is and what He created you for, and from that posture of humility be able to show grace and mercy to those around you.

My son,

By now, you'll discover that something your dad has never lacked is self confidence. Many of my thoughts on the world are viewed through that lens, and while self confidence is a great thing, it is sometimes worthwhile to examine the world through a different lens and see what we can learn from there.

It's in that light that I write this series of thoughts.

While being confident in yourself and being firm in your convictions is a great thing, there are times in a man's life where he must accept that he is simply wrong, and to do so gracefully and humbly. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. Admitting you're wrong gives you the ability to be stretched. The posture of humility is one that focuses not on one's self achievement and worth, but one that allows one's short comings and insufficiencies to be revealed. In that revelation is the opportunity for change, and for God to take those flaws and begin His work of perfecting them.
  2. Admitting you're wrong gives others the ability to bless you. By allowing someone else to speak into your life, you not only build their confidence, but you open a channel of trust and vulnerability in your relationship. The strongest relationships are forged as we go through the tough grit of life together, and nothing is tougher than the strengthening of character, the development of the manliness that is our birthright.
  3. Admitting you're wrong keeps your heart humble, and able to hear God. Nothing stops you from hearing the voice of God more than pride. It is the characteristic that says that we are sufficient for ourselves, that we are able to accomplish all that we need to in this life on our own. Nothing could be further from the truth.

God desires humility in our lives; as we are emptied of ourselves, we can then be filled with the things that He desires for us.

Remember that our goal is to live life as Christ tells us we ought to live it, and whatever means He uses to get us there should be wholeheartedly embraced. I've spent much of my life trying to find the right balance here, and hopefully by the time you read this I'll have a better handle on it, but for now, suffice it to say that I believe this will be a life-long activity. One that will be difficult, but one that will ultimately refine us to be men worthy of God's calling and original design for us, and one that will create many memories and forge many strong friendships along the way.

My son,

In this life, there will be many people who try to tell you what to do, who to be, what to care about, and what to strive for. They will try to apply a value judgment to you, try to give you a framework in which to determine your own self-worth, and will try to make you fit into their molding.

Don't let them.

Remember that you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). God made you exactly as He wanted to, and that is a wonderful thing.

That's not to say that you're perfect and don't need to strive to be better - quite the contrary! For "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). And what completion is that? The goal and original design that God had in mind for you.

In that light, I urge you to figure out what that is. Decide for yourself who you ought to be, who you want to be, and then go and unapologetically be that person! Jesus never promised that his way would be easy, or that everyone will like you on your path, but He did promise that He "[is] with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). You will inevitably rub some people the wrong way, you will certainly run across people who don't understand your motivations or the things that you do, and will speak out against you.

Pay them no mind.

Know who you were created to be, and be that. The Apostle Paul uses the term ginwskein, which means "to know deeply". Know deeply who God wants you to be and run and follow hard after that. And know your mother and I will always love and support you, no matter who you choose to be.

My son,

Despite my best efforts, by now you'll have experienced fear in your life, and will hopefully have recognized how you deal with those fears, and what your perspective for responding to those fears are.

The etymology of the noun fear comes from the old English "fær" for "calamity", or "danger", and its verb "færen", meaning "frighten" but also "revere". Reverence and fear are very closely related, and can be seen many times fairly interchangeably in the Bible (Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10, Ephesians 5:21). This is because they both inherently have to do with our reactions to things we don't fully understand or have control over.

Reverence is a response which focuses on the awe and amazement of the unknown. It deals with the sense of solemn greatness by which we approach the object of our reverence, and instills in us the desire to be better, to imitate, and to emulate.

Fear on the other hand, focuses on the threat and possible danger of the unknown. It places emphasis not on the unknown, but on ourselves, and the damage that can be done to us by the unknown. It causes our self-preservation instincts to kick in, and makes us take a defensive posture thereby drawing our vision and attention inward.

As a father, I've come to a whole new level of understanding of fear. Where my life before merely had my own personal well-being to be fearful for and that of my loved ones, those threats and dangers were never particularly imminent, and were easily understood and mitigated. Being a father though, changes everything. As I'm writing this, you have just turned 9 months old, and there are so many threats in the world that are very real and can cause a severe amount of damage to you, and that is certainly something that causes fear in me. Suddenly, all the physical, emotional, and psychological pains that you might experience become very tangible and within the realm of possibility, and I'm forced to learn to trust that God will take care of you when I can't.

They say that faith is fear that has said its prayers.

I believe that to be true, and though I may not always be able to live it out, and my fears may sometimes get the best of me, in the deepest places in my heart where my convictions and ideal projections of myself live, I know it's true.

The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). My prayer is that in your life, you will understand and experience the deep and perfect love that God has for you, and that you will never doubt the deep and complete love that your mother and I have for you as well. I pray that our love for you can help you approach the unknown with awe and wonder, and can help encourage you down the path of reverence rather than fear. I pray that you will grow up always knowing that you are deeply loved. Know that we want to do our best to support you and walk with you through it all. I love you, my baby boy.

My son,

They say that you can tell the caliber of a man by the company that he chooses to keep. I would take that one step further and say that you can also tell the strength of a man by the type of company that he is.

By now, you'll have met many different types of people, all with unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. By now, you'll have also decided which of these people you want to keep as company, who you'll want by your side as you conquer life's struggles. With each mountain you climb, with each struggle you overcome together, you'll not only learn more about the man that you are, but you'll discover as I have, that loyalty can't be bought; it must be earned, built, refined.

Above all other things, it ensures that no matter what life throws at you, you will not be alone, that you will have people to overcome those situations with you. Loyalty says that no matter what happens, no matter what new bad discovery or situation, come hell or high water, I will be by your side.

Loyalty is a two way street, built together from both sides. Earned, not bought. Just as you must earn the loyalty of your friends, your loyalty too must be earned. Don't give it away freely or easily, but roll up your sleeves, get into the grit of life, and build it.

Adlai Stevenson writes:

"The dedication of a lifetime — these are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them."

Loyalty. Faithfulness. Dedication. Devotion.

I urge you to think about these things, to consider the traits that you wish to develop in yourself, and to choose wisely what kind of man you want to be.

My son,

By the time you read this, I hope that you are starting to understand the difference between things you know and believe because you know and believe them, and things you know and believe because you've been raised to know and believe those things.

When I was your age, your grandfather and your uncle Tim were heroes to me, and I took their word as truth and believed what they taught me to believe. Things like right and wrong, goals and aspirations, what was honorable and worthy of pursuit; these were all based on what they taught me. Even my faith was founded in the stories and truths that they shared with me.

But over time as I grew up, and that wasn't enough anymore.

There comes a point in every man's life where he needs to know and believe things for himself, based not on someone else's authority, but on his own experiences. He will need to evaluate for himself, to test and approve, and to be come convinced of his values and beliefs.

In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes,

"It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs … that are plausible rather than ridiculous and offensive."

We live in a world that has faith deeply engrained in its very fiber, and in a time where faith, religion, and spirituality is slowly surfacing to the top of social awareness. The more prepared you are to give a reason for your faith, and the more thought out your answers are, the better equipped you will be to add value to those faith conversations, and to make an impact on the world.

There will come a day in your life where you'll be tested. Your values will be questioned, your beliefs examined, and your faith scrutinized. When that day comes, it will not be enough to have those values and beliefs founded upon the authority of someone else; you'll have to defend them and stand up for them on your own authority. My prayer is that on that day, you will stand strong with your head held high and your faith strengthened from the victory of knowing full well who you are, and what you believe.

My son,

By now, I'm sure you've heard many slogans and jingles about how short life is, and may have even come to terms with that notion yourself in your experiences. I love the timeless sentiment from Robin Williams:

But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary

I love that word he chose, "legacy". Listen to the legacy of those who have gone ahead of us. And what is that legacy? To seize the day, to make the most of the days that you have, to aim to live an extraordinary life.

Extraordinary, in this sense, is not a judgment of value upon the life or the series of actions that make up that life; rather, it is merely a description of those actions. Extra, meaning "outside of", the ordinary. The charge is to live a life that is different, that takes chances, that strives to be more than what society funnels us to be. Like we talked about last time, Be a first-rate version of you.

The phrase Carpe Diem goes slightly further, and suggests not only to be the best you that you can be, but to make that you something unique, something unexpected, something different than the well-trodden path that the world tries to impose on you. Set your heart and your mind on being extra-ordinary.

This concept of choosing your own path is really part of your namesake. Maverick means one that doesn't conform to society, but chooses one's own path. Romans 12:1-2 speaks also of not conforming to the patterns of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you can determine, test, and approve God's will for your life.

That, ultimately, is the prayer that your mom and I have for your life - that you will intentionally choose your path, and that it will be a God-pleasing path. Seize the day, and encourage others to do the same.



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