In a Dad’s Place

Last week my husband was traveling with his job. Sporadically, he is required to do that for days at a time, and I have learned that during those times he still very much expects to be a part of “the process” of our home life. In other words, just because he’s gone, he doesn’t expect, nor want me to assume his role in addition to my own; he’s not abdicating.

On the second day that my husband was gone last week, my son – how to say this – crossed a major line. This was no barely visible line in the sand. This was a well dug trench, a-river-runs-through-it-cross-at-your-own-peril wide and deep demarcation of acceptable behavior. As a result, I found myself on the phone with my husband negotiating consequences. The situation was serious enough that my husband decided to cut his trip short and come home the following day, a full business day early. In the mean time, he laid out a list of rules for Wil that left him barely moving about the house without explicit permission to do so. His choices were…this and nothing. You get my drift?

While Wil shrunk under the weight of his own guilt and the resulting rules heaped upon him, all he could think about was when his daddy would be home. Now don’t misunderstand. This was not the “wait-until-your-dad-gets-home” anticipation.  My husband is not the disciplinarian. I am. I have inflicted every beating spanking. I have enforced every rule. I have monitored every disciplinary action. That has clearly defined the parental roles for Wil so that he fears me in a uniquely special way (can you tell I’m still a little peeved with him?) and he fears disappointing his daddy. I knew that what my son needed that day, that moment, was his dad’s forgiveness. He needed to see his face and know that love still won, that anger had not erased all previous traces of affection, that disappointment had not wrecked the relationship. But what he was going to get in the mean time was a list of rules to live by.

As I watched my son wrestle with this conundrum, and I grieved both his betrayal and his pain, I suddenly understood something about our God in a new way and with fresh understanding – His Law could not replace His presence.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:23-25)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Hebrews 10:1)

The rules established for my son were a guardian for him until his daddy got home but they could not replace the man himself. The rules reflected the love that was behind them but they could not replace that love. The rules would hedge him, protect him and guide him, and punishment (not discipline!) would be the result of an infraction, and in place of the man, the rules worked for that 24 hour period. But they were only there to stop the bleeding. They could change the behavior, but they couldn’t heal Wil’s heart.

When my husband walked through the door the next day he gathered Wil in his arms and held him, and through his own hurt, he loved his boy. The rules haven’t changed much since then nor have they gone away; we realize that for his own protection they need to remain in place. But the rules don’t replace the relationship. Dad is here now. And somehow, that makes a difference. That makes the difference.

Thank you Jesus! Thank you Father! For those of us who have not previously known what it’s like to live under the guardianship of rules, who haven't known the tender love of a father which will win out over anger and disappointment, who until now have not known the feeling of being gathered into the arms of living grace to experience mercy…thank you. Thank you for dropping everything to come rescue us with your love.  Now teach us to cling to you like a repentant son to his loving father.