"As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy." – James 5:11 (NIV)
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines perseverance as "persisting in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement." Whew! Some days that sounds awfully close to my definition of fatherhood. There is a subtly dangerous idea floating around out there that sees real fatherhood as a succession of victories; crossing the fathering finish line as some Olympic Athlete to be presented with the gold medal of DAD. That idea not only sets up all earthly fathers for a fall, but it also shoots the truth of the heavenly Father's providence right in the foot.
What if real fathering looks like crossing the finish line more akin to a Velveteen Rabbit instead of an Olympic Athlete?
"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby."Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (Doubleday, 1991)
What do you do when you raise up a daughter in the fear and admonition of the Lord and then one day during her 15th year, she whispers through tears, "Daddy, I'm pregnant"? I mean really, what do you do? If your fathering model is the Olympic Athlete, then you've just been disqualified from the race. I mean, what kind of father allows his daughter to get pregnant? But if you see fathering in a Velveteen Rabbit kind of way, then you persist in that undertaking in spite of opposition or discouragement; also known as perseverance. As disappointing and confusing and heart-wrenching as that moment is, you hold her close and whisper through tears, "I love you, my daughter. God will carry us through this." And because God is full of something called compassion, then that child she's carrying may bless generations to come, like Moses, or that child may just bless your heart beyond your wildest imaginations and you'll wonder what you'd do without that child in your life.
What do you do when your youngest son asks for his inheritance early and sets off to a distant land, turning his back on you and all you hold dear, which is essentially saying, "You might as well be dead, Dad; I don't need you"? I mean really, what do you do? If victorious fathering is your benchmark, then you might as well leave the keys with the older brother and go off under a tree and wait for the vultures to start circling.
But if Real fathering is the desire, then you persist in the enterprise in spite of counterinfluences; also known as perseverance. As lonely as that moment feels, you turn around and take out the trash or pay the mortgage or feed the sheep or sweep out the barn. And while you keep doing what fathers do, you stay aware that perseverance must finish its work in you so that you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 5:3,4). And if you keep entrusting yourself to the Good Father, then there's a chance, always a hope, that one of these days, when you least expect it, there will be a knock at the door that you'd know anywhere. And you drop the trash or trust the sheep to find some grass for the time being, and you run willy-nilly-velveteen-rabbity through the house and out the door and fall to your knees in the grass you've persisted to mow because that's what fathers do, and you whisper through tears, "My son who was lost has now been found; he was dead, but now he lives."
I realize that may sound too good to be true, but if we fathers persevere, then no telling what the Lord may bring about. Don't forget, the Lord is full of something called mercy, which endures forever, and forever can persevere beyond young prodigals or jealous older brothers or pregnant-too-soon-daughters, death or life, angels or demons, the present or the future, or any powers, height or depth, or anything else in all creation.
Gentlemen, being faithful in persevering as a father can find you standing before the Father one day, with hair loved off and droopy eyes and shabby joints. You’ll hear Him whisper through tears of pride a phrase that's worth more than gold: "Well done. Enter into your rest."