Personal Growth

Stop Trying to Be a Good Dad

by John Pate

dad holding young son with forest in background

“I wish I were a better dad.”

Have you ever said or thought those words? Perhaps you’ve prayed, “Lord, please help me to be a good dad today.”

If you’ve ever voiced your desire to be a good dad to others, perhaps they’ve assured you, “You are a good dad!” But how do they know that? They don’t hear your every word or see your every parenting decision. Do they simply mean that you’re a decent dad—that you’ll put food on the table and you’ll probably not end up on one of those “Dad-fail” memes?

What does it mean to be a good dad, anyway?

This question reminds me of the conversation between Jesus and the young official in Luke 18:18–30. The official comes to Jesus and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 18)

Jesus’ response (as always) is mind-blowing: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Let me stop you at the word good. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.” He then goes on to probe the young man’s goodness.

“Have you kept the ten commandments?”

“Yep!” (Can anyone say “denial”?)

“But you still need to give away everything you own and follow me.”

At this point in the story it all becomes clear. The young man is unwilling to follow Jesus, because he is a wealthy man, and giving up his wealth is far too great a price to pay. In other words, he’s not a good man after all. He may have been a pretty good man, but he wasn’t good enough.

Why You Shouldn’t Aim to Be a Good Dad

Let’s clear up a couple misconceptions about the idea of a good dad.

First, if by good dad, we actually mean pretty good dad, then a good dad isn’t good enough. If, like the rich young official, you hope that being a decent dad—the kind who only occasionally has bad days and tries not to swear—will meet God’s standard, you are setting the bar far too low.

Which brings us to the next misconception. As hard as you try, you cannot be a good dad. Jesus responds to the rich official’s sadness with these sobering words: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (vv. 24–25).

Perhaps this reality explains why many dads have every intention of leading their families well only to come face to face with their own inability and failures.

If you aim to be a good dad, you will realize that you are not, and cannot be.

A Better Way

Perhaps you weren’t comfortable with the previous sentence. If so, that’s good. For if we respond to our own inability by aiming lower, we’ve missed Jesus’ whole point. All too often, Christians fall prey to a culture of what Jen Wilken calls “celebratory failurism.” You know…

“I’m a terrible dad.”

“Me too, man!”

“Whew! Glad it’s not just me.”

No, when those around Jesus respond with bewilderment at humanity’s bleak situation, Jesus answers like this: “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (v. 27).

The Bible is so clear. Even though, as a sinner, you are not a good dad, the gospel message declares that you can be a forgiven, Spirit-transformed dad! If you have believed in Jesus Christ, then His Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your heart. And wherever the Spirit takes up residence, He breathes new life. Even when surrounded by a bleak wasteland, even when all around is spiraling into chaos and confusion, the Spirit’s presence can create a garden paradise in the middle of a desert.

And he can do that in your family through you. He can produce “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Don’t aim to be a decent dad. Be a Spirit-filled dad! “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Often, as I pull into my neighborhood after a day at work, I am reminded that a big part of my day is just beginning. And I also remember that, in my own strength, I’m not going to be able to do it. So, the Lord has prompted me to begin praying that the Spirit would use me that evening to make my home a garden in a desert. We are surrounded by a broken, chaotic world, but our homes can be bursting with new life as the Spirit transforms our lives.

So how can you and I change our perspective from aiming to be a good dad to being a Spirit-filled dad? We can begin by praying every day, “God, help me to listen to the Holy Spirit today and obey Him!” And then, we listen to Him. How do we do that? By listening to His Word. (Take a quick look at Ephesians 6:17.)

And then we obey. Meaning…

  • When your child dents the car door, the Spirit will prompt you to be gentle.
  • When your wife criticizes you (whether rightly or not), the Spirit will prompt you to love.
  • When your house begins to tend toward chaos, the Spirit will prompt you to be a purveyor of peace.
  • When work is eating you alive, the Spirit will give you joy at home.
  • When your teenager talks back, the Spirit will give you self-control.

So which do we want? To be a pretty good dad? Or to be a Spirit-transformed dad whose life bears fruit that blesses those around us? With man, that second option may be impossible, but with God all things are possible!

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