Five Words

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    Tell it to your children,

    and let your children tell it to their children,

    and their children to the next generation.      Joel 1:8

Recently, I have been facilitating a group via Skype of to help leaders to lead like Jesus.  This group consists of people from Kenya, Nigeria, Ukraine and two from the United States. One of our exercises asked us to use five words to describe our father.  Very interesting exercise, and after I completed it, I asked my wife of almost 50 years what five words she would have used to describe my father.  Four of the words she chose were on my list, too.  Fortunately, all of the participants on our call had fathers and the words they used were similar: smart, hard worker, strict, loving, etc.  Each of the participants spoke of the strong impact their fathers had on their lives and their outcomes as an adult.

The exercise also made me pause to reflect what five words my children would use to describe me.  What legacy have I left behind on my children and my children’s children?  If you are a father, it is something you should consider, too.  What five words will your children use to describe you?

But the exercise has its limits.  Not everyone has a father in today’s culture, either because of death or divorce where in the US the divorce rate is close to 50% and that rate is the same for Christians, not just unbelievers.  More frequently, it is coming from single parent families where babies are born out of wedlock and the father never really enters the picture.  In my case, my father was “absent” emotionally and physically during my formative years because he left the house at 6:30 am in the morning and returned at 6:30 pm at night, too tired to be involved in my life. Even so, he still left a mark, and later in life, we reconnected at a very deep level.

For several years, I joined my wife in prison ministry at the Women’s Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina which is a high security prison for female felons, some of whom are on death row. The majority of those women suffered abuse by their father – either emotionally, physically, and in some cases sexually.  Their image of their own father clouds their ability to connect with even the Lord’s prayer which starts with “Our Father.”  The impact of those fathers – either absent or abusive – has left permanent scars on their lives, and sometimes it is a hole that never gets filled.

One daughter of an acquaintance has a powerful testimony about her biological father who was verbally abusive, and told his daughter that she was not his daughter any more at age 15.  At age 18 she ran away to a life of prostitution and drugs in New Orleans. You can watch her testimony at https://www.facebook.com/factoreffects/videos/vb.294929120520284/1156395081040346/?type=2&theater

Another young woman I met in Cameroon grew up without a father, and she still is working to fill the hole in her life.  We have connected in a most interesting long distance relationship, and in many aspects, I am filling in the hole in her heart left by her absent father.

One of the strong biblical mandates is to “pass it on” to the next generation.  In our culture where fathers have often either disappeared from their children’s lives (or if around, they have been abusive), there is a generation of young adults that need someone to replace that hole – to mentor them, if you will.  My experience in talking to miillennials between 20 and 35 indicates that ninety (90%) of them want a mentor in their life.  In an increasing number of cases,  it is because they grew up in a dysfunctional family environment.  We need to take that mandate seriously, and reach out to this next generation so that when they are older, they may not have five words that described their father, but they may have five words that described their mentor.

My challenge to the older generation is to get involved in the lives of the next generation.  Think of someone you know who might need some encouragement or direction. Invite them to spend some time with you – most of them will jump at the chance.  You will not regret it and you may help someone achieve something in life that they wouldn’t have achieved on their own.  In the words of the advertising business, this is “priceless“.

Bill Mann

 

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Practice Makes Perfect

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Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.

Philippians 4:9

The above passage is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians and the words relating to putting “it into practice” caught my attention. I have often wondered why being a lawyer was called the “practice” of law. Really.  I spent 45 years as a lawyer and never fully understood why that phrase is commonplace.   It was my standard response to someone who asks “what do I do?”, and my reply, almost without thinking, would be “I practice law.” I made that response without really considering why I said it, or even unpacking it.

I now have a better understanding of what “practice” means. When I took piano lessons as a child, I had to practice.  That makes sense to me.  The word practice, in that context, means “learning by repetition.”  But it doesn’t mean perfection, only that repetition will make you better.   I often thought of my law career that way – no one ever gets it perfect.  Oh, yes, you may be competent in your area of specialty, but I assure you that if you interview even the most highly regarded lawyer and asked him or her if they had made mistakes along the way, they would openly admit that practicing law is not about perfect.

In almost every other context, when you practice something you don’t get paid for it.   But a lawyer gets paid for their practice.  I can’t think of any other profession, activity or business where this is true.   In the world of sports, practice is what you do in order to compete.  As a musician, you practice to develop a mastery of your instrument, whether that instrument is a piano, a set of drums, a guitar or your voice.   I grew up playing golf, and quickly learned that practice was necessary to get better.

Dr. Bob Rotella, a renown sports performance specialist who has worked with many professional golfers, is the author of a book entitled Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.   His book is aimed more at the mental aspects of playing golf, not the mechanics of what a good golf swing should look like.  If permitted, I could rewrite that book with the title “Life is not a Game of Perfect.”  In fact, Paula Rinehart authored a book in 1996 entitled Perfect Every Time:  When Doing It All Leaves You with Nothing.  The title of those books pretty much summarizes that perfection is not something to be attained.

As a leader, I always stayed away from setting perfection as a goal or institutional value.  Setting up perfection as a goal means you are destined to fail.  Instead, I always used the value of excellence, which is something everyone can achieve.  After I became a Christian at age 38, I learned in Genesis that we are all mis-wired as imperfect beings, thanks to Adam and Eve and the fall.  We are genetically predisposed to being imperfect.

So, what is the proper goal of practice at life?  I’ve eliminated perfection as the goal, but perhaps Paul had a better understanding in terms of a kingdom values.  In his letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts Timothy to “….be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress (1 Timothy 4:15).” In the kingdom, the goal is to make progress as you practice life with others.

My challenge for you today is to assess your own situation and what you might need to practice.  Are you making progress in the things that God wants you to practice?    Pick one area of your life today that needs work and practice it.  My prayer this morning was that I could love my neighbor whose conduct and speech doesn’t deserve it.  I need the practice.