DAD, YOU’RE THE FIRST PICTURE YOUR CHILD WILL SEE OF GOD THE FATHER
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.
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We were sitting at an intersection when my 6-year old daughter said, “Daddy, that Blues Clues paw print is orange.” Blues Clues was a once-popular kid’s program about a dog named Blue who would leave his paw print in different places during the show.
Each paw print sighting would reveal a clue. Once the TV host found all three of Blue’s paw prints, the viewers would be able to solve the riddle. Blue’s paw print was, of course, blue.
My child knew of only blue paw prints, which is why she was flummoxed to find an orange one on the bumper of a car. The orange one represented Clemson University. She had no clue about Clemson University, so when she saw the orange paw print, it confused her. Young children have only one reference point. In psychology, this is called mutual exclusivity.
My child established her reference point by the prior knowledge of a blue paw print that she learned from a TV show. She also described the hair on my arms as fur rather than hair. Her previous experience with stuffed animals gave her that interpretation.
Children are not able to think outside the box, which explains why my other child questioned me when I drove faster than fifty-five miles per hour. He remembered me saying the speed limit is fifty-five miles per hour. It did not dawn on him how there could be different speed limits or how it’s practically impossible to drive exactly fifty-five miles per hour.
As my children mature, they will learn how to parse out things more broadly. They won’t always think in restrictive, undeviating, black and white parameters. My daughter will learn there are many types, colors, and sizes of paw prints. Her tight singularity about Blues Clues won’t always be her restrictive point of reference.
But for now, this is how she sees life, which is how all children interpret life. One size does fit all for younger children. As you apply this concept to the word father, it ought to be a serious call for any dad.
A young child has no way of thinking about alternate possibilities when it comes to interpreting what a father is supposed to be. They believe in their isolated experience with their unique fathers. They can’t know what they can’t know, and if the child does not know anything differently, they have to work with what they have.
For example, I’m an older father when compared to the statistics. Most parents with children the age of mine are under fifty years old. I’m not.
It is humorous as my two oldest children have realized I’m older than their friends’ parents. From their perspective, all parents are over fifty. When they hear of other parents who are younger, they have to recalibrate their thinking.
Though they can readjust, some things require more recalibrating. One of those things is how they think about God the Father. I have counseled many adults who are still struggling with how they relate to God as a Father. This recalibration problem is almost always due to how they related to their fathers. This father/child problem is significant and can be spiritually crippling.
Though my six-year-old will overcome the complexity and diversity of paw prints, it is much harder to overcome dads who provide a dysfunctional picture of what a father should be.
An excellent template for what God is like is Galatians 5:22-23. Dad, take each one of those nine elements and assess how well you are imaging God the Father to your children.