I’m Going to be a Dad?

In my office, on the wall above my computer monitor, is a present my wife gave me for Father’s Day 2005. It is a picture frame with thirteen pictures of me and William. It starts with a picture of me holding him the day he was born and is followed by another picture taken on the same day each month. The final picture is, of course, me holding him on his first birthday. On my book shelves I have several other pictures of him—graduating preschool, his school photos from kindergarten, first, and second grade.  In just a few seconds, I can see all seven years of his life.

Sometimes I just can’t think or study anymore, so I take a break to rest my weary mind. It is during those breaks that I recall all the wonderful memories I have had with William over the last seven years. I think about how much he has grown physically, all that he has learned educationally, and how he is maturing spiritually. Without a doubt, I am a proud father. I love my son with every ounce of my being, and I make sure he is confident of that love. I want him to know my love for him doesn’t change when I am frustrated at his disobedience, when I am disciplining him for his actions, and most especially when we are separated from one another. I want him to understand that my love is unconditional, and nothing—I mean nothing—will ever separate him from my love, ever.

Most of us have seen too many children literally fighting for the affections of their parents. When they do not get it, they go elsewhere in search of love and acceptance, and it is guaranteed they will find it somewhere. It was this thought which woke me up from a deep sleep shortly before William was born. I sat straight up in the bed with one thought racing through my mind, “What if I’m not a good dad?” I found myself gripped with fear and anxiety. What did I know about being a parent? I was thirty-nine years old and should be getting ready to be a grandpa not a dad! Needless to say, I wasn’t able to clear my mind or go back to sleep, so I quietly knelt down beside the bed so as to not wake my wife, and I began to pray.

That night, I prayed for everything. I prayed for my son’s health, protection, salvation, his spiritual calling, and even his future wife. I remember asking God to give him a heart that burns with a passion to live a godly life, tell others about Jesus, and meet the needs of the hurting. And then I prayed something I had never said before, “Father, I guess I’m asking you to give me a son like Jesus. A son who loves you, obeys you, seeks to glorify you in all he does.” To be honest, the words came out before I thought them through, so I stopped praying to contemplate what I had just asked for.

Up to that point, praying had eased my fear and anxiety; however, that last line had rekindled the fire of anxiety and put one thought in my fearful mind, “If he is to grow up like Jesus, he needs a father like Jesus’ Father, and I’m not GOD!” With that dark storm cloud of fear hovering over me I cried out, “God, please help me be a good dad!” Immediately a thought rushed into my mind, “Give him Jesus!” Give him the unconditional love of Christ, teach the commands of Christ, show him the love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness of Christ, and most of all, live the life of Christ as an example for him.

That dark night of the soul has become a bright beacon on days when I just don’t feel like I’m getting the job done. It is a bright lighthouse shining in the darkness—lighting the way for me to avoid the dangerous rocks of doubt and depression. It is a memory that reminds me that my son doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does his father! Why? Because Jesus is perfect and He is in control of our lives!

The Needle Was this Big!

As a boy growing up I remember having to go to the health department to get my shots in order to start school. I do not have any idea what they were for, but I most definitely remember the atmosphere.

You would sign in and then sit in a waiting area for your name to be called. In the waiting area there were a lot of kids doing one of two things—begging mom in tears, “Don’t make me get a shot. I’ll be good. Don’t let them stick me mommy!” or they were, what I like to call, scream-crying. I would explain the last one to you, but I am certain just thinking about a child scream-crying will cause you to take two aspirin.

Here I am, a little kid and all, watching other kids being tortured with the thought of getting a shot or in hysterics from being viciously attacked with a giant needle. My anxiety level was rapidly climbing the charts, mostly because I was imagining a shot about the size of the Seattle Space Needle. As the minutes ticked away I began to fantasize of what was about to happen. I could imagine several nurses holding me down while the doctor put the ever-growing needle into my arm. The longer I had to wait with the many other kids crying hysterically only heightened my sense of dread.

Realizing there was no way I could go through with this, I began to plan out my speech to my mother. I had made a list of all the chores I could do if only we would leave right now. But before I could get the words out it happened—“Bobby Pittenger, could you please come back to see the doctor?”

What happened next was like a blur. There was only one doctor and his nurse with me. No one was there to help hold me down. The initial stick of the needle hurt a little, but within seconds the pain and the bleeding stopped. It seemed as if it had only taken five minutes, but that could not possibly be true, could it? I remember thinking, “Is that it?” All the anxiety, crying, screaming, begging, and pleading for a little stick in the arm? Clearly the anxiety of wondering what was going to happen was far greater than the actual event. And if the truth were told, the torture I expected to endure was all in my head. I guess an anxious heart can be very, very deceptive.

How often does an anxious heart deceive us in regard to life’s difficulties? Philippians 4.6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Be anxious for nothing. Don’t let bills, health, work, money, or anything else cause anxiety in your life. God doesn’t give us a loop-hole for a little bit of anxiety? Nope, He says, “Don’t be anxious.”

Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us hanging with just a “Thou Shalt Not Command.” Notice His plan to avoid anxiety:

  1. Prayer—spend time talking with God each day.
  2. Supplication—seek Him, share your concerns.
  3. With thanksgiving—tell Him how thankful you are for His presence, provision, protection, and promises during you difficulties.
  4. Share your requests—be honest about your needs, wants, and wishes.

Obeying God’s plan for defeating anxiety guarantees “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Questions for Group Discussion

I. Paul promised the peace of God would guard our hearts and minds when we cast our cares upon Him.  There are times when we move our focus from God toward the problem. You may not be immediately overcome by anxiety, however, like quicksand, the more you struggle the faster you sink. With that in mind:

  1. What is something that has caused great anxiety in your life?
  2. Where did the anxiety take you (fear, worry, fretting, anger, blaming, doubt)?
  3. How would things have been different if you had kept your focus on God and allowed Him to guard your heart and mind?

II. God has said that all of creation is good (see Genesis 1-2). We know that He created these things for our enjoyment, which brings Him glory. So…

  1. What are some of the ways you find comfort during stressful or difficult times? (e.g. family time, food, company, TV, shopping, etc.)
  2. How do these point you toward God?
  3. How do you ensure that these things are from God and not just your efforts to mask the fear and anxiety?

III. After being unjustly beaten, Paul and Silas were able to demonstrate the peace that surpasses all understanding while imprisoned in Philippi. Jesus lived out this peace throughout His journey to the cross. So…

  1. How did He remain in peace even when the wrath of God was about to be poured out upon Him?
  2. Remembering that Jesus is a human just like you, how can you have peace even when the world seems to be crumbling down around you?