Monday, January 2, 2012

The Fear of Displeasing Dad

I was six years old and in the first grade. I learned more than reading, writing, and arithmetic that year. I also learned some rather colorful adjectives from some of my classmates.

One day, during lunchtime, I decided to try out my ever-increasing vocabulary during our daily conversations over our lunch boxes. To my chagrin, one of the lunchroom monitors overheard me as I waxed eloquently with profanity-laced phrases.

The lunchroom monitor told me to stop swearing and that she would be telling my teacher about my "dirty mouth."

"That's not good." I thought.

I returned to my classroom after lunch and awaited a scolding from my teacher. But it didn't come. For a brief time I thought I was off the hook. Maybe the lunchroom monitor turned her attention to some other student with more heinous behavior and had forgotten about my little verbal faux pas.


Just as I began to relax and think the incident in the lunchroom was behind me, the door to my classroom opened. And who walked into the classroom? Not a student late to class. Not another teacher. Not a school administrator.

My mom!

She scanned the classroom, obviously looking for me. When our eyes met, she gave me a smile (if it could be called that), which carried with it a dual meaning. "Tony, I love you." And, "Tony, you're dead meat."

My mom talked but a few moments with my teacher. Once or twice she glanced my way. The dual smile seemed a little less loving and a little more ominous. My mom turned to walk out the door. She made sure to smile at me one more time.

Needless to say, I didn't learn much the rest of the day.

I'm sure I walked home from school slower than usual that day. I didn't hesitate to walk in the door of my house. I figured the best course of action was to face the wrath that was sure to come and take whatever punishment my mom would give me (I anticipated a few good whacks on the backside).

I found my mom in the living room. "I called your dad. He will deal with you when he gets home from work."

That was all my mom said. That was enough. I made my way upstairs to my room, and I waited.

The wait felt eternal; but when I heard my dad walk into the house I wished I could have waited a little longer. I walked downstairs. I didn't wait for the inevitable call from my dad's strong, baritone voice.

I fought as hard as I could not to let my fear show. My lower lip desperately wanted to quiver, but I wouldn't let it.

"What happened at school, today?"

My dad already knew the answer; but he wanted me to give an account of my actions. I dared not dodge the question by reminding my dad that he knew what happened. I told my dad what I did. A summary of the incident was insufficient. My dad wanted to hear exactly what I said.

Repeating the words that earlier in the day seemed like fun to utter now left an awful taste in my mouth. I felt like a poor excuse for a son saying the filthy words in my dad's presence. Spewing the words was no longer fun--not with my dad listening.

Once my confession was complete, I waited for my punishment. My dad rarely spanked me (not that I didn't deserve it far more often than I received it). I thought for sure that this would be one of those rare and painful occasions. But when my dad had passed sentence I would have preferred corporal punishment.

"You're grounded for two weeks." My dad said.

"That's not too bad." I thought.

"You will go to your room as soon as you get home from school."

Again, I thought I was getting off easy. That is, until my dad further explained my punishment.

"And that means no baseball for two weeks. You and I will not so much as play catch."

I was devastated. So displeased was my dad that he was taking from me not only what I enjoyed the most in life, but what my dad loved, too--our time together tossing a baseball to each other.

My greatest fear was realized. My fellowship with my dad was broken. Even though it would only be two weeks, it was two weeks too long.

I was miserable for the next two weeks. Using the foul language my other six-year-old friends found to be so "grown-up," had no appeal to me. All I could think about was the next time my dad and I would play catch again.

This morning, I shared this story with a small group of men I have the honor and privilege of discipling. I appreciate R.C. Sproul's thoughts chronicled in his modern-day classic, "The Holiness of God," which reminded me of the incident that occurred almost forty years ago. Sproul writes:
Martin] Luther explained it this way: We are to fear God not with a servile fear like that of a prisoner before his tormentor but as children who do not wish to displease their beloved Father. We come to Him in confidence; we come to Him in boldness; we have access. We have a holy peace (p. 154).
The fear I had of displeasing my dad was not born from a dread that my dad would punish me too harshly. I was wrong and I deserved whatever punishment my dad decide to mete out. No, my fear was that of a son who loved his dad and hated the thought of disappointing him.

Those who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ live everyday with a holy fear of displeasing God while, at the same time, live with a holy peace that comes from knowing that like an earthly father who disciplines his children out of love, his or her heavenly Father does the same.

"It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplined us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:7-11).

So, my brother or sister in Christ, fear God as a young boy all those years ago feared displeasing his dad. Live as a legitimate child of God who loves his or her Father so much that the thought of displeasing Him breaks your heart. When you do fall short of His glory (and you will), know that the Father will discipline you for your own good, because He loves you, and in order to draw you ever closer to sharing in His holiness.