How to be More Intentional as a Dad (With the Right Stuff) - Part Three

written by J. A. Hart

We started this adventure together by asking the question:

How can I be a more intentional dad- with the right stuff?

We’ve walked a long way. In Part 1, I claimed that the biggest barrier between you and your son might just be the condition of your hearts. We explored the ancient Israelites definition of heart:

Lev’ (the heart) is where your internal life happens; it is where you hold desires, emotions, understanding, and beliefs. Your outer life flows from this inner chamber; your choices, how you treat others, and how you live reflect your ‘lev.’

I followed that idea with this: if you want to love your son more intentionally, focus on his heart and not his behavior, but this requires a change in you.

How can you focus on your son’s heart if you aren’t even aware of the condition of your own? In Part 2, I likened the heart to the interior of a house. It holds your desire, emotion, beliefs, and wounds. I challenged you to take an honest look at the condition of your house/heart because your heart stands between you and your son. Your son needs you, but if you don’t focus on your house/heart, how will your son? He imitates you; if you don’t care for your heart, he won’t care for his.

If you want to pursue your son's heart, you need to pursue your heart in an intimate relationship with the Trinity. Without Them, you can never understand the story of your heart. I challenged you to take time and invite Them into your house/heart. Click here to go back and read parts one and two.

***

Part three; let's jump in.

Friends, I know I threw a LOT at you in three weeks. Most of what I said could extend into a  series of books, and if you checked out somewhere along the way, I understand (we all have Christmas on the brain🎄).

I encourage you to stick with me for one more week. I want to invite you into a simple story.

In the late 2000s, my older brother struggled. I won’t tell much of his story here, but the effects of his actions weighed down my family’s hearts in different ways.

For me, I felt isolated. My parents focused on Rob most of the time, and when things weren’t good, Judah, Linsley, and I slunk away to our rooms to avoid the ensuing conflict. We had a code- if you got home from school with no other siblings in sight, it was time to scatter.

Needless to say, I spent most of my time at home alone in my room, isolated from intimacy and relationship. The Enemy saw his chance to attack my young, unprotected heart. One evening, alone in my room, curiosity overcame me. I grabbed my Nintendo DSI and found pictures of girls in bikinis on the internet.

I settled into a routine. Daily, I got home, finished my homework, then got on my DSI to look at those photos again. Today, I know my young heart was looking for intimacy, unaware of the danger in the waters I chose to swim in. I couldn’t put those words to my struggle then; instead, I tried to fill the gaping absence of intimacy with an idol. In the dark, the shadow of lust looked like intimacy, yet even in the dark, I knew it was an illusion. I loved the feeling in the moment, but my heart knew it wasn’t good.

I struggled this way for a year, isolating myself in shame and self-hatred.

I tried to stop; I really did. Over and over, I said to myself, “That is the last time. No more,” but the next evening, I’d be sitting alone in my dark room. The ethereal light from my iPod burned my eyes, but for a moment, my heart felt soothed. Then, the voices would start, “You are dirty- disgusting. No one could love you if they knew what you did every night. They would leave you forever. You’d be alone.”

My heart craved anything else to be true! So, like a drug addict, I always returned to my drug of choice- the figure of lust masquerading as intimacy.

Immense darkness shrouded my heart for about a year, but I remember the moment a faint light shone through. I laid in bed, the weight of my actions hung over my chest; I struggled to breathe. The voices spoke in my head, and I listened, falling deeper into the grave I was digging.

I cried myself to sleep that night, but it wasn’t because I felt isolated. For the first time in years, I realized I wasn’t alone because as I laid there, a still, small voice spoke to my heart, “It’s time to tell your dad.” Someone stood in the shadow with me, calling me out of darkness, and I knew who that “someone” was, and I loved him.

***

Obviously, the thought of telling someone about my actions terrified me. I didn’t experience a resounding “YES!” when I heard God say, “It’s time to tell your dad.” But something overcame my fears and apprehensions.

When God spoke to my heart, the shame and self-hatred seemed to lift a little, and the more I thought about telling my dad, the more diminished they became. Someone carried the weight with me that night; I slept deep, scared for the path ahead but ready for anything more. Like Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption, I couldn’t remember what life was like outside of my prison, but very much unlike him, I wasn’t going to keep letting fear chain me there.

The next day, I resolved myself. My dad was outside working on our family van; I walked up timidly, wondering how to start. I remember saying this:

“Dad, can I talk to you about something?”

He rolled out from under the car, “Sure, son, what’s up?”

I saw the smile on his face; fear of disappointing him surged in me. The voices spoke, “Don’t tell him; he is going to leave you! He will be so angry; don’t you remember what your brother did? Do you want to hurt him like that?”

Before I agreed with the voices’ sentiment and changed the topic, I told him everything. It poured out of me, a waterfall of shame, fear, secrets, and self-hatred. When I finished, he didn’t say anything, and I, standing statue-still, braced for impact, thinking, Here comes the fury. Here comes the anger. Most pressing: here comes the disappointment. I am dead meat.

But, it never came. The hammer never fell.

My dad simply said, “Thank you for telling me. How about you put all your electronics in my room; your friends will be here soon. Put it down for tonight; have fun. We can talk more about it tomorrow. I love you.”

I realized I wasn’t breathing and let go of my breath, and as I breathed out, the world fell off my shoulders. It’s true; confession is good for the heart.

That moment will forever stay in my heart. It is a core memory. I expected my dad to fly off the cuff because my behavior was unacceptable and wrong. He’d always taught me to treat women well, but I wasn’t. How could I be so stupid!

Instead, my father showed me love- true, unconditional love. Somehow he overlooked my behavior and gave me the gift my desperate heart needed.

***

That is the story from my perspective; I heard the same story from my dad’s perspective last year:

“The next day, I resolved myself. My dad was outside working on our family van; I walked up timidly, wondering how to start. I remember saying this:

‘Dad, can I talk to you about something?’

He rolled out from under the car, ‘Sure, son, what’s up?’

I told him everything. It poured out of me, a waterfall of shame, fear, secrets, and self-hatred. When I finished, he didn’t say anything. He paused for a moment.

And whileI feared the worst, my dad took a step back. Fear riddled his mind. Is Jared going to struggle like Rob? The same voices in my head were speaking to him, ‘You’re a failure as a dad. See, you can’t get one son right.’ The Enemy tempted him to react.

But remember, my dad changed. He wasn’t the same man before Rob’s struggle. He drank deep from the cup of Sonship; turning to his heavenly Dad, he asked this question:

‘God, what should I say to my son?’

Tell him to release it for now, to have fun with his friends, and the two of you will return to it later, he responded.

My dad looked at me and said, ‘Thank you for telling me. How about you put all your electronics in my room; your friends will be here soon. Put it down for tonight; have fun. We can talk more about it tomorrow. I love you.’”

***

Do you see why I told you that story? Do you see the parallels to what we’ve talked about the last three weeks?

If you don’t take anything else from these three blogs, I hope you at least carry this: you need to live like YOUR heart matters, and as you pursue your heart in relationship with God, you will pursue your son’s heart.

In that moment, my dad went to his heavenly Dad. Instead of assuming he knew how to pursue my heart, he asked the person who knows my heart best.

My dad didn’t know I struggled with the fear of abandonment. How could he? I was twelve; I didn’t even realize that, but my heavenly Dad knew. He saw clearly and was with me in my darkest dreams. He saw what my heart needed.

My earthly dad wanted to pursue my heart, but if he had responded with the narrative of I am a failure as a dad, I promise you, the story would be different. Instead, he released his fears and reactions; he asked his heavenly Dad, listened, and followed.

The impact? For the first time ever, I drank from the cup of unconditional love in sonship too, and it was the sweetest nectar I’ve ever tasted. Sweeter than the honey from the honeycomb. Sweeter than a mountain breeze. Sweeter than every hug I’ve ever had. All those are but shades of the nectar I drank that day because my earthly dad and my heavenly Dad aligned and pursued my heart together. That’s how you can be intentional with your son about the right stuff. Seek to align your heart to your heavenly Dad’s. I promise he won’t steer you wrong.

***

I wish I could say I never looked at porn again, but this story is only the beginning of a two-year fight for freedom. Even still, God and my dad gave me the foundation I needed to pursue and receive help along the way.

 As a dad, you have tremendous power over your kids’ lives. Life and death is in your hands every day. If you are reading this, I assume you want to learn to love your sons and daughters well. I assume you want to pursue their hearts. I bless you in your adventure, and I hope you pursue God’s heart with such zeal that you become a beloved son who produces other beloved sons and daughters in His house. We are rooting for you here.

I’ll finish here: I would be remiss if I didn’t say, starting January 1st, TNF is running a twelve-month experience for fathers and sons. We call it The Heroic Journey of Sonship and Manhood. Our goal: to help you as a dad pursue your heart in relationship with God, so you can learn to pursue your son’s heart. We encourage you to check it out and think about signing up with your son (13-18) before the first of the year. Click here for more information.

Calibration:
Where do you see yourself in the story Jared told today? Why?
Is there a moment in your story where you experienced God’s unconditional love through a father figure or other? Write it down.
How can you step into pursuing your heart with God this week?


More resources:
Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning
Walking with God by John Eldridge
Fathered by God by John Eldridge
To Be Told by Dan Allender
The Story of With by Allen Arnold

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