In To Own A Dragon: Reflections On Growing Up Without A Father, Donald Miller writes, "In the absence of a real father, I had a cast of characters that were at times hilarious, pitiful, perfect, kind, and wise." From Cliff Huxtable of "The Cosby Show" to a landlord's hippie son to a patient youth pastor, Donald Miller discovers an array of men to help him understand the meaning of "father." When he meets John MacMurray, his Bible study leader, Miller discovers what it means to be a good dad. In the following excerpt, Miller has moved into the MacMurray house, where he learns how to reconcile "father" with "God."

I used to feel a kind of hopelessness about life. I assumed life was against me, that whatever bad could happen to a person was going to happen to me. It was as though there was a current I was swimming against. But it was studying this passage that changed some of that thinking. God is fathering me. God is fathering us. I know that if God loves me and wants me to succeed as much as John loves his kids and wants them to succeed, then life cannot be hopeless.

But another idea that occurred to me was I needed to change the way I understand spirituality. What I mean is, I needed to allow God to father me. I needed to acknowledge him as Father and submit. Traditional language might use the term repentance here. In part, this meant admitting I wanted autonomy from God, admitting I wanted my own way, and asking Him to change my heart. One of the issues I deal with having grown up without a father is a kind of resentment at the mention of actually needing a dad. I had to admit I needed one. I had to tell God I wanted Him to father me.

One of the most tender and beautiful scenes that would occasionally unfold in the MacMurray house was the calm, quiet peace that would come over one of the children when they were done trying to get their way. Cassy would get up off the floor and walk over to where her dad was and hold out her arms, her face still pouting. Then, John would sit down on the couch and hold her and rock her in his arms. If John had scolded Chris about something and sent him to his room, Chris would come out later and walk over to John while he was sitting on the couch and climb into his arms, burying his head in his neck. Sometimes it was as if the kids were saying they were sorry, not yet old enough to know how to express themselves with words. But at other times, and perhaps more tender times, the kids were still frustrated, still confused about why they couldn’t get what they wanted or why they seemed to always be getting into trouble; and the embrace, the coming to John and burying themselves in his arms was more about feeling his love in the confusion, in the difficulty, than it was about having moved past it. It was as if they were asking him if he still loved them, if the discipline meant there was anything lost in their much-needed relationship with their father. There wasn’t. Discipline is what a Father does, because He loves.

Here’s something else I noticed John do with his kids. Chris and Elle were arguing one time, and John felt like he raised his voice too loud in telling them to knock it off. Not long after that, maybe a few minutes, he went to them and told them he was sorry for yelling. They didn’t seem to care, and it wasn’t a big deal, but for some reason it stuck in my mind as an interesting thing for a father to do. I asked him about it the last time we talked, and John said he tries to apologize when he messes up as a dad, letting his kids know they are more important to him than his pride. He kind of laughed and admitted he screwed up fairly often. But then he said something I thought was pertinent to those of us who grew up without dads. John said another reason he apologized was because he didn’t want his kids to have any negative perceptions about God. He said that the way a kid feels about their dad is sometimes projected onto God, so if he apologized when he messed up as a father, the kids would know that was his mistake, and didn’t have anything to do with who God is. Or at least that is what he hoped.

I liked that idea, because it reaffirmed that our fathers aren’t God. They can help us understand who God is and how good He is, but they can also do a lot of damage. But God is God regardless, and if we take the Bible as true, it’s good to think He is fathering us perfectly.

There is this great text in the Bible that says, essentially, if our earthly fathers know how to love us, just imagine how great God’s love is. I take this to mean that even a very good earthly father is no comparison to God. There is a part of me, and I think it is a growing part, that believes if I submit to God, read the Bible and obey His commands, and also talk to Him about stuff going on in my life, in His own way, He is fathering me toward maturity. And there is something profoundly humbling about knowing God. I’m not talking about the trinket God or the genie-in-a-lamp God, I mean the God who invented the tree in my front yard, the beauty of my sweetheart, the taste of a blueberry, the violence of a river at flood. I think there are a lot of religious trends that would have us controlling God, telling us that if we do this and that and another, God jump through our hoops like a monkey. But this other God, this real God, is awesome and strong, all-encompassing and passionate, and for reasons I will never understand, He wants to father us.

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