A Father's Fight for Joy

"A wise son makes a glad father" (Proverbs 10:1a)

This verse stopped me in my tracks the other day. I thought I’d breeze right past it as I dove into Proverbs 10 during my morning quiet time, but this opening line would not let me go.

Am I a glad father?

Now, I know that the father is not the primary target in this verse. The writer is addressing the son, giving him instructions for good living. Be wise, and it will make your father glad. Perhaps you’ll think me selfish (or at least hermeneutically unsound) for making this verse about me, but the phrase glad father struck me deeply.

Again, my conscience asked, Am I a glad father?

Sometimes. Or, if not glad, I can at least be silly. But I’m not sure if my kids would use the word glad to describe my chief disposition. There’s good reason, I tell myself. Parenting is serious business. We have work to do, things to teach, discipline to deliver. Sometimes we need to set frivolity aside and buckle down. But where did I ever get the idea that gladness is a distraction? Biblical gladness is not an enemy of parental efficiency or success. Biblical gladness is fuel for the faithful parent. It’s humbling to realize my parenting can be so shortsighted that I forget something as obvious as that.

So what do I do? I wish the answer were as simple as, “Be glad more often, you dummy.” But it’s not. First, I need to break the habit of misplaced gladness. Too often, even when I am glad, I’m glad for the wrong reasons. Rather than the simple, godly joy that comes from seeing my children as beautiful gifts from the Father, I make my joy contingent upon whether or not they live up to my expectations in a given moment. Did they clean their room? Have they finished their homework? Are they getting along with one another? Because a negative answer to any of these questions means more work for me. I am all too prone to a false gladness that only appears when my children have satisfied their self-centered father.

I confess that this conditional gladness is a soul-crushing mockery of the fatherly joy my children deserve to see. It distorts their view of what a father should be, filling their moral imaginations with phony impressions of our Heavenly Father.

But even as I reflect on the weight of this responsibility and admit my shortcomings in living up to it, I am not without hope. I look to God, who loves us as children because of His character, not our merit. Turning from my selfish ways, I pursue His glory and, in that pursuit, find incomparable joy. This overflows to my children as I learn daily to love them God’s way—with gladness.

Fathers, delight in your children. Draw close to your Heavenly Father and let His love flow from you to them with a fierce joy. Fight the superficial, goal-driven false gladness that amounts to little more than self-worship. Be a glad father.

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Scott James serves as an Elder at The Church at Brook Hills. He and his wife, Jaime, have 4 children and live in Birmingham, AL, where he works as a pediatric physician. He is the author of The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent and Mission Accomplished: A Two-Week Family Easter Devotional.

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