The Stable Presence
Five Traits of Resilient Fathers
Fathers are called to provide for and protect their households. To do this well, they must be sober-minded and stable men who lead their families with gladness, fortitude, wisdom, and resilience.
To provide literally means “to see before.” Thus, a key element of provision is anticipation. A dad is responsible to anticipate the needs, threats, and temptations in his household. His goal is to have clarity about the issues facing his family, coupled with a readiness to act with wisdom to address them.
And he does not do so by himself. In seeking this clarity for the sake of provision, a father does well to remember that he has been given a helper precisely for this purpose. Together, they will see more than if they try to see alone. A faithful father welcomes the insights and wisdom of his wife concerning the needs of the family.
Fathers with Sober Minds
A common pitfall in a father’s leadership is defensiveness in response to his wife’s insights, comments, and encouragements to act. Say a mother sees a pattern of sin forming in her son’s life. She brings it to her husband’s attention, wanting him to do something about it. He gets defensive, or blows up, or shuts down, or shifts blame. All of these reactions display a lack of sober-mindedness.
This is true regardless of whether his wife brings the issue to his attention in a helpful way. Say that the sin in the kids has awakened fear in her. She knows that little sins, when left unchecked, become big sins. Little sinners, if left unchecked, grow up to be big sinners. And so, she brings this to her husband’s attention with some anxiety, agitation, and (perhaps) frustration that the sin has festered as long as it has.
Such situations call for stable sober-mindedness. At a basic level, sober-mindedness is the opposite of drunkenness (1 Thessalonians 5:6–8). Drunkenness refers to the physical, cognitive, and moral impairment caused by drinking too much alcohol. Drunkenness negatively affects one’s judgment, frequently leading to other sins. Those who are drunk don’t see clearly, nor do they stand firmly, nor do they act wisely.
Crucially, alcohol is not the only intoxicant. Passions too, whether ours or others, can cloud our judgment and hinder wise action. Under the influence of passions, we become reactive and tossed to and fro. Again, we get defensive, blow up, shut down, or shift blame.
“To be sober-minded is to see with clarity, stand with stability, and act with wisdom.”
Therefore, to be sober-minded is to see with clarity, stand with stability, and act with wisdom. Sober-minded men govern their own passions, and thus they are able to absorb and endure the passions, reactions, and agitations of others.
Making a Resilient Dad
Where does such sober-mindedness come from? In my own life, I frequently return to Colossians 3:12–17 as a way of building sober-minded resilience into my soul. So let us consider the passage, not merely as a word to all Christians, but as a word applied particularly to husbands and fathers.
CLOTHED IN VIRTUE
First, Paul calls his readers to clothe themselves with key virtues: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). All of these are vital for fathers as they seek to lead their homes. We are to clothe ourselves with these virtues “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” In other words, these virtues flow from knowing ourselves to be loved by God and set apart for his service. Steady fathers are grounded in the love of their heavenly Father.
READY TO FORGIVE
Second, steady fathers bear with and readily forgive others (Colossians 3:13). They are long-suffering, and they keep short accounts. They don’t hold grudges or allow bitterness to fester. They either allow love to cover a multitude of sins, or they quickly act to address substantial sins and pursue forgiveness and reconciliation. The one thing that they don’t do is allow sins to pile up in their own hearts and their own households. And they act this way, fundamentally, because their Lord has freely forgiven them.
RULED BY PEACE
Third, steady fathers clothe themselves with love and let Christ’s peace rule in their hearts (Colossians 3:14–15). The peace of Christ is the root of Christian sober-mindedness. He is our peace. He is our stability. He is the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls. And a godly father who welcomes the peace of Christ in his heart is empowered to be a sober-minded anchor for his family. The peace of Christ enables him to be a spiritual harbor for them in the storms and trials of life.
STEEPED IN SCRIPTURE
Fourth, Christ’s peace reigns in our hearts when God’s word dwells in us richly (Colossians 3:16). Paul’s words press us to pursue a particular quality in our biblical meditation. The word must dwell richly in us; this implies a certain abundance and fullness of God’s word in our lives. This richness overflows from us, in both teaching and singing. Steady fathers have the word on their tongues; they are ready with wise biblical instruction, exhortation, and admonition for their families. More than that, “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” are the soundtrack of their lives. They love to sing God’s word back to him and over their families.
Finally, steady fathers are grateful fathers. Three times in Colossians 3, Paul calls us to gratitude. “Be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). Sing “with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Glad-hearted gratitude to God is the abundant overflow of a steady father. A steady father thanks God for all things, great and small. He is ever mindful of God’s many kindnesses to him, and he leads his family to the throne of grace with thanksgiving and adoration.
Sober-Mindedness in Action
So, returning to the original scenario, how might a Colossians 3 father both respond to his wife’s insight and lead in shepherding his son?
“Steady fathers are grounded in the love of their heavenly Father.”
First, a sober-minded father will not be threatened by the insights of his wife (even the agitated and anxious insights). Instead, he’ll receive his wife’s insights with humility, meekness, and gratitude. Because he is anchored in God’s love and Christ’s peace, he will be quick to listen and slow to speak, carefully evaluating the situation in light of God’s word.
Second, the dominant note that he’ll strike, whether she brought her concerns in a faithful way or a reactive way, is gratitude to God for her, and gratitude to her for her help. He is able to live with her in an understanding way and show honor to her as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). With God’s help, his sober-mindedness can act as an anchor for her, and together they can turn their attention to wisely shepherding their son.
Third, he’ll take the initiative in addressing the issue with his son. He’ll do so clothed with compassion and patience, bringing the same steady presence to bear in teaching and admonishing his son with all wisdom. Such wisdom will often take the form of anticipating and diffusing his son’s own defensiveness and blame-shifting with kindness, meekness, and manifest love. A steady father will both bear with the weaknesses of his son and insist that God’s word be obeyed in everything.
Finally, he will aim at forgiveness and reconciliation, first with God, and then within his family. God’s forgiveness in Christ is foundational, but it always spreads. A steady father leads in making sure that everyone in his home is keeping short accounts with each other, quickly confessing sin and sincerely offering forgiveness.
And he will do all of this in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him, clothed with the love of God that binds his family together in perfect harmony.