Thursday, April 25, 2013

The tall order of setting a good example

Luke 6:41-42 (NIV)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. …”
Usually when I come across this lesson, here or elsewhere in the gospel, the takeaway is how I judge other people — which, of course, I’m not supposed to do. And that’s the point: my eye is full of planks, and it always will be, so it’s not my place to go hunting for specks.

But when I read these words this afternoon, I saw them in a slightly different light, yet in support of a familiar theme: I have to be the person I am encouraging my children to become. I will never be able to convince them to carry themselves in a certain manner if I’m not capable of doing so myself.

At their age, it’s a lot of little stuff. Things they are bad at these days include leaving lights on whenever they leave a room, eating all over the house and leaving their dirty dishes behind, ignoring their duty to flush the toilet and leaving dirty clothes everywhere but in the hamper. And that’s just off the top of my head. So I try my best to be diligent about setting a good example on all those fronts. If nothing else it gives me a leg to stand on when I beg them to take better care of the house.

But I’m far from perfect. One thing my wife likes to point out (which I respect because she’s totally correct) is how useless it is for me to urge the kids to get in the car when they can clearly see I’m not ready to go. No one wants me to be the dad who sits in the garage and lays on the horn until everyone is buckled up, but if I’m reading the paper while tying my shoes or grabbing a drink for the road or doing anything aside from moving my tush out the door, it’s easy to see why they don’t believe I’m actually ready to leave.

As they get older, things will get more serious. I need to model good driving behavior (Jack already comments on my speed, and I rarely go ten miles per hour past the posted limit) if I expect them to be good stewards of the car. I have never let them see me intoxicated, which is easy since I don’t really get intoxicated. But I’ll be hard-pressed to tell them they can have fun without drinking if the first thing I do at every party we go to is crack open a beer.

I once worked with a person who had a fairly cavalier attitude about showing up on time, completing assignments, being accountable for their whereabouts while on the clock and the use of sick days. The dots connected in my brain the first time I heard the colleague mention their father’s attitude about wringing every second out of his own job. He’d taught the child, directly or otherwise, to be a disingenuous worker. And really, who are you going to worry more about pleasing — the boss you’ve known for a few months or the man who raised you?

I especially want my boys to be good to whomever they choose for romantic relationships. I’m not exactly the world’s greatest husband, but I like to think we’re modeling a functional marriage. The kids don’t (and shouldn’t) see everything that goes into building a strong union, so I’ll need to find ways to try to share with them my values in this arena. Obviously what works for me and their mother might be totally different in their own adult relationships, but the larger ideals of communication, respect, tolerance and forgiveness are fairly immutable.

In some regards, it can be fairly easy to avoid judging other people — especially if all I’m trying to avoid is saying things out loud. But I can’t avoid trying to be a good dad and shaping my children into decent adults. Which means I’ve got to avoid running up a huge rap sheet of bad examples to the point where the best I can offer is “Do as I say, not as I do.” It would be far better to hope they can “Do as I did” and leave it at that.

All of which is to say any lesson I want to teach the boys is best taught to myself first, over and again, until it becomes part of who I am and not just a thing I’m trying to do. And when I size up the gap between where I am and where I’d like to be, I realize just how much work there is to be done. But I guess that’s a lot better than assuming I have it all figured out and relying on my own instincts to get through the rough stuff. Because there’s lots of rough stuff. The comfort is in knowing I don’t have to encounter any of it entirely on my own.

A prayer for April 25:

Lord, help me set a good example for my children. Please keep them and their needs at the forefront of my mind. Guide me toward an understanding that walking the path you set before me is the best thing I can do for them. May they see me not just as a good father, but also as a person who lives in response to your saving grace. And may it be so beyond the walls of our home. Let me be a reflection of your light in the world. Amen.

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