Guest Post: by Chris Furr
The single greatest moment in my baseball career came when I was ten years old. This, of course, tells you something about the rest of my athletic exploits, but we don’t need to get into all that.
We were playing the first place team in our league, Hooks Alarm Company; and my team, the Elks Club, was stuck somewhere in the middle of the standings. Hooks had taken a big lead but we’d slowly crawled back into the game. Bottom of the last inning, I was standing in the on deck circle with the bases loaded and the score 11 to 8. The Hooks coach called timeout, walked to the mound and called his son back to the mound to pitch.
This was bad news. He’d already struck me out earlier in the game, and he was one of the hardest throwers in the league. I stood there watching him warm up and could hear my heart beating in my helmet. My Dad, who was also my coach, broke the pounding rhythm. He got right into the earhole of my helmet and said “No matter what happens, remember I love you, and I’m proud of you.” I stepped to the plate and hit the ball over the centerfielder’s head for a bases-clearing triple. A few minutes later I scored the winning run. We celebrated, as ten-year-olds do, with hot dogs from the concession stand.
That moment has meant different things to me at different points in my life, but it took on new dimensions when I became a father myself, and then when my kids got old enough to get grades on tests, win or lose at sports, clean their rooms or not. As parents, my wife and I have made it clear that we do not expect a certain level of achievement from them, but that we do expect their best effort and want them to be good stewards of what God has gifted them to do. The trouble, as I often tell them, is that we know them better than anyone and are fully aware of how capable they really are–so there is a constant tension between reminding my boys that I’m proud of them and pushing them to be their best. How do I both affirm them and challenge? Different moments require either or both. What is meant to be one they may experience as the other. And then there are my own insecurities and unmet aspirations I must resist projecting onto them.
What holds me accountable are the persistent reminders of their need for my affirmation. The end of year school conference where one flipped through his classwork as quickly as possible– because he is afraid I will critique it–stopped me short. I want him to do his best, but what is the cost to his fragile spirit if my affirmation is withheld? For Father’s Day the school sends home laminated paper in the shape of a necktie, with those fill-in-the-blank prompts the kids answer about their Dad. One answers that he loves his Dad more than “basically anything.” What do my words, my presence, my time, my example mean to one whose heart is so open and tender?
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended and he heard a word of affirmation from the Creator. This was, of course, before everything: before others questioned his authority; before folks criticized the company he kept; before his friends let him down; before he was misunderstood; and before he was understood perfectly and labeled a threat; before he would hit his knees in Gethsemane, praying so hard his sweat fell like drops of blood. Before all of that, he was sent into the world with affirmation. He knew that whatever he faced, he would not need to earn the love of the one he called Father.
As a son who received affirmation, as a father doing his best to give it in a lasting and meaningful way, I now understand that moment to be an inoculation. Jesus receives the gift of being able to walk in the world– a world in which his worthiness is constantly under assault– without anything to prove. Whatever he would face, he knew he was loved in a way that surpassed the outcomes of his life.
So much of the hurt men unleash on the world is the result of not having received this inoculation: of feeling as if they have something to prove to other men, or to the partners whose love they want to receive; to themselves; to their own fathers who never quite knew how to say “I love you” in a way that would stand up against a world that will make them question their worth.
And what of our girls? Girls who are not fiercely reminded of how beloved their hearts and minds and bodies are before they enter the vortex of threats to each of those things? From where will they receive deep confidence in their own worthiness, which is under constant assault as soon as they are old enough to notice a magazine or watch TV?
When I was a teenager and playing baseball in high school, we took a long road trip to play a Saturday double header against one of the other powerhouse baseball programs in our state. I started the first game at first base and promptly made three errors–yes, three–in the first inning. The ball just kept finding me, but I could not seem to find it. My parents had driven up to watch us play. After we’d heard the lecture from our coach, after I’d gotten all the sideways glances from my teammates and made the long, solemn bus ride home, I came in the front door of our house, where my family was eating dinner around the table. Without a word I shuffled back to my room. On my bedroom door were taped the pages from my Dad’s scorebook from all those years ago when the Elks Club played Hooks Alarm. On one page was a post-it note in my Dad’s chicken scratch handwriting, reminding me that I CAN do it. It was a reference to the seed of love planted a long time ago; before so much. He did not wait until after I’d succeeded or failed. He didn’t package it with advice about how to hit a fastball, or get swept up in the cauldron of little league where parents (mostly dads) are busy living vicariously through their children, shouting instructions from the bleachers.
“You are my son, my beloved; with you, I am well pleased.” In the on-deck circle. Before the pitches were fired at me, before I ever swung the bat.
On Father’s Day, I look at my kids and consider the responsibility, heavy as it is, to form adults whose presence will grace the world in some way. I want to be a good father, but that does not mean I have to prove anything to anyone. I can model what it means to trust in one’s belovedness. Because before they leave me and go out into the world, above all I want my kids to know that they have nothing to prove to me, or to anyone else–no work to do to earn my love and approval. My hope is that they will never run over anyone else to elevate themselves, never put anyone else down to make themselves feel better, never manipulate or coerce their partner to feel secure. My hope for them, and for all of us, is that we can be rooted in the moment of heavens parting for each of us. Because it has,–and does–even if you never heard it from the ones who made you. You are God’s child, beloved; and with you God is well pleased.
Rev. Chris Furr is Senior Pastor of Covenant Christian Church in Cary, North Carolina. He and his wife, Katie, have two sons.