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Dear Tired Dad, Here’s What I Wish I Could Say to the Young Me

Dear Tired Dad

Hey dad…are you tired? 

I see you, dad. You look tired and discouraged, but…you’re here. And based on your eye contact and nods, you are attentive. 

As Lynne and I present, your gaze is fixed. You write notes and take the time to write down the kind of parent you want to be at the end of each section. I perceive a sense of urgency. 

You want to get this parenting thing right 

I see you occasionally exchange knowing but nervous glances with your wife, when we describe common parenting tensions – as if you’ve been found out together.  I can’t help wondering, after working with parents for decades, if what I sense in you is much like what I’ve heard from others when I get the chance to engage one to one. 

I’m guessing that you and your spouse want to be together in this parenting journey, but your ways and hers are very different. This creates frequent tension and discouragement between you.

But you are here together – wanting to encourage each other. Not knowing how. I can see in the glances and eye contact with me (and with your wife) that you two really long to embody God’s grace with each other, for each other, and for your kids. 

I’m guessing by your responses to stories of Lynne’s and my struggles that you’ve had your share too. Maybe even more than your share. Dad, I can’t help but wonder if you’re feeling burdened and overwhelmed. Believe me, I know about that. I was the tired dad wanting to get parenting right. Dad in the front row, I’ve been there!  

And if I could turn back time 25 years and speak to my younger self, this is what I’d say to myself, and what I believe might be helpful for you: 

Your mistakes aren’t your identity as a parent, or as a follower of Jesus

Your struggles simply don’t define you. Whatever mistakes you’ve made, whatever irrational words you’ve used that you wish you could take back, they aren’t the core of who you are. 

Yes, the sin that so easily entangles really does entangle, doesn’t it? And it isn’t going away anytime soon. But it does not define. The real you, perhaps sometimes hidden behind a wall of remnant “old self” baggage from your past, is righteous. The apostle Paul makes it clear: If you are a follower of Christ, you have a new identity.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! … God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:17, 21

This is easy to forget in the daily grind of menus and schedules and homework and messes.

The mayhem of parenting can feel like way too much

I lost sight many times. One such day was the day on our first “family vacation” with our young family. Sick and crabby kids, ornery husband and wife, bad weather, and a cramped condo concocted a volatile sludge of unsorted, discouraging chemistry. I can see it all so clearly now. But at the time, all I could see was my own misery.

I took a walk to settle down, to protect myself and my family from the monster raging inside me. The walk turned to a run. I wanted, needed, to get as far away from the mayhem as I could. 

At the end of my sprint on a dirt road was a metal real estate sign swinging back and forth in the cold, damp wind. I heaved to catch my breath in rhythm with the sign. As my breathing slowed, the sign did not. The sign’s swift swinging reminded me that back at the condo the chaos carried on. I came to quickly hate that sign. Not really the sign, but what it represented — the reality of my out-of-control circumstances.

I took out my fury on the sign. I picked up a rock at the roadside and hurled it. The clash of rock on metal strangely satisfied. I did it again. And again and again. I hurled rocks until my arm hurt and the sign was pummeled with dents. And then the floodgates opened. The tears stung my cold, windswept eyes. I cried out, “God, where are you?!?!?”

At the side of the road the pummeled sign kept swinging, a reminder that neither messy circumstances nor God’s presence will ever cease.

God is with you, in the middle of the struggle and exhaustion

I didn’t realize it at the time, but upon later reflection it became vividly clear. God was right there with me in the chaos. 

I didn’t do everything “right” that day, and I have failed many times since. But I have never been alone in the struggle. This realization frees me to smile, not in happiness about getting it right, but in joy that even in my struggle God is present.

My friend, I don’t know the specifics of your mess. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed, or maybe you struggle to connect with a defiant child, or maybe you’re at odds with your spouse. I don’t know what the challenge is that you might want to fix or avoid. 

But this I know: Your desire to escape the chaos reflects your deepest longing – for peace, for joy, for reconciled relationships and circumstances unencumbered by life’s messes. It’s a longing for heaven. It reveals that God is present, even in your mess.

To become more aware of God’s very real presence in the messiness of earth, you may even repeat this simple prayer out loud, “God, you never leave me nor forsake me.” It might take weeks, months, or even years, but if you keep bringing these thoughts and words to your struggle, you too will smile.

And one other thing: Don’t call them vacations. Vacations evoke images of peace and rest. Call them adventures. Then, if peace and rest come, you can smile some more. If they leave you more tired, well, that’s what memories are made of.

And, tired dad… it’s okay. You won’t always be this type of tired. 

Want to learn more? Jim recorded this 38-minute audio thinking about dads (although moms can listen too!). If your wife has recently been digging into our material and is urging you to “get on board!” this is a great place to start! 

Jim Jackson
Jim Jackson
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