“Lord, make me a generous father.”
This is a prayer I’ve been praying recently. I started praying it because I read Jesus’ description of our heavenly Father in Luke 11:11-13:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
It’s my responsibility as a dad to teach my kids, both implicitly and explicitly, what their true heavenly Father is like, and it is a mighty responsibility. It takes my breath away to consider that, whether they know it or not, the primary way my kids are learning about their Father in heaven is through their father on earth. So what kind of Father is He, and therefore what kind of father must I strive to be? Among other things, He is a generous Father.
This whole passage is about giving gifts; not paltry, surface-level gifts, but real ones. Good ones. Extravagant ones. And, as these verses tell us, not always the gifts my kids have in mind, but gifts nonetheless. That’s what led me to the prayer – that I would not be a stingy father, but a giving one. A father who is marked by generosity with his children.
But I also am beginning to think that we define generosity too narrowly; we think about it in terms of the tangible and even monetary, but it goes well beyond that. Money might be the most easy measure of generosity, but it’s certainly not the only one. In light of broadening that definition, here are three areas of generosity for me to grow in as a dad:
1. Time generosity.
This one is both easy and difficult at the same time. It’s easy because time is a commodity that everyone has, but it’s hard because it’s also the commodity that we tend to hold most tightly to. At least I do. There are a limited number of hours in each day, and I am finding it more and more difficult to relinquish my strangle hold on mine. But our time, as fathers, it one of the truest measures of our affection. We might give financial gifts all day long to our children, but do we spend time with them? Time doing what they want to do? Their activities? Their interests? Their passions and pursuits? All of those things have a cost to them, and the cost more times than not is our precious time. I pray the Lord would make me generous with these minutes I have.
2. Attention generosity.
What does it look like to be generous with my attention toward my children? The easiest answer, of course, is to take notice of them, but it goes well beyond that when you start to consider the implications of that statement. To take notice of your children really means to be a student of your children; it means taking the time to know what’s really going on in their minds and the hearts, and knowing that takes the intention of asking regular questions and paying attention to the answers, and then following up with further questions. I’d like to be that kind of father – the one that has made it his pursuit to truly know his children.
3. Financial generosity.
There is, of course, there is financial generosity. This is where we have to be careful, because there’s a difference between throwing money at your kids and being financially generous with your children. In the pursuit of the latter, it means making sure that I am financially responsible in the everyday to make sure I can be financially generous with my kids. This also, of course, is where each family will differ. Some parents believe in paying for college tuition; others do not. Some parents believe in purchasing a car; others do not. Regardless of where you line up on each of those issues (and a whole lot more), as parents, we can make choices about our lifestyles that reflect the fact that we want to be generous with our children. That, along with time and attention, doesn’t happen by accident; it happens through a disciplined approach to the assets you have.
And that seems to be the common denominator to all these areas of generosity. We have limited time, limited attention, and limited money. We can be generous with these assets when we make the choice to do so, and that large choice of generosity impacts the small choices we make every day about time, attention and money. As we choose to be generous, we are choosing to be parents who give fish and eggs so that our kids might believe in a God who gives even better fish and eggs.