The ministering parent

Do you ever look on your children, and wish they had better than you?

Back when we were shopping my embarrassingly confessional first book, my agent at the time told me I needed a ministry to accompany it. She said this as a realist, not an enthusiast. You need a platform to sell your wares. If you were selling beachfront properties, you would call this marketing. But because you are selling words to soothe souls, this is ministry.

My marriage was dying and I felt like a fraud, and I found myself identifying with Doc Holliday in Tombstone: “My hypocrisy only goes so far.” It’s good for we of rotting innards to know our boundaries.

But I am not yet lying on my death cot, casting about for my boots. I am no minister, but I am a parent, and those callings have a similarity, don’t they? Day after day these ensouled vessels look to you for sustenance, and no matter how emptied and unqualified you may feel, their little frames must be fed.

Praying with Caroline

Sometimes I wonder if I will fail them, as a false prophet leads his people to destruction, or a faithless preacher his flock into despair or indifference.

I’ve always thought of ministries like church buildings. Some are gaudy, some utilitarian; some are brashly self-promoting, some quietly holy. They become as the men who oversee them, and so what does that entail for the ministry I offer my children?

God save me from ministry. God save my children from me.

The early Christians had few church buildings; ministry was women and men traveling home to home with prayers for the heart-sick, bread for the hungry, washcloths for the plague-stricken. Their ministry to mankind was service, their ministry to God was liturgy. Ministry, in that age, was every God-beckoned person responding to the call with one small, faith-filled act after another.

Little wonder that the book describing the spread of the Church is titled: “The Acts of the Apostles,” not “The Lectures of the Holy,” or “The Church-Planter’s Manifesto.”

I don’t know how to build a ministry, especially in an iFaith age. But I still have enough conscience yet unscorched to discern the small faithful acts that are every parent’s ministry. The prayers for and alongside these little ones. The daily struggle to offer sacrificial rather than conditional love. The memorized psalm and a turned cheek and earnest repentance.

“Dad,” my younger ones sometimes say, “you are the best dad in the whole world.”

I think sometimes they even mean it. But I’m always quick to correct them: “I’m the best you’ve got.”

And that’s the truth of things, isn’t it? We’re the best they’ve got, and the best we can do is the daily liturgy which is one small, intentional act of love after another. This is the ministry within every parent’s grasp. Even mine. Even yours.

Comments

  1. Lori

    So true.

    And I loved, and still love, your first book, regardless of how life may have changed since then. It’s the whole reason I follow your writing here. As Richard Rohr says, “everything belongs.”

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    Woodlief

    Lori,
    Whenever I get down on myself about that book, and what followed it, someone comes along to remind me that there have been some folks who got something valuable from it. Thank you for that reminder.

  3. Michael

    While my sister-in-law lived in D.C. she introduced me to your book. To this day, your book remains on my short list of favorites. Thank you for sharing your words with the rest of us.

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  5. Marc V

    Tony,
    When one of your babies tells you you’re the best dad, that is true treasure to be gathered up. Don’t question it, just enjoy it.

    I have questioned myself about being the best dad for my teenager, the boy who used to be smiles and cooperation turned into surliness, back-talking and disobedience. Did I do something wrong – am I now getting payback for not doing my best (whatever that is)? I’ll chalk it up to change in seasons, as my heart hardens a little and I prepare him for life without his mom and me. Hope he heeds some of our advice.

    Years ago I struggled with hearing from my wife that I was the best husband, or that I married the “best” woman. My engineer/science side would rear up: what are the measurables, as compared to what? I found peace when I accepted that she was the best because the Lord blessed me with her, and I should do all I can to honor that blessing. I understand that sometimes relationships can turn bad for whatever reason, and all you can do is pray that God gives you direction so you can find peace.

    I have attended some churches where all of the exits out of the sanctuary have written over the doors: You are now entering the missionary field. I find myself wondering if I should be traveling to some third world country on a mission, and then I remember the three bodies/babies who need help every day. Even the teenager who won’t admit his need.

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    Woodlief

    Marc,
    I suspect that, no matter how inadequate you may feel right now, you are exactly the father your son needs. Even if it takes him some time to realize it.

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  8. Katherine

    If I understand the world correctly, next to cash, a writer craves praise. You deserve it. I don’t just read you, I read you out loud to my family. Your honesty gives words to the truth that we are allowed grace in this world, even in a broken state of being.

  9. Lindsey

    Tony, your words are like balm to my ears today. Needed to hear it. Sometimes I feel like my “ministry” is just making it through the day, on to the next one. Good stuff. Followed you on twitter for a long time, but this is my first trip to your blog. Read voraciously. You sound like a wonderful & honest Dad to me. Keep it up.

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