Contemplative Life

Fathers & First Things: A Corhaven Retreat

Join us August 2nd-3rd for 24 hours as a gathering of men seeking Jesus explore together what it might mean to be a faithful man today through our Fathers & First Things open retreat at Corhaven.

Q: Do I need to be a father to participate?
A: You do not need to be a literal father, but you do need to be willing to explore fatherhood, either literal or spiritual, as a call God has entrusted to all men.

What are men good for? In our world right now there is very little clarity. That is to say there is little clarity about what a post industrial revolution, post sexual revolution, post digital revolution world requires, specifically, of men. We know that they matter, at least we hope that they do as they comprise nearly half the population. Historically words like provider, or protector have often been evoked. But between government safety nets, and increasing rates of working women, they are no longer essential in the role of provider. And while their physical strength does occasionally still come in handy for opening jars, and carrying in the groceries, it has been a long time, for most of us, since the days of village life when lions or bears were a big issue; and let’s be honest, for too many women, the strength of men has often been as much a threat as any lion might have ever posed. So again, what are men, distinctly and uniquely, good for?

“I will never be like that man.” Those were the words that, welling up within my sixteen year old soul were about to burst past my lips like a pressure release valve, lest my body itself explode.

I was a teenage boy whose mother just shared for the first time why she left my father when he was three years old. The stories were bad (To read a little bit about the redemption my father found later in life, check out an earlier article Stories and Ashes). My father was more like the lions than he was a protector of the village. The image I had had of my father up to that point as an imperfect but generally good guy who always swept me off on adventures for the weekend was suddenly shattered. He was from now on the villain in my story, one whose DNA flowed in my own blood. If I could not destroy what he had already done to people I love out there in my family, it must become the quest of my life to at least destroy whatever existed of him within me.

Yet, by a grace of God that defies simple narration, I never actually said those words. For reasons I myself do not understand, instead of binding myself to a classic “anti-vow” against my Father, a kind of spiritual patricide via the classic “I will never be like that man:” Instead came a prayer. That day on the back porch of my mom’s trailer home, as I lurched back and forth in a full on adolescent rage, out of my heart came “God, I need you to be my true father, because I don’t have one here on earth that I can ever be like.”

That prayer, I believe, was a gift that reoriented the entire trajectory of my life.

I believe in that moment, raging on my mothers back porch, I was far from my Father’s home, mucking about in the filth of my earthly father, when turning towards home through that prayer, my heavenly father, saw me while I was “yet a long way off”  and running towards me, embraced me, with his authority named me his son, and generously welcomed me to my true home. I simply have no other explanation for my life other than that one.

C.S Lewis famously told us that “if you put first things first, you get second and third things thrown in. But if you put second things first you will lose both first and second things.” What if both the church and the culture by centering manhood around provision and protection have actually put second things first, and as a consequence have actually lost sight of the first things of fatherhood? And what if the challenges that face us men in a post industrial revolution, post sexual revolution, post digital revolution world, also represents the opportunity to rediscover first things, when it comes to being men?

In John 5 Jesus says “the son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for whatever the father does, the son does likewise.”

What if in the most famous of all Jesus parables, which many argue would be more accurately referred to as “the story of the generous father,” we see the basic pattern that makes up the sacred calling of every man who would seek to faithfully reflect his heavenly father: one who ensures that every prodigal on the journey home is seen with compassion, embraced with affection, named with authority, and celebrated with generosity?

And what if, in seeking these first things of fatherhood, we find that “all these other things”, such as provision and protection, “will be added?”

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