For the past 2 and a half years Trinity Family Support Network has been running an 8 week Fathering Course. For those who don’t know, Trinity Family Support Network is a government funded, early intervention agency, that runs in conjunction with the church and I work part time for them. This Fathering Course not only teaches the group new tools and skills, but it also has a heavy emphasis on fathers being each other’s best support. As such, we spend a lot of time talking about how we are going as a father, including our wins, losses and hopes. Doing this, we exercise the social muscles that allow us to be honest and open and, in turn, learn from one another, as we realise we aren’t on our own. This doesn’t come naturally for most of us, so it takes ongoing choices, and the engagement of our God-given will to put ourselves out there despite the risks.
My job is to be a role-model showing that being real about your wins and losses, is ok – that dropping the mask of “Yeah, I’m ok” and being real helps everyone. Each time I do this with a group it gets me thinking about authentic community and how important it is for real growth. If we are left to our own devices, we become isolated and tend to reinforce the unhelpful parts about ourselves. It isn’t until we have someone, or some people, clearly reflect who we are, both good and bad, that we tend to learn the deeper things about ourselves. And, that is what this Fathering Course achieves.
It strikes me that, as a Christian community we are meant to reflect the best of what a group of people, called by God, can be and do – and this is one of those things we can do really well. I think this connection to one another is particularly important, as there are a lot of low investment connections made with people in our society now. These low investment connections allow us to isolate the important things in our lives. Whether it be the things we find joy in – when we choose to capture that moment on our phones to show others, instead of being there and 100% present. Or whether it be the things we fear the most, because using this low investment contact with people allows us to create an image that hides the things that haunt us. This only isolates us more, as people treat us as if these things aren’t real because we have done such a good job at hiding them, thus leaving us feeling that no one understands who we really are.
Creating the antidote to this isn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But, the call to a higher level of ‘realness’ is something Paul models in his letters to the Church and Church leaders, expressing his deepest anguish to them, completely open, even when he is seen as the epitome of a Christian leader. He writes in Romans, ‘What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die?’ He is expressing a deep dissatisfaction with himself: he doesn’t present a nice tidy leader that has it all together, he is very real.
So the questions to contemplate are, ‘When did I last have a real conversation with someone?’ And, ‘When did I last create a space where someone could actually share on a real level with me?’ It doesn’t even have to be someone at Church. We can create this kind of community wherever we are. As one of the fathers in the fathers group said, “I’m just so relieved to know I’m not the only one experiencing this.” If you give it a go I think you might be surprised how relieved you will be.