dad hugging his young son

I love Chicago. I travel all over the country to a number of great destinations, but the Windy City always remains at the top of my list.

Top reason? My wife, Kristin, and I got engaged here (amazingly, she really did say, “I’d love to!”). And, of course, I love the museums, restaurants, parks and shopping. But the feature that jumps out at me most is the architecture. The amazing artistry designers have expressed in these buildings makes Chicago an inspiring tribute to how humans can bring beauty into the world.

A good friend of mine, who was a Detroit-based architect, had the gift of bringing such beauty into the world. He passed away tragically a number of years ago from cancer, but I will never forget a story he shared with me about his father’s view of his work.

Sadly, my friend found himself at serious odds with his dad who passed away before the two could make amends. My friend was a highly esteemed architect who designed a number of award-winning buildings, but he always felt he couldn’t live up to his father’s expectations.

As a young designer, he completed a home that was truly a marvel. But his dad reacted with disappointment because it wasn’t an office building. When he completed his first suburban office building — another architectural masterpiece — his father promptly judged it a failure because it wasn’t a skyscraper. My friend continued to design great buildings, but was never able to gain his father’s approval.

He never understood his father’s discontent, and it left a huge hole in his life. To what high standard was the dad holding his son? Did the dad think he was motivating his son to perform at a higher level? In this case, we’ll never know.

An Accurate Measure

This story begs the question for all fathers: what expectations are we placing on our children? Are we lovingly encouraging our children toward greatness or condemning them to believe that no matter what they do, they will not measure up? Are they smart? Athletic? Obedient? Good listeners? Do they keep their rooms clean (their mothers asked me to add that one!)?

While these expectations or measures may appear to be relevant, they are highly subjective and can change at a moment’s notice. One minute, your child is a star and the next, he or she is in the penalty box! This can lead to confusion, disappointment and even mistrust because your child doesn’t know what to expect.

This leads us to a challenging question: how should a Christian father evaluate his children and set appropriate expectations for them?

In the familiar parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus tells the story of a father and his two sons. The father gives his younger son the share of his estate, but the son moves away and squanders his wealth on wild living. Realizing that his life is worse than the pigs he is feeding, the son returns to his father penniless and starving, saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Acting with compassion, the father rejoices in his son’s return and calls for celebration.

The father in this story reacts with love – compassion and forgiveness rooted in pure, unconditional love. He isn’t weighed down with a long list of expectations shaped by worldly pressures. It’s simply his nature to love both his sons even in the face of challenging and disappointing circumstances.

The same goes for God. Unconditional love is the one measure God uses to evaluate us. That love should form the foundation for how we evaluate our children, our spouses and ourselves. By shedding unrealistic expectations and getting closer in our relationship to God, we’re free to act as spiritual leaders for our families and help our children build good Christian character.

Monuments or Tombstones?

Although my friend built great monuments that are admired even today, he ended up buried under a tombstone of unrealistic expectations. Imagine how his burden would have been lifted if only his father had measured his son with the most accurate of measures…God’s love!  So put away your measuring sticks and unconditionally love your children today!