It was 10:30 pm, and we were catching up on the last two episodes of Nashville when I heard Ben crying. “Go help him. He’s sleepy,” Lindsey whispered. She was holding a sleeping Cara. Peeling myself off that brown leather couch was the last thing I wanted to do, but my boy needed me. More importantly, Lindsey told me to go.
I got up and walked to the stairs. He was standing on the third step from the top, face red and cheeks soaked. “I’m sorry,” he wailed. His shorts and the bottom of his t-shirt were soaked. “Daddy, will you hold me?”
I held him.
Warmth spread across my t-shirt. Looking down, I saw little puddles on each step. I carried him to the bathroom where I found a bigger puddle. He had completely missed the toilet. I cleaned up the mess, wrapped the wet clothes in the bathroom rug, helped him change out of the pirate pajamas and into the Avenger set. At least he made it out of the bed. Towels are much easier to clean than mattresses.
“I’m scared of heights,” he said. It’s his new thing. He only says it when he wakes up in the middle of the night. I put him on the bottom bunk, because getting him back to the top bunk was a battle I wasn’t fighting that night. My own clothes felt cold. Even good dads have their limit.
I knew that sleeping in his sister’s bed would mean Cara would stay in ours, sending me to the couch for the night. But in the moment, it was the easiest thing to do.
The next morning, I awoke to his footsteps on the wooden stairs. A minute later, two fingers tapped lightly on my forehead. I didn’t even open my eyes. “Daddy,” he whispered loudly. “It’s morning!” I pulled back the quilt and he climbed in. I love the early morning, when he’s snuggly and sweet and wants to sing songs or talk about school, then play quietly with a Rescue Bot.
He wiggled in until he got comfortable, his left knee lodged into my right hip. Then he said, “Dada, God told me something last night.” I stared at his bright blue eyes. I was suddenly transported back to a time when I was enamored with prophets and words of knowledge.
Like any good pentecostal, I first wanted to shout victoriously. My wife had given birth to a prophet after all! But instantly, I was also scared to death. Is God about to say He knows just how truly rotten I am and He has chosen to send this Word through my innocent little boy? My soul shuddered.
Fear is a real son of a bitch.
Here is my son, confident he has heard from God last night. Yet, I somehow managed to turn this entire situation around to make it about me. Me and my own fear. What an ass.
Why did I do that? What am I so afraid of?
Why do I assume if God had something to say, it’s naturally something against me? Why do I allow shame and guilt to override my hope in Jesus? I struggle constantly to be a good man: father, husband, son, friend, provider, and follower of Jesus. But I see myself as a failure in every area constantly. Why do I live with the constant fear of being “found out”?
When my precious son told me God spoke to him while he was sleeping, I was scared to death. So often, I feel like a fake. Like I’ve made no progress in the four years since the suicide attempt. That this is all just a big facade and I don’t deserve the life I have. I hear shame and guilt whispering their lies. No matter how much Brene’ Brown I read, with every temptation, every time I fail to set a boundary or live by one I’ve previously set, I hear that I am nothing but a phony.
When people say, “Confession is good for the soul,” I hear, “You better tell everybody everything you’ve ever done if you really want Jesus to love you.” But that’s not vulnerability or intimacy. It’s dangerous, and there are no boundaries there, either. Somehow I think I should confess every time I am even ever tempted and don’t fail, just so that others will see that I really don’t even deserve God’s love. Much less a beautiful wife and a wonderful family. The lies we believe.
Yet all Jesus wants to do is meet our needs. I don’t think Jesus is nearly as concerned with my sins as I am. When I take on my mistakes as my identity, when my failures tell me I am a failure, Jesus sees me as I am. He accepts me in my own very real mess. But failure isn’t even an accurate word. I don’t even have to fail to feel shame. Just being human makes me feel like I’m not enough. Like a cracked pot. The thing is, I don’t think God cares as much as I do.
“What did God tell you, last night?” I asked my son.
“I was sleeping and God told me to be good at school.”
There it was. Ben heard God encourage him to be a good boy. He wasn’t scared of the voice, or the message. It was just me.
I wish I had the faith to know God is always with me. Or maybe just to realize that God loves me the way I love my little boy. God is not nearly as bothered by my perceived lack (of self-control, godliness, etc.) as I am. He’s never disgusted or embarrassed by my weakness. He doesn’t obsess over my faults. Instead, He grabs a towel, sops up the mess, and holds me. He knows I’m scared. And it’s going to be alright in the morning.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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