On a cool February afternoon, our family piled in our aptly named Escape and headed east on the I-8. We weaved our way through Laguna Summit and the Cleveland National Forest, summiting the final miles of California and her Santa Ana Mountains on our way back home.
We’d just visited Concordia University, Irvine, a Lutheran school where our eldest was offered a generous scholarship. Camille fell in love with Concordia’s professors, mission, and solid theological foundation. We rejoiced at her finding such a fit. And we mourned her impending departure.
“What’s your best wisdom for my college years?” Camille asked.
The Best I Have to Offer
It was an earnest question from a humble heart. It hit me in the chest and my heart dropped. What more wisdom could I offer? What bullets are left in the chamber? What gold nuggets are left in the chest? I searched and came up empty.
I’ve given you everything I have, Camille, I thought. I don’t have anything left. I’ve poured my heart into yours. You already know the best of what I know. I’ve taught you from the heights of my proudest achievements and from the valleys of my most profound failures. But looking back, those vantage points seem desperately inadequate.
I wish I had a secret I’d saved for her final days of childhood, but there isn’t one.
I wish I had something left, but I don’t. I wish I had a secret I’d saved for her final days of childhood, but there isn’t one.
The only wisdom I have is my life and the work of Christ in me.
In Good Company
When speaking to the church in Corinth, a congregation with issues involving everything from unchecked sexual deviance to racial division to oppression of the poor, Paul is near his wit’s end. Defending himself against pushback he receives for dining with Gentiles, he sounds exasperated:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. (1 Cor. 9:1–3)
Paul then calls them to turn and flee from the threat of idolatry, which resides in their hearts and is manifest in their selfishness and divisiveness. He concludes simply, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
“Be imitators of me.” I wrestled with those words when I was younger. Was Paul prideful? I concluded he avoided pride given how conformed his life was to the person of Christ. He could offer such words confidently because of how holy he was.
I read Paul’s simple admonition differently now. I hear a man poured out and weary, with hands outstretched: “I know mere human words aren’t enough for you. I know others will come along whose tongues are gilded with more gold than my own. What remains is my life. Can you see Christ in my life? Can you? If you can see any measure of the character of our Lord, that is what I give you.”
So I resonate with Paul: “If to others I am not a pastor, at least I am to you, Camille and Soren, for you are the seal of my pastorship in the Lord.”
After so many hours in the Bible together, so many hours in prayer, so many father-daughter talks, I realize just how little I’ve ever had to give.
I’m not weary because fathering Camille has worn me down. She has been a joy. She’s always been a joy (well, almost always). I’m not weary because I’ve had to fight other voices in Camille’s life. But I am poured out. I’ve never felt so empty as a father. And after so many hours in the Bible together, so many hours in prayer, so many father-daughter talks, I realize just how little I’ve ever had to give. The only good things I’ve ever given her are from Christ.
And the best thing that I could give her is myself. Christ in me, my only hope in life and death. What’s my best advice for my daughter during her college years?
Imitate me as I, through the Spirit, imitate Christ.