In my extremely limited ability to understand the concept of eternity and life after this, sometimes I subconsciously and erroneously tend to think of Heaven as a place where I could just exist in a state of unconsciousness and it not affect anyone else; void of responsibility or pressure to perform.
Many fellow parents (understandably) laughed at the concept of a modern day parent having any escape from the overwhelming pace of life that kicks in once you become a parent.
I used to be extremely optimistic, like all the time.
But those were the days before… responsibility happened.
That was before I was truly feeling the pressure of what life (AKA “the real world”) actually demands from a person.
Of course, I also remember feeling lost, alone, and unfulfilled back when I was still single. Not a coincidence.
That’s because with great blessings come great responsibility; and therefore, stress.
A job, a wife, and child are all blessings. However, I’ve learned to begin equating the word “blessing” with “responsibility.”
Now, before I sound like I’m going off the deep end, I want to balance this with the other side of the story.
Earlier last week, I was at of one of my good friends’ house, hanging out with him on his front porch, while his family was out of town. We talked about how nice it was to be able to “unplug” for brief moments at a time like that.
Then we talked about how if life weren’t this chaotic, and if we as dads and husbands weren’t overloaded with responsibilities like we are, we would go crazy.
Without a regular dose of being stressed out, I get stressed out.
It makes me think of a line from one of my favorite Dave Matthews Band songs, “So Much To Say”:
I say my hell is the closet I’m stuck inside.
If in this exhausted (and limited) state of mind, a seemingly reasonable version of Heaven would be a state of unconsciousness, void of responsibility or accountability, then it makes sense that my concept for understanding hell would be a place where I was conscious, alone and bored out of my mind, with no responsibility or accountability.
I’ve heard the saying, “too blessed to be stressed.” Yeah, I’m not sure I agree with that.
Because the way I see it, if I am stressed, then I am blessed.
Otherwise, I would be searching for a life without responsibility, which is what I had before I had you, Mommy, a full-time job, and two part time jobs.
And back then, I felt incomplete.
These days, I can honestly say I never feel incomplete, or alone, or not needed, or unloved. I say stress is a good thing, if it traces back to responsibility and blessings.
Last week as I drove my nearly 2 year-old son home from daycare, I was in a somber trance as I let the music of Live’s Throwing Copper album flow through the stereo speakers of my Honda Element.
As I listened to the 8th track of the album, in which the title itself consists a word deemed too obscene to spoken on cable TV, yet it is the normal word for “poop” in most other countries, I realized that in a couple of years, I probably won’t get to listen to whatever I want to in the car anymore; as least not without giving him some lengthly explanation:
“You see, son, that word is a bad word. You can’t say it in school or at home because you’ll get in trouble. It means the exact same thing as “poop” but, as a society, we collectively give more negative power to the other word, therefore we’re not supposed to say it.
I know that almost sounds conflicting with what I normally tell you about how we shouldn’t care about what people think about us, but this is an exception. We have to go along with the rules of society on this one.”
Type any “cuss word” in the search box on The Dadabase and you’ll probably come up with no related articles. It’s just not my style.
However, I’m not too worried about the words that society chooses as “inappropriate.” I’m less concerned about any particular words and more focused on the messages we send with all words we use instead; as well as the tone we use when we speak.
As a person whose religion teaches him to loves his neighbor as himself, the challenge for me is to refrain from using language that is judgmental, condescending, prideful, or laced in gossip.
To me, that’s the kind of language that is set on fire by the flames of hell. Not the word “hell” itself.
So as my son grows old enough to understand society’s goofy rules on which words we can and can not say, that’s what I’m going to teach him:
“Don’t say those certain ‘cuss words’ because then you’ll get in trouble. More importantly, let’s focus on the words we can say. Let’s find ways to build people up with our words.”
Granted, my words are no good if I’m not already taking my own advice.
During my day job, I work alongside someone I consider a “friendly atheist.” Not the kind who has a passionate agenda of converting me out of Christianity or who is obviously mad at God for not existing. He just simply believes that when we all die… poof! That’s it.
He and I have the kind of mutually respectful relationship where we can curiously ask each other questions about the other’s belief system, without it ever turning volatile or even emotional.
Last Friday I told him, “You simply have more faith than I do; to believe we all just got here by random chance.”
He replied, “You know, Nick; I find it very surprising that you, of all people, believe in Jesus and the Bible and all that stuff. I know you well enough to realize you are a very logical, rational guy. It just doesn’t fit you.”
The truth is, he makes a good point. I have no trouble at all believing in each of the miracles told in the Bible; from God creating Adam from dust, then Eve from his side, to Noah being able to gather two of every kind of animal on the ark, to the virgin birth of Christ, to Him being the Son of God, to Jesus making wine from water, to Him walking on water, to Him dying for the whole world and then raising from the dead. No problem.
Why? Because it’s all miraculous. It’s impossible unless it’s true. That’s logical to me.
Sure, I definitely believe the Bible truly is legitimate and factual.
I’m not the kind of person who only believes the parts of the Bible and God’s teachings that I want to; the ones that are easy to believe and that make me feel good. That’s not me.
Instead, I am a Bible-believing Christian who trusts in Christ alone for eternal life and redemption of all my wickedness, yet with humility I am willing to admit, there are parts of the Bible and its teachings that I struggle with.
Notice I said “struggle with.” I didn’t say I don’t believe or won’t believe. It means there are certain things I have to sort out, by carefully reading the Bible, praying to God to help me understand, reading related commentary books and talking to other Christians about my concerns.
I have this theory that most Bible-believing Christians have at least one particular part of the Bible or Christianity they have always struggled with believing. Mine is the existence of a literal, eternal, fiery hell in which people can never be redeemed.
While I’ve never met a Christian who believes that babies go to hell, it seems to be a popular belief that basically everyone else born in sin who dies not knowing Christ as their savior goes to hell forever.
That includes people in other countries who never heard the Gospel. That includes people who were only exposed to judgmental Christians who condemned them. That includes people who have been abused by their earthly fathers and have a deranged idea of what a loving father actually is.
I simply don’t want to be in a position where I have to decide who goes to Heaven and who doesn’t. But I feel that if hell is the fiery place it’s perceived to be by most Christians and their agreed interpretations of Christ’s teachings, then I sort of am in that position.
This can of worms got opened about a month ago when I read the highly controversial book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell.
It’s not that I agreed with every thing he said, but he was willing to shed light on my lifelong concerns about the Church’s traditional interpretation of hell. He goes back to every use of the word “hell” in the Bible and focuses on the original Hebrew and Greek words used.
So should I believe that all unbelievers, except babies, go to hell if they don’t believe in Christ by the time they die?
I’m going to give a very unpopular answer:
I don’t know. I have no idea. Yet.
I know that I’m supposed to believe it as an evangelical Christian. But I can’t lie and say in my heart I believe it at this point in my Christian journey.
But I’m trying to figure it out as I reread the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. I’m also reading the book, Erasing Hell, by Francis Chan; which counters the ideas written in Love Wins.
Just for the record, I graduated from a one year Bible college called Word of Life Bible Institute and earned my English degree from Liberty University; the world’s largest evangelical Christian university.
I know the Bible very well. But I can’t stand the thought of believing heresy, whether it’s some trendy author’s flawed interpretation of the Bible, or even the Church’s flawed understanding of Scripture.
Nothing has ever caused me to read the Bible with such passion. As a believer of Christ, I want to know who He truly is.
This is real faith. It’s not about having all the answers. Nor is it being okay with not trying to find the answers.
So what does this have to do with being a dad? Everything.
I want to be able to teach my son everything I have learned about God. My faith is everything to me. As his dad, it’s my responsibility to be the spiritual leader my dad was to me.
So to not understand a major part of my faith is difficult for me to deal with.
Like my atheist friend said, I am a very logical and rational guy. I don’t just believe something because I’m supposed to. I believe because God helps me to.
Exactly five years ago this very moment, on October 5th, 2006, I met my wife. And that’s exactly what I intended to write about today. I was going to explore how differently our lives would be today if that fateful night at a taping of a CMT show never brought us together and ultimately, how Jack would not be here today as the star of The Dadabase.
But instead, I’m psychologically processing the fact that this is a picture of our recently water damaged living room in our townhouse which we are supposed to be moving back into this weekend. God bless this mess:
And this is actually one of the tamest pictures. The rest are saved on a friend’s digital camera to send to our insurance company, State Farm. But I don’t have the right cord to upload them to my laptop tonight.
Truly, I am the kind of person who avoids drama at all costs. Some people are wired for it, like the people on Facebook who seem to constantly attract romantic partners who are destined to cheat on them. But not me. I duck out every chance I get when it comes to the mindset “why does it always rain on me?”.
Is it “the blogger’s curse” that I am experiencing?
In a cosmic effort to make sure I always have something interesting and relevant to say, must I feel compelled to move back to my hometown in Alabama only to move back so that I can learn to manage my finances better, then literally on the move back to Nashville have one of our cars break down so that we have to buy a new car, only to find that a few days after our renters moved out of our townhouse, that there was a loose washer on the upstairs toilet, causing my thousands of dollars worth of water damage?
Thank God our insurance policy was written up right before this happened and that our deductible is only $500. That goes well with the unexpected $250 I had to pay for two new tires on my car last week because I evidently ran over two nails in the road and the day of work missed last week when my wife was sick.
I get it that that trying times like these only mold us into more mature versions of ourselves. And I totally I am obsessed now with budgeting and saving as much money as I possibly can in every way. So really, I’m over this whole “life lessons” thing for a while. I would love a mental break.
We (jokingly?) said to each other if only pot were legal, tonight would be the night to try it. But then again, we’ve said that inside joke to each other more times than we can remember, throughout all the other challenges we have faced during these past few months.
In this moment, I am not seeking life lessons of self improvement and maturity. I’ll settle for mediocre and immature. Maybe I should start watching reruns of Two and a Half Men.
We are strong and we will soldier on. We may be lost and holding hands, but we’ll find out way out of this mess. It helps that Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down” has been playing on repeat in my head all day. (“You can stand me up at the gates of Hell but I won’t back down.”) My wife is taking this so much better than she should and I think she’s dealing with it slightly better than me. I am so blessed to have her and our son.
Our house will be repaired with enough (insurance) money; hopefully. But my wife and son are beyond priceless. Thank God for them.
*Editor’s note: I am letting my wife sleep instead of making her correct today’s Dadabase post; considering the circumstances. So do me a favor, leave me a comment for any typos or punctuation errors that you find and I’ll take care of them. Thanks!