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A Father’s Day view of spiritual formation

I’m no longer Matt Hodgson; I mean, of course I’m still me, but that’s not how I’m known. I’m now known as “Grace’s Dad” or “Ella’s Dad” or “the triplet’s dad” (Olivia, Keira and Whitney). That’s how people know me. I think it’s the product of me becoming a parent.

Last year, there was a function at the triplet’s preschool, and I met “the twins’ dad.” The twins are girls in my girls’ class. I know these lovely twins; they and my girls enjoy being pals (maybe it’s a multiples thing).

However, for the life of me I couldn’t remember their dad’s name. I just knew him as “the twin’s dad.” So, I had to reintroduce myself to him.

I believe the same thing happens to all parents. People wind up knowing them by their children.  I’ve been reflecting on that idea in regard to my own father. At some point, he became “Matt’s dad,” rather than “John.”

I can remember times when Dad walked into my high school gym before my basketball games and overhear people say, “That’s Matt Hodgson’s dad.” That filled him with a sense of pride. I was a decent ballplayer (a long time ago—don’t judge). People knew who I was and so, they also knew who Dad was. I represented the family well.

Then there were those other times, like the night Dad had to come pick me up from the local police station (a minor thing really, but certainly still illegal). The officer in the lobby, asked, “Is Matt Hodgson’s father here?” He had to stand and claim me. I thank God for a father who, despite my teenage short comings, loved me enough to embarrass himself and say, “he’s mine.”

In the end, I think people assume they can know who parents are through their children’s behaviors and beliefs. Those observers get a sense of what parents believe by watching the things their children do and believe.

Yes, I’m making an obvious leap, but I think this assumption also happens all too often when it comes to knowing who God is. I believe that Christians can do a poor job of reflecting what God is like. People see the behavior of God’s children and assume certain things about God that are just untrue.

However, we thank God for giving us Jesus, His son. Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  We believe that God, in Jesus, showed us the way, embodied the truth, and lived a life that points to God and who He is.

That’s the goal, to be like Jesus so that we would be more like Him; so that those around us would begin to know what God is like. I’d like to suggest that this is what spiritual formation is all about. The best definition I’ve read of spiritual formation is from the book Invitation to a Journey, by Robert Mulholland. He describes it as, “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, for the sake of others.” Let’s take that, bit by bit.

 

A PROCESS…

First and foremost, spiritual formation is a process. In our instant gratification, online, microwave world, this concept may be difficult to embrace. I think we’d love it if we learned that there is a “Quick and easy 5–step process to be like Jesus and you can learn the secret in just 4 easy payments of $14.99.”

But of course, that’s not how it works. Real growth takes time. Sure, there are moments of significant progress, but by in large we are on a journey with God. Just in case you’re wondering, we’re all in this process. Every decision, action, thought, emotion, response, and relationship shapes us. This process is for everyone rather than just the devout.

“…we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ,” (Eph. 4:15).

 

OF BEING CONFORMED…

We are being conformed. There is a difference in conforming ourselves to something and letting go of the control of the process and allowing God to shape us. This is probably the most difficult part of the definition. We want to have our hand on the wheel. What is truer is that we journey with God in the process, but he is leading the way.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will,” (Romans 12:2).

 

TO THE IMAGE OF CHRIST…

Most of our spiritual formation will take place in the areas of our lives which are least like Christ. In the end the hope is that we would be more “compassionate persons whose relationships are characterized by love and forgiveness, persons whose lives are a healing, liberating, transforming touch of God’s grace upon their world,” wrote Mulholland.

 

FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

There may be a hope that our spiritual formation is an altogether private matter. “It’s my personal relationship with God,” which is true to an extent. However, this definition reminds us that we are becoming more like Jesus for the good of those around us. Reflect for a moment on the image of Christ. “It is the image of One who gave himself totally, completely, absolutely, unconditionally for others,” wrote Mulholland.

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” (Matthew 22:37-38).

So, may we daily look more like Jesus for the good of those around us. May people see us and get a sense of a good God, who loves them. May we all represent Him well. I pray specifically for my own girls; may they see Jesus in their dad. May we all do that for our children.

Happy Father’s Day!

by Matt Hodgson

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