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A Bruised Reed

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

I used to be a pastor's kid. A PK, in the subculture. Aweh, pastor-kinders. As a PK, you regularly feature in sermon illustrations. Especially ones on sin, for some reason... In Afrikaans there's a saying: "Dominee se kinders is die stoutste." Meaning, the pastor's kids are the naughtiest. It's like the ministry version of "the cobbler's kids have no shoes." I don't mean to pigeon hole anyone, but the stereotype definitely applied to me.


I was a little terror, with a big voice and no tact. Angry and stubborn. With three older siblings, it was a matter of survival. They raised me to be tough and channeled my aggression to their benefit. I remember a show-down with a cousin in what was essentially a dog-fight, cheered on by my brothers and my rival cousin by his. I'm pretty sure they took bets. Suffice it to say, I was in no small amount of trouble with the familial elders. Many similar incidents occurred, usually involving outbursts of rage.


One night, after a movie, we had family devotions. I wouldn't have been able to put words to it back then - I was eight - but I had an overwhelming sense of my sin and a greater need for a Saviour. I ran to my dad and asked him through tears to pray with me. He explained the Gospel to me and we prayed together. I know it doesn't always happen this way - for many it's a process of realisation upon realisation that occurs over months or years. For me, though, something had shifted that night and I know I'll spend the rest of my life exploring the depths of that change.


A year later, my dad passed away. He'd lost a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He'd actually been sick a lot longer. I try, but I don't remember much of him. I get flashes of him on the pulpit at church, at the dinner table, in his study, in the driver's seat of the car. Two images remain as vivid as ever, though: The one is of that night kneeling beside him, praying. And the other is of him in his bed, hooked up to machines.


I never said goodbye to him. It all happened so very quickly. One day he was at home. The next we were told to go say goodbye because he was on his way to a hospital in Durban, three hours away. I was afraid. My siblings went into the room and said their farewells. In the hustle of it all, I guess no-one noticed I was missing. I don't blame my dad for not asking - he was too weak by that stage. The only one I blamed for a long time after was myself.


We recently commemorated 18 years of my dad's passing. I've had a long struggle with his memory. You see, my dad's legacy was a mixed bag. He did a lot of good throughout his life, especially in the three years between his diagnosis and his death. He started a school for disadvantaged kids that still serves my old hometown community of Kokstad. With the help of a friend, he established an adventure camp on our family farm that, over the course of nearly a decade, had thousands of kids hear the Gospel while having a blast in the mountains of southern Kwazulu-Natal. My dad made a deep impression on many people in our community who'd known him. A few years ago, on a visit back to my old hometown, an old friend of my dad's told me tearfully how much he'd been loved by all in our town.


But my dad also had a knack for controversy. Intent on "being right", he made a stand on some hills better left unoccupied. He walked away from some tables where his voice really was needed. And he backed some dark horses better left in their stables. But the worst was the feeling that ministry was somehow more important than our family. I realise it's easy to comment with the benefit of almost two decades' worth of hindsight. But from what I know, we definitely would have disagreed on many things if he were still around today. Perhaps the fact that he isn't is God's grace in a way.


His missteps have taught me to not sweat the small stuff, to major on the majors and to keep the main thing the main thing. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone," says the Apostle Paul. My dad could've used a little more of that. And it had some far reaching effects - on our town, the church, and most of all on our family. For a lack of a better description, we were left with theological whiplash. Later, when I stood at the crossroads of choosing my own career, a family member made the heartbreaking remark: "Because of our dad, I have a deep resentment toward ministry."


"Your family is your first congregation," a pastor friend of mine once told me. It's easy to maintain a Christian witness outside your home. But your family sees you as you really are. Paul weighs in on this, too: "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" (1 Tim. 3:5). After spending 18 years in the presence of his Father in heaven, I'm sure my dad would have some great new insights to his priority list. "Perfect refining is for another world," writes Richard Sibbes in his book "The Bruised Reed".


"Have you ever forgiven your dad?" I was having a conversation with a different pastor friend of mine, Wikus. I'd had a series of debilitating anxiety attacks before that, and he was concerned. "No, no I don't think I have. Not really," I answered frankly. What followed was a gut-wrenching confession of my unforgiveness toward Chris Bester Senior. As I peeled back the layers of resentment and anger, the memories flooded back in. Beautiful memories: hiking in the veld, kayaking on the river, horse-riding on the farm, seaside holidays, jokes around the table and bedtime stories. My dad clear as day in all of them.


Since that day (and it's been a few years), I've never had a single subsequent anxiety attack. I realize now, that I had idolized my dad, as many boys do. And when he failed to match my expectations, I developed a deep and lasting resentment toward him. Another pastor friend (yes, I have many), often cautions us: "You cannot love someone you idolize." If you're relying on that person to give you what only God can give you, you're idolizing them. I guess I'd felt cheated out of a dad for a long time. Even before he died. But now I see that the Lord has a great knack for drawing straight lines with crooked sticks. My dad had been a signpost to God the Father. Flawed, broken, limited. But a signpost to the Perfect Father, nonetheless. "A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice..."- Isaiah 42:3.


I don't know what kind of dad you had or still have or whether you even knew yours. Mine was a crooked stick. And that's not a put-down. I’m one too. We‘re jars of clay holding treasures inside. My dad’s greatest treasure he passed on to me was introducing me to my Heavenly Father. And it's made all the difference.


Walk with King... He is a Good Father.







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