erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

We’re wired to need dads. That truth shouts at me every day through the eyes of the kids in my classroom. During the school year on Wednesdays, some high school guys and I circle up some desks, and in between bites of Little Caesar’s pizza, we open our Bibles and talk.

One particular Wednesday, with little time to prepare, as usual, I asked God for help and found an interview with Toby Mac on YouTube. During the interview, he has some honest, powerful things to say about the importance of community, reading the Bible and clinging to God in prayer. When it was over, I turned off the projector and asked the guys what they thought.

The discussion went as expected with comments about making time for God and how we need each other. Then, it took an unexpected turn. While all of us were throwing out comments, Colton was thinking.

“What’s on your mind Colton?” I asked.

He came out of his daze and looked at us.

“When Toby was talking about praying for his son, he referred to God as his ‘daddy’. I just think it’s cool he sees God like that.”

We all sat quietly for a minute, processing what Colton said. I thought of my friend Trevor, a man my age who grew up with an alcoholic dad. He told me he used to pretend to be asleep when his dad would mistakenly come in his room and fall on the floor drunk. It’s hard for Trevor to see God as his “daddy” because he never really had one. He’s a man in his late forties, and his heart still cries out for a father to see him.

“There are a bunch of people who struggle with not having a dad,” I said, looking intently at the circle of boys.  Trevor was on my mind, but so were the boys sitting right in front of me, still munching on their pizza.

Carlos was looking down at the floor. When he got to the US from Venezuela, his dad left. His mom is his hero and best friend, but he says that sometimes she comes home crying, overwhelmed at trying to make it all work.

Sitting across from him was Cole. His dad is gone too, and now his two brothers are looking at jail time. They don’t know what to do with themselves except cause trouble and sleepless nights for their mom.

Their eyes were fixed on me. The pizza-eating and side whispers were over.

“God wants us to see Him, like Toby does, as our Father. He wants to be what a few of you in this circle never had.” Looking into those eyes in that circle of desks, the ones looking desperately back at me, I could see little boys, hidden deep inside that tough teenage exterior, crying out for a father. They wanted someone to celebrate them, someone to help them become men.

As a high school English teacher, I can say with some authority, there are more young people out there now struggling to know the love of a father than ever before. The need is overwhelming, and when I ask God, “What about them?” His answer is pretty clear.

“Why not you?” He asks.  Not that I could be Jesus or even a father for those boys.  I’m definitely not fit to be either.  My lower back and grumpiness remind me of that every day, but God can still use me.

A few nights ago, I had a dream. It was actually more of a nightmare. I was housesitting and drove away from the house leaving the door unlocked. When I got to a red light, I realized what I’d done. This all fits my OCD personality, always checking and rechecking whether or not I’ve locked doors. Anyway, I put my car in park at the intersection and ran across a field to get back to the house. I had to lock that door, but as I crossed the field, there were people groaning and reaching out for help. Arms reached up toward me as I ran past them. My whole focus was locking that door, so I never stopped. After the door was locked, when I came back to the field, emergency response teams were huddled around the hurting people. I missed my chance at being part of the solution, and I had to get back to my car before the light turned green. The dream struck a nerve.

Things get busy.  Having a family takes time just like grading papers, going to Young Life and writing stories.  Sometimes my life feels like that dream, like I’m just putting my head down and barreling through life.  I’m so focused on my own goals that I miss the chance to help the ones reaching out for love. I miss God’s goals for me.

Right around the time of that dream, I read Isaiah 32:2: “Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” That’s God’s vision for the future, and I believe it’s His vision for men like me. He sees a shelter and refreshment in us that people like Carlos and Cole want so much to find. He sees a day when we’ll look up from our busy lives, stop in the midst of the fields we’re running across, and offer help.

Being young has its advantages. Teenagers love young teachers, counselors and Young Life leaders because they feel like they can relate.  And because of that, sometimes I believe the lie that I’m too old to do any good, but the truth is, just because I’m getting “old” doesn’t mean it’s time to turn in my “working with young people” card and prepare myself for dentures and Depends. There’s a desperation in those boys for something more than a buddy.  They’re hungry for a father, and there’s a Father out there who’s hungry to move in past all their brokenness and reach their hearts with His love. We can never replace fathers, but we can be part of the solution to point them to the Father who loves them more than any father ever could.