Empathy and Victory – SCARS

No suffering human being is helped by someone telling him that he has the same problems.

Open wounds stink and do not heal. 

Both of the above are from Henri Nouwen. They summarize the current sermon series we are in at PAC – although we haven’t used those exact words since I only found them today.

As we work our way through the bible imagining different wounded characters meeting with Jesus and being healed by his scars we’ve been saying things like:

Festering wounds don’t have the potential to heal others. Scars do. 

Sharing wounds allows for empathy. Sharing scars allows for empathy and victory.

We started with Adam’s shame (and my own). Then moved on to Cain’s jealousy. And now in week #3, we are getting ready to look at Jacob…..I’m having an interesting time with Jacob.

On the one hand, he is easy because we have way more material about Jacob to work with and a variety of potential wounds emerging. Deceit, control, fraud, worry, compromise, bargaining, and the lack of trust in God which underlies it all. And of course, there are various stages of redemption and grace to comment on as it all unfolds.

On the other hand, it’s a tough story to do justice to because the most decisive healing moment for him is during a divine encounter where he is dealt another wound.

Doesn’t tie up as neatly as I



Maavis the Indoor Cow.

Charles lived on his potato farm all by himself.
He spent most of the time planting potatoes, watching them grow, and harvesting them.
Then he sold them to french fry barons and was well compensated for his efforts.
This meant Charles could afford lots of things.
He had a big truck for driving in the fields.
He had a little hybrid for driving to town.
He had a smoothy machine.
He had a low density foam roller and a high density foam roller.
Money was no object for Charles.
So when he decided to buy a little cow he was able to use his debit card and pay it in one shot instead of breaking it into monthly payments.
Charles named his little cow Maavis and put her in a pen he got from Ikea.
She was very cute and tiny. She was so little she couldn’t even say “moo”.
She could only say “mo”.
The first night in her pen she “mo’d” so loud Charles brought her inside.
Just for one night.
Just for one week.
Just for one month.
Charles was tired of cleaning up Maavis’ poop in his house. Even little cow’s poop lots.
He tried to get her to go outside but she wouldn’t leave the house.
He pushed and pulled but she wouldn’t budge.
He begged but she didn’t care.
He stood at the window and made his eyes really big to make her think exciting things were happening outside – but she wasn’t fooled.
He purposely left magazines open so she would see the advertising for cattle prods.
He tried to get her to wear a diaper, but she squirmed out of it.
One day at supper he pleaded with her,  “Maavis, why won’t you just go outside?”
Maavis said, “I am really mo’ of an indoor cow.”
Charles said “Then we are going to need to have some rules.”
Maavis was open to rules. As long as she could give Charles some rules too.
Charles felt this was a bit pushy but lacked assertiveness, so he just got out a sheet of paper and wrote “RULES” on the top.
Maavis went first. She would like a rule which kept Charles from walking around the house in just his gitch.
Charles wanted Maavis to get potty trained immediately.
Maavis asked if there could be a rule of no country music and if Charles could become a vegan.
Charles thought it would be good if Maavis didn’t play so many games on the ipad.
Maavis felt like sometimes if she suggested an idea Charles wouldn’t listen but if anyone else suggested the same idea he listened really well.
Charles wrote down “Listen to Maavis” as a rule.
Maavis didn’t want Charles to listen to her because he had to, but because he wanted to.
Charles was confused. Maavis was angry.
They stared at each other for awhile.
“Look”, said Charles softly “I think we got carried away. Let’s just keep it simple. How about you get potty trained and I’ll wear pants around the house a little more.”
“Deal” said Maavis.

Who you are when no one is around is the most contagious part of you.

Dear 22 Year Old Nathan,

This is the last letter I’ll be writing you regarding your daughter. If you only take one to heart; make it this one.

When Acacia is about two, you’ll have coffee with an older man whose adult children are doing well and so he as a deserved reputation as being a pretty good dad. You will pull out a notepad and pen to show him how serious you are to get down his nuggets of information – imagining at least a page of notes.

But he is only going to say one thing:

“She will be like you.”

This will be disappointing at the time. You were hoping for steps to take. Techniques to implement. You will be tempted to write this off as too simple.

But, listen, he is right.

He understands something about character formation which you will be slow to understand but eventually find to be 100% true.

Since you are a bit of an academic snob at this point in your life I’ll rephrase it a few ways as accommodations to your pride.

  • The medium is the message.
  • Values are caught, not taught.
  • The buffered self is an illusion.
  • Who you are when no one is around is the most contagious part of you.

Maybe those will help. But only if you admit the real reason you are adverse to what he is saying.

The real reason you are resistant is not the simplicity of what he is saying. It’s because there are parts of you which you’d hate to pass on to your little girl. You imagine it is easier to be a good parent than a healthy person. As if those were two different things.

But take heart, as you grow in grace and maturity thanks to the relentless work of the Spirit in you, screwing her up will become less worrisome to you because there is less of you to worry about. Although, you will never have the sense you are anywhere near done; you will still be able to delight in how far you have come.

As well, the heart of God is so heavily slanted in your favour. He delights to mute the failures of the parents and increase the volume of their successes (Exodus 20:5-6). You wont abuse this promise, but you will take comfort from it.

She will be like you.

So worry less about intentional parenting and focus on becoming the kind of person you dream about her being.


Thanks to everyone who read these. Special thanks to those who expressed appreciation in person or who forwarded them along on social media.

Also, if you remember reading the upcoming Father / Daughter Banquet at PAC was what prompted this series of posts then you’ll be glad to hear it has sold out!

Nicely done dads.


Scars are the trophies you get for forgiving.

Dear 25 year old Nathan,

Regarding your daugther: Teach her to laugh at herself.

Think of the most difficult people in your life. Notice how they can’t laugh at themselves?

They are all easily offended.

They almost cherish being offended.

That escalatated fast.

This is a very lonely way to live your life; since it scares people away.

This is a very unhappy way to live your life; what could be a primary source of mirth is off limits when you can’t laugh at yourself.

How did they get there?


Unforgiveness settles in and creates a certain kind of person. It isn’t just about victim and aggressor. It eventually poisons everything. Unforgiveness ensures wounds never scar. I say scar because forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, but it does mean healing. Scars are the trophies you get for forgiving.

Open wounds seriously compromise quality of life. To say the least, you can’t laugh at yourself if you are bleeding to death.

So teach her to forgive.

Which means doing it yourself.

You are currently pretty easily offended (no offense). It’s rooted in unforgiveness. And you know who. The good news is you will forgive. And now, most of the time, you don’t take yourself too seriously.

It’s so good you sorted this out.

If you didn’t , you’d be missing out on one of the most enjoyable things in your relationship with Acacia right now. She loves “giving her old dad the business”. But about 80% of the stuff she will tease you about is stuff you’d get huffy and defensive about if someone teased you about it now.

That’s just one of the unexpected rewards you’ll find on the other side of forgiveness.

So forgive young man, as the Lord forgives you.

She’ll watch you and figure it out.






Think twice about validating her feelings.

Dear 25 year old Nathan

Regarding your daughter: think twice about validating her feelings.

This sounds terrible, I know.

It evokes images of a shirtless dad in overalls on a dust swept farm. He is burying Ol’ Rover with a broken shovel and growling “Don’t you cry now!” to a sobbing little girl wearing one shoe. I don’t mean be like him.

What I mean is you will live in a weird cultural moment where validating feelings is not only the highest parenting value it is also the most misunderstood one. You could be caught up in this if you don’t think carefully.

Let me try to clear it up for you so you don’t mistake validating her feelings for:

  • assuring her every emotion she has is appropriate
  • dropping everything to pay attention to her when she acts up
  • the absence of consequences
  • not making her do things she doesn’t feel like doing

That’s not validating feelings. That is intentionally doing things which stunt her emotional development in the name of being a good dad. Think again.

Validating feelings means teaching her which feelings are valid, when those feelings are valid, and even how to validly express those feelings.

This has nothing to do suppression or denial. It has to do with nurture. It has to do with the wise cultivation of maturity. It is simply understanding there are many feelings she will get and not all of them will be valid.

Like when:

  • she doesn’t feel like getting potty trained
  • she doesn’t feel like eating her veggies
  • she doesn’t feel like going to church
  • she doesn’t feel like studying
  • she doesn’t feel like being polite
  • she doesn’t feel like forgiving
  • she doesn’t feel like saving money
  • she doesn’t feel like being kind to the unpopular kid
  • she doesn’t feel like working on her marriage
  • she doesn’t feel like being patient with your grandkids

In fact, one of the most important gifts you can give her is to train her to learn to happily do the things which are best; regardless of how she may feel about it.

This gift doesn’t stifle her – it empowers her.

Now, I know you well enough to know you seriously doubt your own ability to model healthy emotional responses.  That’s why I wrote you this earlier.