Posts in category Adult children

Resurrected pain

Resurrecting pain

Ron & Nan Deal and sons

I am dreading the holidays. My 12-year-old son, Connor, died in February 2009 and every year I become anxious about facing the holiday season without him. How can my family go through the motions of our annual traditions without Connor? How do we find the “joy of the season” with so much sorrow in our hearts?

Most likely you, too, have been through a significant loss in your life. I know your children or stepchildren have. And whether we like it or not, the magic of the holidays also resurrects our pain. Loss is central to the stepfamily experience. I suggest you get prepared to face it, especially during this time of year.

The Enduring Nature of Loss
Whether your loss came this past year or 10 years ago, you won’t “get over it.” You will only get through it. Loss endures. And special family occasions, like the holidays, remind us once again of what is no more.

A deceased parent will be missed this time of year with extra tears. A family fractured by divorce will feel again the pain of being emotionally splintered into two houses. Children will reminisce about what was and what could have been, while reprocessing how they feel about the new stepfamily members in their lives. Grandparents will wish the family could, once again, all be together. And when the awkwardness of holiday activities confronts, stepparents may again evaluate the realities of life and expectations lost.

Because loss is enduring, these types of responses cannot be helped. And they should not be avoided. The fragile nature of stepfamily living sometimes leads people to deny resurrected pain or try to “fix” others who experience it. Grandparents, for example, might assume that a child who cries once again over the loss of the original family just needs a well designed world that will make everything better. Even worse, insecure parents may emotionally punish a child for not being loyal to the new family. For example, when learning that his adult children questioned whether they would attend a pre-Christmas party that included their stepmother’s adult children and grandchildren, one father threatened not to attend his grandchild’s Christmas play. He thought by threatening to emotionally withdraw himself he could encourage his adult children to accept his new wife. How misguided!

Responding to Loss
Loss does not need to be fixed. It needs to be expressed—and received with compassion. Don’t be afraid of your own feelings of loss and don’t fear listening to those of others. The process of “bearing with one another” is how we survive grief (Galatians 6:2).

Give permission to grieve and use the holidays as a springboard to conversation about loss. A stepparent might say to a child, for example, “I noticed that you’re not getting to spend as much time this year with your dad and his parents. I’ll bet that makes you sad. [Pause and wait for a response.]” Or, while engaged in a holiday tradition that started before the stepfamily began, one might say, “I know this reminds you of [missing family member]. Tell me a story about when you used to do this activity together.” These small conversations give permission to grief and the emotional connections therein. Plus, when communicated by a stepparent, they engender respect, care for the person, and may actually facilitate the new stepfamily relationships.

Model sadness. Adults should talk openly about their sadness and express tears. This communicates that it is okay for others to do the same, but more importantly, it models for younger children appropriate ways of grieving.

Coach children in healthy grieving. Labeling the emotions of children, for example, helps them learn to identify the emotion in themselves. “I’ve noticed that since coming home from your mom’s house you are pretty irritable. I’m wondering if you are missing her a lot lately?” A child who has been acting angry in this situation can now deal with their sadness, a necessary action if they are ever to stop being inappropriately angry and irritable.

Act in kindness. Consider what might minister to someone’s grief and act accordingly. A stepfamily member might encourage, “I know your sister’s family is only here for a short time. Why don’t you spend extra time with them and I’ll manage the children for a while.”

Don’t take it personally. Stepparents, especially, need to disconnect from the pain of their stepchildren during the holidays. A child’s sadness for what has been lost is not necessarily a rejection of you. Don’t make it about you; keep it about them.

Manage your guilt. Biological parents can become frozen by their children’s sadness. Yes, their pain may be a result of your past choices, but don’t allow that guilt to paralyze you from setting reasonable limits and enforcing rules. Permissiveness does not heal pain.

The Great Teacher
Loss is the great teacher. It has the power, for example, to deepen our walk with the Lord, reprioritize our lives, and remind us what matters most. The loss of my son has certainly had that impact on me. This holiday, don’t squash your grief (or anyone else’s). God will teach you much if you will pay attention to your loss and listen.

Learn more about Connor’s Song, the ministry started in Connor’s memory.

Retirement: the most courageous step you can take

Stepping up and becoming a patriarch may be the most courageous step a man ever makes. It’s not only politically incorrect, which makes an even stronger case for it, but it’s countercultural, demanding grit and character to go against the grain of a youth-oriented society.

A man who doesn’t step up at this point in his life will most assuredly step down. True patriarchs are such an endangered species that most men don’t know this step exists. Others wrongly assume that they could never stand on this step; they don’t see themselves ever becoming a patriarch. As a result, we have a generation of men entering this last season of their lives feeling aimless, useless, and bewildered, instead of being on the cutting edge of what could be their most productive and fruitful years.

Grand theft of the elderly?

About a dozen gray-haired men sat at the table in a prestigious country club, all former executives who had been highly successful. Leaders. Champions. Bright, intelligent minds. These were risk takers who’d led big lives, checkered with successes and failures. Married between 45 and 60 years, these men clearly had plenty to impart to younger generations. As I prepared to speak to them, I couldn’t help but think that their gray heads only added to their dignity.

They had asked me to speak for 10 minutes about what FamilyLife was doing to strengthen marriages and families. As I unpacked what we were doing, I mentioned that I would be speaking to a gathering of executives a couple of days later about “Three Qualities of a Patriarch.”

What happened next was fascinating. It was as though I’d touched an open nerve. For 45 minutes, they peppered me with questions, peeling back their hearts and sharing disappointments, frustrations, doubts, and desires.

They talked about how their adult children were critical of them, pushing them to the fringes of their lives. They were treated as unnecessary — except as babysitters — and they felt their families really didn’t want their influence or their involvement. They said the only opportunities their churches offered were ushering, serving on the stewardship committee, and giving to building programs. They lamented that the culture had become so youth oriented, they felt emasculated — treated as though they were done and had nothing to give back.

These men — who had once been kings in their families, their businesses, and their communities were for the first time in their lives uncertain what their roles should be. Like broken antiques gathering dust in the attic, they were without purpose.

But as they interacted, I could see in their eyes that they longed to be challenged again. War hardened and savvy, these sage soldiers wanted to fill their nostrils with the smoke of the battlefield and engage in the fight again. They really didn’t want to trade their swords and armor for a 5 iron and a golf shirt. They realized they were made for something far nobler than watching cable news in a La-Z-Boy recliner.

I sat there astonished at what amounted to “grand theft” — men robbed of their glory — no longer dreaming because of a complicity of forces that had cruelly swindled them out of their courage to step up.

These men had been left behind. Disoriented. Lost. And if they didn’t act soon, this last season of their lives would be wasted.

Pursuing the most courageous step?

I left that meeting with two conclusions: First, most men don’t know how to think about aging. They don’t know what the Bible has to say about aging. Instead of facing upward on the fifth step and pursuing God and his purposes for their lives, they step down and squander a lifetime of experience, wisdom, and abilities. They erroneously conclude that their impact is over and take their cues from the culture about retirement. As they shrivel in self-absorption, all wrapped up in themselves, their lives become the smallest of packages. The result? A perennial shortage of sages.

Think with me for a moment: How many men do you know in their sixties, seventies, and eighties who are vigorous, still growing, and still using their influence for good? Men so visionary, so alive, so positive and expectant about how God is going to use them that you’d want to be like them when you grow old.

A second conclusion was evident: It’s time to resurrect the mantle of patriarch. It’s time for a new order of noble, life-seasoned men to courageously arise, strip away encumbrances, and do battle on behalf of their children, grandchildren, communities, and nation. God created men not to rust out but to wear out as they stretch out toward the finish line.

For those of you who are over 55 years old — and especially if you are retired — I have a tough question: If you’re finished making a difference, then why are you here?

Do you think your best days are behind you? Do you think you don’t have anything else to give? Are you going to believe the culture that thinks you should clip coupons, collect seashells, and spend your kids’ inheritance?

Or on the other hand, wouldn’t you love to be able to articulate your mission for the years you have left? Wouldn’t you like to know and feel noble about what you’re living for? Could you imagine others considering you to be … a patriarch?

A word that drips with dignity

The word “patriarch” comes from the Latin word patri, which means “father.”  Webster defines a patriarch as it relates to a family as, “a man who is a father or founder, the oldest representative of a group, a venerable [esteemed] old man. Unfortunately, in today’s culture, many people consider “patriarch” a dirty word.  For some it conjures images of male chauvinism, of self-serving men who rule their homes through fear, force, and manipulation.

But I believe it’s a word that drips with dignity. In the Old Testament, patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and David served as heads of their families and were described as men after God’s heart. In today’s culture, patriarchs are men who spend their final years investing in the generations to come. They are men who realize their potential to have a lasting influence in their families and in their communities.

I began to become interested in the thought of being a patriarch as my children grew into adulthood and began to marry. My role as a father was changing; I knew that as they established their own families I no longer had the same type of authority in their lives. But I also began to recognize that my work as a father was not finished — it was just changing. Even though my children were adults, they still needed my encouragement and prayers.  I’m no longer the head coach calling the players, but I’ve become a fan on the sidelines, cheering them on.  Young men raising a family in this culture need enthusiastic applause.

As patriarchs we have the time to cheer for our grandchildren and pass on stories of how God has worked in our lives.  One of my grandchildren once asked me how I helped start FamilyLife.  I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of the story, and was reminded of Psalm 71:17-18, a passage you might call the memoirs of a patriarch: “O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare Your wondrous deeds.  And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.”

A new title

What an opportunity we have as we enter into the final years of life to use the wisdom and influence we’ve accumulated to reach out to the next generation. This is the vision many men today need for their final years. I think of Bill Barber, a lifelong Texan with a wonderful, earthy sense of humor. I met Bill after his son, Clay, came to work at FamilyLife, and I remember when I called him a patriarch. He later wrote me to say he was surprised at my remark. “Heck, I didn’t realize that I was one.”

Bill said he’s been called repulsive, obnoxious, anachronistic, a con man, funny, crazy, opinionated, a rascal, and “an enigma with savoir faire.”  But he kind of liked this new title of “patriarch.”

“Fact is, I’m really loving this patriarching,” he wrote. It is “a lot simpler than most of my peers think. You gotta quit fighting it. Admit your age. Oh, yes, it doesn’t hurt to be 1) an encourager; 2) a servant; 3) a discipler; 4) a man who is silent sometimes; and 5) forgiving to others and self.

“Being a patriarch is just not too bad.”

Taken by permission from Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, by Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife Publishers.  Copyright © 2011 by Dennis Rainey.  All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Retirement: the most courageous step you can take” by FamilyLife founder Dennis Rainey.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistDr. Howard Hendricks invested his life into countless men, including Dennis Rainey. Read about that impact.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistListen to “Finishing Well” broadcasts on FamilyLife Today to learn what retirement should and shouldn’t be.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistInvest in other men by doing a Stepping Up small group video series together. Find out how.

Be the man, God’s man: Letters to my sons and to a son-in-law

Sometimes it’s helpful to see what other men have done in raising their children. How have they celebrated milestones?  What did they say when it came to THE talk?  Did they spank or not?  In this post, Dennis Rainey shares letters that he wrote to his sons and a son in-law celebrating special events in each of their lives.  This was originally posted as an article at  It’s a little long but the letters have great content and will be a great reference for you.

Dennis wrote a special poem called “Be the Man, God’s Man” to his sons Benjamin and Samuel, and his son-in-law Michael Escue.  He read the poems to Benjamin and Samuel during the rehearsal dinners before their weddings, and he presented the poem to Michael when he graduated from medical school. In response to requests from our readers, here is what Dennis wrote:

Be the man, Benjamin, God’s man
On the eve of your wedding day, July 13, 2001

God made you to be the man, Benjamin Rainey. His man.

Our journey as father and son is filled with memories from as far away as the Great Wall of China and smuggling Bibles to as near as our backyard and winter picnics, roasting s’mores, and shooting hoops. We’ve sought the trophy white tail in the pine thickets of South Arkansas and tracked an elk in the alpine meadows of Eastern Oregon. From your birth I’ve prayed that you would become the man God created you to be. It’s in that spirit that I now challenge and bless you.

When accomplishments and praise come your way, resist pride. Remember the gift Giver.

Be a humble man. God’s man.

When the world lures with lust, tempts with treasure, and entices with influence and power, turn away. Turn from the temporal to the eternal. Be a Kingdom man. Be God’s man.

When culture decays, step into the battle and be a spiritual warrior for your generation. Be a courageous man.  God’s man.

When the Father of lies attempts to deceive, instead embrace the truth. Live the truth. Let God’s Word be the surgeon of your heart. Then you’ll be a truthful man. God’s man.

When hobbies, toys, and games beckon you back to boyhood, turn away from childish things. Step up to manhood. Step into your responsibility and pain.

Remember the Savior. He was The Man. The God-man.

When you fail, be teachable.

When you fail again, don’t quit.

When you fail others, repent.

When others fail you, forgive them 7 x 70 and give grace.

Then you’ll be a mature man. God’s man.

When doubt comes and life makes no sense, remember Tom Skinner’s words: “I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts, when suddenly I realized I had better come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions that I cannot answer, to the reality of answers that I cannot escape. And it’s a great relief.” Benjamin, keep coming to grips with what you believe.

Then you’ll be a faith-filled man. God’s man.

When your job as husband is more difficult than you imagined, love Marsha Kay more than you love yourself. You’ve given her a diamond and your heart. Now go for the gold.

Be a one-woman man. Be God’s man.

When the evils of the world assault your family, stand tall and guard. When the burdens of the world weigh on your family, kneel and pray. When the confusion of the world distracts your family, look to the finish line and speak the vision. Be a wise man. God’s man.

And if God blesses your life with many children (I pray He does) and more of your “self” must die each day, know that you are never more a man than when you kill “self.”

Be a selfless man. God’s man.

When life ebbs and age takes its toll, don’t step down into “retirement.” Instead step up and invest in the next generation as a mentor and a patriarch.

Finish strong, my son, and be the man. God’s man.

Never apologize for being God’s man. Dream like His man. Think like His man.

Act like His man. Love like His man.

And so, as a man still becoming God’s man, I bless you, Benjamin, as God’s man. I will stand shoulder to shoulder beside you as long as God gives me breath.

Make Godly wisdom your daily companion. Make His presence your portion and delight.

“Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:1-2).

I love you and I’m proud to be your Dad.


Be the man, Samuel, God’s man


God made you to be the man. His man.

As a father and a son we have walked a long path together. Together we have made the delightful, memory-filled and sometimes-bumpy journey from boyhood through adolescence into manhood. I honestly feel like you have helped me grow up and become a man, God’s man. It’s been my prayer that you would become the man that God created you to be. With that spirit, I come to you today with a series of challenges and a blessing.

When others disappoint you and hurt you deeply (and they will) and you want to quit, do one of the most courageous things a real man ever does — love. Be the man, God’s man.

When life competes hard for your affections and attention, be focused on the goal.

Be the man, God’s man.

When career beckons with its addictive power and you fail repeatedly by over-scheduling, learn from your mistakes. Be the man, God’s man.

When you disappoint those closest to you, resist the urge to make an excuse or cast blame. Instead, take responsibility for your actions and ask for forgiveness.

If you do, you will be the man, God’s man.

When “self” pleads to be nurtured and fed, feed others instead. You’ll never be more of a man than when you are denying yourself for others. Be the man, God’s man.

When it seems as though failure has taken up residence in your house or life, don’t quit. Ask God for strength to press on. Be the man, God’s man.

When circumstances are overwhelming and it feels like there’s no one to help you, take His yoke upon you. His yoke is easy and light.

He’s always there to help you be the man, God’s man.

When your heart grows cold for relationships (with God, wife, children, and others) and the temptation to retreat seems reasonable, don’t retreat, don’t withdraw, don’t pull back. Pray for wisdom, step in to the pain of relationships and knit your heart to kindred spirit warriors. Ask God to keep your heart soft and help you be the man, God’s man.

When temptation and the lure of infidelity to God and spouse troll by you in the form of narcissism, materialism, or a woman, turn away from evil and do good.

Be a “brave heart” man, God’s man.

When others betray you and don’t stand with you, forgive them 7 x 70.

Even when it hurts, be the man, God’s man.

When life ebbs and old age takes its toll, resist the urge to step down into “retirement.” Instead step up and invest your life in the next generation by becoming a mentor and a patriarch. Finish strong my son, and be the man, God’s man.

Never apologize for being God’s man. Dream like His man.

Think like His man.

Act like His man. Love like His man.

And so, as a man who is very much in the process of still becoming God’s man, I bless you, Samuel, as God’s man. I commit to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as long as God gives me breath. Make Godly wisdom your daily companion.

Make His presence your portion and delight.

“Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord. Who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:1-2).

I love you and I’m proud to be your Dad.


Be the man, Michael, God’s man

God made you to be the man. His man.

Michael, I appreciate you. You are an answer to our prayers for a godly husband for Ashley. Four years ago you asked me for my princess’ hand in marriage. You know the rest of the story: You got the princess’ hand and her family. All of her family. A lesser man might have fainted under the load of all those relationships. A statistician once told me there were over a thousand different combinations of relationships before you came … now, you know there are even more!

You and I have charted some new territory together. I’ve have never grafted a new son into our family, but you have made the whole process painless. I’ve been amazed at your servant spirit and your teachability. You’ve eagerly helped me install a garbage disposal. And you’ve been gracious to listen when I’ve called our family to stick together. It takes a man to listen to another man. God’s man.

We’ve already shared some great memories: Pizzas and béarnaise. Duck blinds and the deer woods. Ice storms and power outages. Family caravans to the farm and to Nashville. The genesis of your new family. I am looking forward to sharing many more.

And so it is on this special occasion of your graduation from medical school that I want to honor you with a charge and a blessing.

When success comes your way, as it most assuredly will do, do not let its trappings cling to you. I’ll pass on some godly advice that Bill Bright gave me when I was about your age: “Wear the cloak of materialism loosely. There is no amount of money that God won’t give to the man that doesn’t allow it to stick to his fingers.” Be a funnel, Michael, not a bucket. If you do you’ll be the man. God’s man.

When your family lets you down and your friends don’t hold you up, resist cynicism. Never forget that cynicism is a subtle form of unbelief. Remember that God is always able. Be the man. God’s man.

When it seems that chaos at home presses in, and satisfaction and accomplishment at work pull you out, stand firm against the lure of lesser loyalties. Keep on loving Ashley and be a covenant-keeping, family man. God’s man.

When it’s painful to be the man and you want to pull back, don’t. Don’t play it safe. Don’t hide. Instead, step up. Step forward. And step into the pain. If you do, you’ll be the man. God’s man.

When temptations come your way, and they will, guard your heart with diligence. A man is never more a man than when his heart is yielded to God and protected by His word. Be the man. God’s man.

When pride tempts, put self to death. Be the man. God’s man.

When children test your patience, when children test your love, when children test your resolve, pass these tests by being the man. God’s man.

When the Rainey family is late. Again. Be patient with us, again. Be the man. God’s man.

When life ebbs and old age takes its toll, resist the urge to step down into “retirement.” Instead step up and invest your life in the next generation by becoming a mentor and a patriarch. Finish strong my son, and be the man, God’s man.

As I close, there are eight things that God requires:

To love your God supremely,

To guard your heart securely,

To serve your fellow man patiently,

To speak the truth steadfastly,

To protect your family securely,

To live uprightly and resolutely,

To seek His kingdom and His righteousness unreservedly,

And do battle for your generation’s soul courageously.

No, Michael, you won’t ever be my son-in-law. You have become a valued and respected son. And so as one who has watched you love, lead, and serve Ashley and our family over the past four years, I bless you as a man. I bless you as a man who is indeed God’s man.

Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Psalm 112:1-2

I love you and I’m proud to be your Dad.

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