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You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

There can be no higher calling, no more meaningful assignment, no more terrible and frightening responsibility than being a dad. It has been said that any male can father a child but it takes a real man to be a dad. I think that’s true. It’s been a difficult day.

I spent a couple of hours today talking to my oldest son Riley and trying to get a sense of his plan or vision for the days just ahead. I thought that if I was lucky, I might get a peek of his view for the future—his future. I spent the first part of the conversation throwing out obvious “Dadisms” like “begin with the end in mind” and “plan your work, then work your plan.” I guess I was trying to get him excited about setting some realistic goals for the coming years, then making a wise, well thought-out plan to achieve those goals.

It didn’t take long for his child-like faith and wonder to completely dismantle all my carefully constructed words.

Riley is a great guy. He is 18 years old, and his life stretches out before him like an open road—a road he can’t wait to travel. But Riley sees this road disappearing behind a grove of trees just a few hundred yards up ahead. Where it’s heading, he has no idea. How many side roads and where those roads may take him—he hasn’t a clue. In fact, that’s the beauty of it. An infinite number of choices, an infinite number of destinations. Only God knows where his course will lead. Riley has the strong conviction that to choose a single road would be to limit God (and himself) from all other possibilities. He would much rather keep his options open. Wide open.

Of course, I hear the voices of elders who have gone before me. “If you don’t set any goals, how do you know if you’ve succeeded?” “If you have no target, how do you know if you’ve hit it?” I start to talk, then hold my tongue. I’ve got a decision facing me.

Is Riley a guy in love with the idea of living a life full and rich, without a care of actually accomplishing anything other than the Great Adventure? Or is he a guy in need of a serious dose of maturity and a hefty reality check? I guess—as his dad—I ought to be able to figure that one out. But the truth is, I’m having some trouble. I’m completely overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to answer that question about him or about me.

You know how conversation works: You hear words scroll across your mind and, if they make it past all your filters, you speak them out. I hear words lining up in my brain: “Riley, you just can’t do that.” “How will you afford that?” “That will just never work!” I am immediately in conflict. I don’t know if my years on this earth have brought me valuable experience for just these types of conversations with my kids or if they’ve taught me to be overly cautious or even cynical—especially about dreaming dreams that may never come true.

You know, it’s times like this, sitting here in this coffee shop with my oldest son looking at me for answers, that I realize that Promise Keepers or Wild at Heart or Focus on the Family aren’t really worth a can of spit. I mean, John Eldridge is a great author and all, but he isn’t sitting in my chair looking at what I’m looking at. And even if he was, Riley doesn’t care what Eldridge thinks. He wants to hear from his dad—from me.

In the end, I can only hold him and pray for him and remind him how much I love him and how proud of him I am; how I don’t have all the answers. Not even close. We’ll figure it out together. The way it’s supposed to be.

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I’m reminded of the first time Chief Brody gets a good look at the gigantic shark terrorizing his waterfront in the movie Jaws. He says, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!” So, here I am: I’ve been a dad for 23 years now, and I need a bigger God. I need a bigger God to be more involved in my life, more forthcoming with answers, more available for feedback.

Of course our God can’t get any bigger. But we can give him a bigger place in our lives. We can call on him more—depend on him more, admitting our weakness and our ultimate, desperate need for him. We can feel his presence in our lives expand.

My life pushes me toward God. It’s painfully obvious I don’t know what I’m doing, and I need a “bigger boat.” When left on my own I can make exactly the wrong decision in a heartbeat. And if you’re honest with yourself you know it’s true for you too.

Do you need God more today than you did yesterday? Are you putting yourself in a position to be overwhelmed? It’s scary, but it’s the only real way to live. Getting answers will become less of a goal. Getting him will become the goal. Falling into him and holding on for dear life will be the ultimate goal, every minute of every day.

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