My father, like most veterans, never shared much of his war experiences with us kids. However, after his death I discovered a diary he kept during the war. His handwriting was famously undecipherable and my brother and sister were unable to make heads or tails of what he had written. My handwriting is not so unlike my dad’s so I could make out his scribbling, albeit with some difficulty.
While he wrote about some of the horrific aspects of battle and the daily life during World War II, the most interesting facets of my father’s diary are his moments of self-examination. He wrote openly about some of his fears and insecurities. He wondered if he would ever overcome them and I was able to see how he battled with some of those fears and insecurities for the rest of his life. I came to understand my father as I never had before because I was able to identify with him.
It took me nearly a year, but I finished transcribing his diary in 2011. That painstaking process of working with my dad’s thoughts taught me something that perhaps I might not have learned otherwise; it got me to thinking about my own sons and what I had not shared with them. Since then I have made some monumental discoveries and subsequent changes in my life because of what I learned from my dad.
I began to ask myself if I could help my sons work through some of their own fears and insecurities if they knew that I had struggled just like they were struggling? My father kept so much inside, afraid that he would be seen as weak or somehow unmanly if he shared those things openly with anyone; but in reading his diary I have learned that he had some of the same thoughts, doubts, and insecurities that I had struggled with. I didn’t want my sons to have to wait until I was gone to learn the things I could have shared with them when I was still alive. They needed to know that their father is not perfect, doesn’t have it all together, and struggles in his faith just like they do. They needed to know that they aren’t weird or defective because they stumble and fall at times, we all do. But I also wanted my sons to know that the only way I have been able to work through those struggles is because of Jesus Christ. He has given me the strength and confidence to face those fears and insecurities head-on and deal with them not only on a physical level but also on a spiritual level which has drawn me closer to Christ in the process. God knows me like no one else on earth. He knows everything about me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. That being true, it just makes sense to lay it all out for Him and ask for His help in making me whole.
In thinking about all of these things I have been reminded of Psalm 139 where David asked God, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (139:23-24). I have found over the years, that if I ask God to do just what David asked, God is faithful to show me where I need work and He is right there to “lead me in the way everlasting.”
My father didn’t know how to do it when he was alive, but in his death, he taught me how to effectively minister to my sons. Thanks, Dad.
Greg Barnes is pastor at New Song Bible Church.