The Father’s Approval

March 24, 2010

The Father’s Approval

There was once a young man called Caleb who was obsessed with gathering up possessions and gaining status. He was so driven by the desire to succeed that, from an early age, he managed to become on of the most prominent and influential figures in the city. Yet he was not happy with his lot. He worked long hours, rarely saw his children, and often became irritable at the slightest problem. But more than this, he knew that his lifestyle met with his father’s disapproval.

His father has himself been a wealthy and influential man in his youth. But he had found such life shallow and unsatisfactory. As a result he had turned away from it in an endeavor to embrace a life of simplicity, fellowship, and meditation.

Caleb’s father had taught him from an early age about the problems that come from seeking material and political influence, and he warned Caleb in the strongest possible way to embrace a life that delves deeply into the beauty of creation, the warmth of friendship, and the inspiration derived from deep and sustained reflection.

Caleb’s father was an inspiring man, well loved by all, and Caleb could see that his father, while living in a modest way, was at peace with himself and the world in a manner that his friends and colleagues were not. Because of this, Caleb often looking with longing at his father’s lifestyle and frequently detested the path that he had personally chosen. Yet, despite this, he was still driven to pursue wealth and power.

It was true that his father was a happy and contented man, but he was also concerned about his son, and on any occasion when they spent time together, he would criticize Caleb for the life he had chosen.

But one day while Caleb’s father was reflecting upon his son’s life, a voice from heave interrupted him, saying, “Caleb is also my son, and I love him just the way he is.”

Caleb’s father began to weep as he realized that all these years he had been hurting his son through his disapproval and criticism. So he immediately visited his son’s house and offered a heartfelt apology, saying, “Please never feel that you have to change what you do or who you are. I love you without limit and condition just as you are.”

After that day, the father began to take an interest in his son’s life again, asking questions about what he was doing and how his work was progressing. But increasingly, Caleb found that he was no longer so interested in working the long hours. Soon he started to skip work in order to spend more time wiht his family and began to take less interest in what others thoughts about him.

Eventually, Caleb gave up his work entirely and followed in his father’s footsteps, realizing that it was only after his father had accepted him unconditionally for who he was that he was able to change and become who he always wanted to be.


There’s a line of thought that suggests that to change a person’s behavior it is better to affirm a person and tell them the good that you see in them as opposed to reminding them of the ways that they fall short of your expectations. Rather than convincing a person of their wrongness, constant criticism can end up reinforcing and implicitly affirming the view that is being criticized. Constantly being criticized as stupid eventually convinces a person that they’re stupid; it is difficult to see what sort of purpose this strategy serves, except to feed the aggression of the criticizer.

We can apply the same theory to religious life. If a person is consistently told that they’re a despicable sinner, they may end up being convinced of such and begin acting like it. One could imagine, then, that being told consistently that they are a beloved creation God, fashioned in God’s image, and called to bring about the reconciliation of heaven and earth might result in a similar conviction in a person. This isn’t about denying the truth of the matter when we fall short. It seems silly to me to deny the problems in the world in favor of a gauzy vision of a not yet present reality, but it seems equally silly to focus on those problems to such an extent that the vision of a better world is lost completely.

2 Responses to “The Father’s Approval”

  1. Tyler said

    good thoughts Corndog! i think this phenomenon has something to do with identity. when I was a child and was scolded and punished for lying I began to believe that I was a liar and a product of deception. in one sense I suppose that is true but in Jesus Christ I am a son of God.

    After I sin it’s easy to begin to see myself as a sinner. But that’s who I was, not who I am now. In Jesus I am a child of God who sins.

    • christophermahlon said

      I know pity probably isn’t the correct response, but I do feel sorry for people who are obsessed with their “sinfulness.” Like I said, I think it is dumb to act like sin doesn’t exist, but come on folks; you’re made in the image of God. Sin is not your primary identity. Thanks for commenting, Tyler.

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