“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”     Malachi 4:5-6 (NIV)

This verse has been pivotal in my own fathering for the past nineteen years. I know this passage is a Messianic prophecy, but it is also a commentary on the condition of the father’s heart. There are many things that turn our hearts away from our children.

Our culture applauds accomplishment. We recognize men who do things: men who build companies, men who win elections, men who climb ladders. Our culture of doing can easily redefine our priorities drawing our energy, our attention, our focus. Jesus said that our hearts are found in that which we treasure and in a culture of doing we are beckoned to treasure success setting our hearts therein. This makes for a fantastic career, but a lousy father.

One of the keys to fathering well is turning my heart to my children.  That means two things to me.

Children can tell when I’m holding something back. One of the deepest desires of all people is to be loved completely. Children figure out very quickly when they are loved and when they are tolerated. Turning my heart to my children means giving them all of myself and holding nothing back emotionally. I want to be a father who loves deeply, who is “all in” and who leaves nothing on the table. When my children know they have my heart they do not need to rebel, they do not need to wander away, and they do not need to fight for my love. Fathering well means giving all of myself.

I can always tell what my priority is by where I spend my most valuable resources: my time and my money. With all the pressures of a doing culture it is easy to slip into the habit of desiring peace and quiet when I get home. There will be plenty of time for that after the children are grown. And when they are gone what would we give to have ten more minutes with them alone? Turning my heart to my children means I place their needs and well-being above my own by investing my time and money into their lives. Fathering well means making my children my priority.

This scripture comes with a blessing and with a curse. When I turn my heart to my children then they will turn their heart toward me. This is how we avoid relationship problems. When a father gives his heart the natural reaction is for children to give theirs also. However, when he doesn’t the relationship breaks down and many problems arise. Let us father well. Let us turn our hearts to our children.