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Introduction: To the me of 1993

I am not sure why, but I have always been hesitant to operate from the “expert” mode, even in areas where I have clearly been gifted or worked hard developing understanding or skill. Perhaps because I am keenly aware of my failures, defects, sins, and mistakes that still haunt me as a husband, father, and evangelist. There is so much I wish I had known as a young husband and father! So, after 23 years of marriage to my beloved Melanie and raising eight kids, I offer you my “#1 Lesson” as a Catholic family man in the form of counsel that I would offer the “me of 1993.”

Lesson: You are Steward, Not King

There is a powerful scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King where the wizard Gandalf calls out the Lord of the City of Gondor, Denethor, when he refuses to relinquish his stewardship of the throne to the long-absent but rightful heir and king, Aragorn.

Denethor: I know who rides with Théoden of Rohan. Oh, yes. Words have reached my ears of this Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I tell you now: I will not bow to this Ranger from the north. Last of a ragged house long bereft of Lordship!

Gandalf: Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King, Steward!

Denethor: The whole rule of Gondor is mine! And no other’s!

Gandalf: All has turned to vain ambition!

A steward is “under the mission” of the king who is the true master of the kingdom. The king alone has rightful authority (because he is the “author”) and confers the necessary authority on the steward to accomplish his mission, role, task, vocation or high office in his place. Clearly, the steward has duties and responsibilities, but they are the duties and responsibilities given to him by the king, for the king, and with the king’s authority – all for the good of the kingdom.

Not understanding (or accepting) my vocation as a husband and father as a steward of God has been the cause of deep suffering for me and my family over the years. In my own way I have denied the King his rightful authority over my marriage and family.

I am responsible for providing for my family’s needs.

I am responsible for protecting my family.

I am responsible for “raising my children in the knowledge of the Lord and His Church.”

I am responsible for the spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual health of my family.

Of course, none of these are wrong. These are noble fatherly duties especially lacking in our modern culture. They are, in fact, the foundation of good spiritual direction for us men, and the stuff of every good men’s conference. My problem is that I lived these duties as if I were the king, not His steward: “if it is to be, it’s up to me.”

Those first two decades of my marriage were filled with relentless anxieties about money, doubts of my abilities, fears of unworthiness, worries about failing (and succeeding), and the overwhelming need for the approval and admiration of others, especially my wife Melanie. The spiritual and mental weight of a steward trying to rule as the king is overwhelming and led me to bouts of anger, debilitating stress, despair, depression, not to mention the physical manifestations of migraines, ulcers, and insomnia (in Lord Denethor’s case, he eventually went so mad he burned himself alive!).

I still prayed, but it was for God to help me “handle my business” by multiplying my efforts: give me more strength, more money, more time, or more success. “Do this, Lord, and I will be a worthy leader of my family!”

It is a subtle trap where my pride is my success or failure in the duties of a husband and father, instead of my faithfulness to God my Father, the true King.

In truth, worthiness as a husband and father is firmly established much earlier: when God entrusts us with our wife. It is a gift of grace, not a reward of accomplishment. Our “yes” at the altar is not only a mysterious free, total, faithful, and fruitful self-gift exchanged with our wife, but also a “yes” to accept God’s specific mission for our His family. Our wife is His daughter. Our children are His sons and daughters. God entrusts them to us to complete his work of Salvation through faithfulness, hope, love and joy.

For His mission, He has conferred on us the necessary power and authority as His steward. This power and authority is in the form of grace and love. We must receive this and resist two false extremes. On one extreme, there is the false self-reliance on our own limited power and authority, and on the other, the false detachment of being mere spectators to God’s work of Salvation for our family.

The good steward operates with a zeal and diligence that flows from the high honor and dignity of three things – his master, his mission, and his office as steward. He never presumes to be the king but operates confidently in the authority of the king. Furthermore, for the Christian, our King and Master of the Universe is our Abba, Papa, Daddy, and we are his beloved sons in whom He is delighted because we are His sons.

The sure fruit of living as a steward-son is peace, joy, contentment, mercy and compassion.

Living as a Steward-Son

I need daily norms to keep the mind and heart of a steward-son. Here are some practical ways to live that spirit that I call Five Smooth Stones to recall the only ammunition young David needed as he approached the giant Goliath.

1. Choose Faithfulness – Daily When I wake every morning, I renew my faithfulness with the name of “Jesus” as my first spoken word – not as a curse, but as a prayerful reminder of whose I am. Then, my knees touch the floor by my bed as I kiss the ground pledging “Serviam”: “I will serve you Lord today.”

2. Serve Joyfully – My wife and children are the first recipients of my service to God. Not until my house is bright do I try to light street lamps in the world. Learn to yield joyfully in matters of personal preference. Look for small, hidden ways to serve your wife and kids without fanfare. Show them what it’s like to be loved by an attentive, affectionate father. Forgive and seek forgiveness quickly and sincerely. Model the habit of gratitude in everything. Cultivate the habit of smiling and looking in the eyes of your wife and children.

3. Receive Everything as Gift – Stewards don’t “deserve” anything. Everything belongs to God. As his chosen, beloved steward-sons, nothing happens in our life that is outside of His Love and Mercy. Every thought, word, action, situation, person, blessing, curse, good, or evil can be a means to make us better stewards of God’s Love and Mercy to the part of creation that God sends our way. Our time, talents and treasures are all gifts to be abundantly shared. For steward-sons, the more we give, the more we get, that we may give…

4. Get over yourself – Find small ways to fight the pride and ego that separates us from God and others – the smaller the better. Smile more. Observe more. Listen more attentively. Offer quick prayers for others throughout the day. Forego that dash of salt, pepper or pat of butter at the table as an offering for someone. Be uncomfortable or at least delay comforts when no one is looking as an offering or intention. Cultivate the habit of giving others more than what they “deserve.”

5. Find a Wingman – Fight the temptation to live as a Lone Ranger – personal holiness is a “posse business!” We need a small, close group of trusted men for fellowship, support, and wisdom. A good wingman will give eyes to our blind spots, and someone needs you for a wingman. Men fellowship differently from women, but we do need fellowship to “advance together as husbands and fathers in Christ.”

Damon Owens, international speaker and evangelist, is the founder and executive director of Joy To Be (joyTOB.org) a new 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry of Stewardship: A Mission of Faith centered on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Following four-years as the first executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute, he served as Chairman of the 2016 International Theology of the Body Congress. He previously founded Joy-Filled Marriage New Jersey, and New Jersey Natural Family Planning Association, non-profit organizations dedicated to building a marriage culture through training, seminars, and conferences. Damon and his wife Melanie taught Natural Family Planning (NFP) for 14 years, and served as NFP Coordinators for the Archdiocese of Newark (NJ).

A Certified Speaker for the Theology of the Body Institute, National Trainer for Ascension Press, and presenter at the 2015 World Meeting of Families, Damon keeps a full international speaking schedule at conferences, marriage seminars, universities, high schools, seminaries, and parishes on the good news of marriage, sexuality, Theology of the Body, Theology of the Family, adoption, and NFP. Damon currently lives outside Philadelphia with his wife Melanie and their eight children.

In 2011, Damon served as Executive Director of The Children First Foundation, the official NY/NJ/CT sponsors of the Choose Life License Plates dedicated to promoting adoption byraising support for women who choose life and adoption for their crisis pregnancies.

Damon has served as the NJ Director for the National Organization for Marriage promoting on the true meaning of marriage, its irreplaceable role in keeping a just society, and the public harms of its redefinition. In addition, he has served as National Spokesman for L.E.A.R.N. (Life, Education, and Resource Network) – the national network of independent African-American pro-life organizations. For over twenty years, he has been calling attention to the disproportionate effect of anti-family and anti-life issues on the black community.

He was raised with his two sisters in NJ where, among his academic and athletic honors, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Brown University in 1988 and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1990. Following 13 years as manager with a major technology firm, he founded a technology startup in 2001 before moving full-time in support of marriage and the family.

Damon has published numerous articles, appeared on many radio and television programs (EWTN, Catholic Answers, Relevant Radio, ABC World News Tonight, CBS News 48 Hours, BET).