“He’s gone away…Let’s pray to God so that he would come back.”
I was eight years old and this conversation with my mom confounded me. Why would my father leave us? How dare he leave us alone. And why in the world would we pray for my father to return, when he willingly left us behind?
Forget him! (Actually, that was the ‘G’-rated version of what I thought) We will manage… somehow.
My mother’s faith in God bewildered me. Being my mom’s eldest child, I couldn’t bear to see her tear stained face day in and day out as we struggled to find a way through abandonment. Yet every day, my mom would instruct me and my brother to pray this prayer, “Dear God, bring Daddy home.”
It was by far the most faithless prayer I had ever prayed because: I. Did. Not. Want. My. Dad. Back. If he left our family to start a new one, then as far as I was concerned, he made his choice. I thought my mother would be better off without the emotional abuse.
But God must have a sense of humor because about a month later, there was a knock at the door.
As I looked out the front window, I was shocked to see whose silhouette darkened our doorstep. There were so many emotions ranging from anger to relief – anger in the sense of, “How dare he show his face here?” And relief in thinking, “Thank God my mother doesn’t have to worry about the bills.” Overall, there was a dull disgust in seeing him again.
Some time later, my father would tell my brother and me that he returned because he loved us, to which I quickly replied: If you loved us, you would have never left us in the first place.
Needless to say, I wasn’t a “Daddy’s boy” growing up. When other kids were playing with their dads, I couldn’t have cared less about my own.
So it’s no surprise that Father’s Day ranked dead last among annual observances. My dad didn’t care for the day, and I sure as hell didn’t care for it. That day was reserved for the “good” dads of the world.
A song that our church started singing in the past year or so is “Good, Good Father,” in which the chorus is sung to God stating, “You’re a Good, Good Father… It’s who you are.”
I have had difficulty with thinking of God as Father. There has been so much pain and hurt associated with that word because of my experiences with my earthly father. It would bring forth thoughts of resentment and bitterness mixed with memories of betrayal and abandonment.
As God would have it, I have two sons of my own. After a difficult, unwanted divorce, I returned to familiar territory – feeling betrayed by the God I called Father as I had pleaded with him over several years to mend my broken marriage. I felt as though my prayers went unanswered. I felt that God was distant. I felt that I was abandoned again.
Oh yeah, I thought, that’s what fathers do.
The wisest man in history, according to the Bible, was King Solomon. He wrote this:
“Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)
How true when it comes to fathers. How many of us try so hard to be the best dad… to right the wrongs we saw in our own fathers? Yet who among us can boast a 100% success rate over 18 years of raising a child to adulthood? Or as Solomon would put it, such a man “who can find?”
Growing up I had a longing for a father who was faithful to me, faithful to our family. I yearned for a dad I could be proud of, someone to model myself after. But perhaps the point of that longing is point us instead to a Heavenly Father.
C.S. Lewis would state it like this is in his book Mere Christianity:
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water… If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
But where was that Heavenly Father when I needed him?
Many years ago, I attended a friend’s wedding. This was during the long separation before my divorce. As I looked at the wedding program, I saw the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness.
A thought instantly entered my mind: No, you’re not. At that moment, sitting in a church, waiting for the wedding to start, I began a monologue directed at God telling Him that he failed at being faithful to me. If He were faithful, I would still be able to wake up to see my sons’ faces. If He were faithful, He would have preserved my marriage.
At the end of my rant, I waited for God’s reply. How would He respond to my accusations? So foul were the my words and the tone of my heart, that surely God would rebuke me for talking to Him that way. To my surprise, there was no response. But one thing was absolutely clear – He was still present.
If I were you, God, I would have left me a long time ago… but you’re still here.
The next thought shook me as a wave of understanding hit my soul:
Great is your faithfulness.
What if faithfulness looks less like pulling someone out of a storm and more like holding someone in the midst of the storm?
I demanded faithfulness in the form of God doing what I wanted Him to do. I realized in that moment that true faithfulness is an unwavering commitment to be present, no matter what.
This is the picture of the “Good, Good Father” that Christians have in God, because of the adoption made possible by the cross of Jesus. Jesus was abandoned so that we who believe in Him would never have to feel abandoned. He was orphaned on the cross so that we would forever be daughters and sons of the Most High God. What a picture of Fatherhood.
With Father’s Day approaching, the irony is not lost on me. As a divorced man, I am now the father that is not fully in the picture for my two sons. This is difficult for me to admit. I want them to think that they have the best dad of all time; I want to be their hero. But the greater reality is that they have a Father who is and will ever be present through all of their highs and lows.
So yes, I will do my best to emulate the best father of them all. But ultimately, I want my sons to look beyond me to see that they also have a Father in God who sent His only Son to die for them so that they would forever be known as sons of God.
Mike is the father of two sons, who each are proof that God is good and gives good gifts to his children. He loves cheering for their neighborhood baseball teams and listening to them play their small cellos. Mike lives and works in Chicago as a pastor on the Near West Side.
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