“And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
Following his baptism, God spoke these words of blessing over Jesus. They are words that every man longs to hear from his father. Like we need air to breathe, all of us need the love and acceptance of our parents, especially when we are children. We need to know that someone unconditionally loves us, that another human being believes we have value, that we have what it takes. It is this love and affirmation that give us confidence and hope, that help us to trust, love and thrive.
As children, my siblings and I suffered emotional and physical abuse at the hands of our single mother. I know now that my mom loved me the best she knew how, but she suffered from mental illness which caused her to do bizarre, hurtful things. The good news is that what was intended to harm me, God used for my good.
The summer before my junior year of high school, my mom dropped me off at my grandmother’s house in another state and told me she was going to pretend as if I had never been born. I did not know then what my future held, but God did. He had a plan for my good, to give me hope and a future.
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:2.
My dad lived two states away in California. He knew I had just been elected student body vice-president of my high school and that fall I had the lead in the school play, “Wait Until Dark.” He loved me and would have taken me into his home, but he wanted what was best for me and what I wanted, which was to finish my last two years of high school in Idaho, where I had been living.
My junior high social studies teacher, Bob Miller and his wife, for whom I regularly babysat, offered to have me come live with them and their four children while I finished high school. My dad worked out the arrangements with Mr. Miller, and by the time school started in August, I was living with their family.
When it came time for my school play that fall, my dad sent me one dozen long-stemmed roses with a card that said, “Break a leg! I love you, Dad.” He was working 12-hour days, but made the 1,300-mile round trip from California to surprise me on opening night. At the conclusion of the play, one man in the audience of our high school auditorium gave us a standing ovation. With thundering applause and tears running down his cheeks, my dad kept shouting as he stood tall and proud, “That’s my baby! That’s my girl!”
Did I mention the Millers were Christians? They invited me to church with them and over the next several months God drew me closer to himself. Mr. Miller bought me my first Bible. In its pages and in the Millers’ home, I found salvation, love, and acceptance. On December 5, 1982, at the end of the pastor’s sermon, I accepted his invitation to take Jesus as my Lord and Savior and was baptized that day. Decades later, God would use me and my church family to reach and save several members of my own family, including my dad.
Some of you have been blessed like me, with a wonderful father (or two!) who lavished you with unconditional love and acceptance. Others have been striving their entire lives to earn the approval of their fathers. Some lament a childhood spent aching for time with a dad who was a good man, but who was emotionally unavailable to them. There are others who still carry bitterness and anger toward a father who not only failed to give them love and affirmation, but who was cruel and abusive. Some men are consumed with grief for their own failure as a father to their children. These all are owners of a hungry heart.
This Father’s Day, if you had a great dad like one of mine, rejoice and give thanks! If your dad was dreadful, may God give you the courage and grace to acknowledge the wrong done to you, forgive what cannot be undone, to let go of the pain and find peace. May you find comfort and hope in knowing that “though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” Psalm 27:10.
If you are filled with regret for your own mistakes, may you receive the forgiveness Christ offers, and allow God to use your pain to draw you to himself and change your heart to conform to his. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28