Father’s Day cards often fail to demonstrate the dark side of fatherhood. No father ever opens up a card to read, “Thank you for leaving me when I was two.” No woman writes a love letter to her father for stealing her innocence. Card commercials portray fathers reading stories to their kids and serving ice cream. They don’t showcase fathers yelling and beating their kids.
If our knowledge of the word father was limited to what we see in card commercials, we might imagine fatherhood to be a warm fuzzy experience for all involved, but many grown up children will testify their relationship with their father has been like a scary trip through the dark woods. For such people, Father’s Day is the darkest day of the year–a reminder of the absent fathers who abused or abandoned them.
When our fathers show a lack of support and inability to connect with us, it hurts because they once represented God to us. The image of God they gave us was sometimes good and sometimes abusive which causes us to imagine God as both good and evil, but the Bible says that every perfect gift comes down from the Father who is light (James 1:17). This doesn’t sound much like a dark human father.
To understand our heavenly Father’s character, we can learn from the life and words of Jesus. The most obvious example is the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
This Father is wholehearted and present in his son’s life, but he is never controlling. When the son asks for his inheritance, the Father gives it to him. He doesn’t push him to see things his way. He doesn’t spy on him, or try to coerce him. He never uses force on him—and even when the son gambles it all away, the Father doesn’t interfere. When his son shames the family name by eating with the pigs, the Father doesn’t go after him, because he respects his choices.
Eventually the son realizes what he’s thrown away. He now feels humbled and unworthy to be called a son, but he realizes his father’s servants eat better than he does, so he heads home. “It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
So the Father is waiting and watching down that road hoping every day just for a glimpse of his son coming home. Finally the day comes when he sees him in the distance. The Father has been patient, but now that the son has made his choice to come home, the Father rushes out the door. He runs as fast as he can to grab his boy and give him a big ole bear hug–that’s God, running out to meet us when we finally decide to come home.
Even though the son only feels worthy of being a servant, the Father still calls him son. He dresses him up in the best clothes and puts the family ring of authority on his finger. He doesn’t hide his son’s mistakes and he doesn’t rub it in. He invites all of their family and friends and throws a huge party to celebrate his son’s homecoming.
This Father Jesus describes is definitely not a narcissist. He’s a lot like Jesus Himself. Later Jesus will tell his friends “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9).
We might not believe all those card commercials, but we can also stop thinking about all those bad experiences in our lives. Now that we are grown, our earthly Fathers no longer represent God to us. This world is like a dark forest with our fathers trying to find their own way too. Many of them had very dark stories in their past. Sometimes they took us through the dark places with them because they didn’t know any other path, but there is one Father who can get us all out alive. In Him there is only light–no darkness or shadows (1 John 1:5).
What does it mean to be the beloved? It means we are cherished and loved beyond our imagination. That we are not required to put on a show or snap to attention to meet some narc god’s needs, but that He has made us to be love and to be whole in Him. My husband wrote this in his journal one day and shared it with me:
Beloved, let us love one another.
Beloved, let us love.
This sums up what I think God desires for us–to love and to be loved.
If we can just allow the cameras to pan out beyond the dark woods, we can see the Father sitting at his porch in the most beautiful light. He is waiting for each of us to realize He is a wholehearted, patient, forgiving and non-judgmental Father. He is waiting to welcome all of us home–both fathers and children where his perfect love can erase all of our darkness. Where we can be ourselves in his presence. Where we can be loved.
So happy Father’s Day to all the hurting kids who wish they had a loving father–God is your Father now and He is worthy of your trust.
And happy Father’s Day to all the fathers who feel guilty and ashamed for their failings—you too, can find peace in His love because the Father of light loves all and forgives all.