“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’”
Jesus taught us to begin our prayers, “Our Father…”
Such a personal title.
Not Lord. Not King. Father.
To be able to call God our Father is an intimate privilege, but it can also be a complex issue.
I once heard a story about a prison ministry that decided to provide Mother’s Day cards for inmates to send to their moms. The cards flew off the racks. Prisoners lined up to pick out the perfect card to show their moms appreciation for all of their love and support through the years.
It went so well that the prison ministry decided to hold the same event for Father’s Day. They put out the Father’s Day cards and waited. No one showed up. Not one inmate. No one in that prison wanted to thank a dad.
There could be many reasons for this response, but whatever the reason, it made me wonder what effect the evidently poor relationships with their earthly fathers had on any faith journey they might have. While they are as desperately in need of God as the rest of us–to hear that they are to pray, “Our Father…”
How would that make them feel?
What context do they have for what a good father could be?
I’m so thankful to have been loved by my dad. He did so much for me as I grew up–from teaching me to play tennis and swim, to how to snow ski and throw a spiral. He told me he loved me and snuggled with me on the couch. But my dad was also a perfectionist and his expectations were always high. We were to do our best at everything, whether playing backgammon or learning to return a lob. And my dad was huge on instilling impeccable manners. After eating at my dad’s formal dinner table, I often wondered if he was preparing us for a meal with the Queen of England.
While I do appreciate the good manners and work ethic my dad taught us, the problem was that we were only together every other weekend. My parents were divorced by the time I was 3 years old so I have no memory of actually living with my dad.
He set high expectations and I was eager to please my dad at every turn. I strove for perfection, and for a couple of days every other weekend, it wasn’t too hard. I was far from perfect, but I wasn’t too bad at pretending for those 48 hours. However, this became an issue when, without even realizing it, I began working to earn his love–not because he made me, but because that was where my child-like thinking led me.
When I became a Christian at 11 years old and then sought to grow in my faith and relationship with God, I was often confused by how God, my Heavenly Father, felt about me. I knew he “loved” me, but I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. How did he feel about me when I messed up? What about when I was selfish, feeling lazy, or not actively serving him (“earning” his love)?
Unlike my dad, God was ever-present. He saw everything I said and did. There was no hiding all of my failures. Therefore, I assumed He must be disappointed in me.
Years later, as a young mom to three rowdy boys, I continued to wrestle with how God felt about me. I struggled to accept the love and grace that I read about in the Bible. However, when I thought about how I loved my children…every day…all of the time…no matter their behavior…I realized that if I could love my kids like that, how much more must God love me–even in the midst of my failure. It became clear that I needed to separate what I had done with my dad from my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
It can still be a struggle to accept that God loves me in all of my glowing imperfections, but as I dive into the deep well of His grace, again and again, I am able to come to Him in prayer, reassured that He is not just a good Father, but that He is my Abba, my daddy who inclines His ear to hear my voice.
Whatever your relationship with your dad, it is not equal to the relationship you can have with God, your Father. By His grace, we may get a portion of the love that God has for us through our earthly dads. But where they fall short, God is strong, consistent, and unconditionally loving. It took me 20 years of faith in him to really learn that lesson. God, my Heavenly Father, was not waiting until I got better at anything to love me. He just loved me.
No holding back.
As I was then. As I am right now.
He lavishes His love on us, even in the midst of our failure. Maybe especially then. He is a good, good Father who longs for us to come to Him with the confidence of a favorite child.
Heavenly Father, thank you that we can come to you remembering these truths. We can come boldly and confidently, telling you just how much we love you and how desperately we need you in this moment. Thank you that, like any good father, you incline your ear and listen. Amen.
If you aren’t receiving the daily readings in your email and you’d like to, click HERE: http://eepurl.com/gS-6In