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The Pulpit: Father’s Day can be painful

For some, Father's Day is a painful subject because you grew up with an absentee father or, even worse, with a violent one. He might have been a step-father who showed you little interest, much less any real love. He may have abused alcohol and then abused you and/or your mom. Or maybe you came from a decent home with a father who deeply loved you. Yet, for whatever the reasons, you believe you have failed as a dad. Your Hallmark Father’s Day card brings only a sense of shame because you don’t feel worthy of the sentiments expressed. I remember a particular adult Sunday school class I was teaching. It was Father’s Day and at the beginning of the class I casually mentioned the topic of the upcoming sermon which had to do with fatherhood. A man who had been visiting for about a month told me after the class that he would not be able to stay for the morning worship service.

When I asked the reason for his pending absence he said, “Because I’m a failure as a father and it’s just too painful for me to listen to a sermon about what I should have been but wasn’t.” I could see the tears glisten in his eyes. His guilt was palpable and he simply turned away and slipped out the side door --- never to return. My own father was a successful Army officer whom I feared because his anger was not something to be taken lightly. As an adult, I remember looking through family photo albums and realized that my older brother hardly ever smiled in those pictures. At best he looked stoic if not slightly sour. Our dad’s discipline and harshness had especially taken a toll on him as the oldest. As it turned out, my only sibling went to be with his heavenly Father just four decades into his life, still grasping for the love and approval of his earthly dad. But in all fairness, our father was simply imitating what he learned from his father. Though late in life, our dad finally came to trust in Jesus as his Savior and he tried to make up for lost ground but I could see the regret carved in his face.

I knew he often thought, “If only I had…” I think those “If onlys” haunted him to the point that he could not bring himself to attend his own son’s funeral and eight months later he would join his firstborn in death. Even so, I cannot thank God enough for the forgiveness that was purchased for every born-again father by the perfect Father who parents us as we all would like to have parented our children. But none of us had perfect parents and none of us are, ever were or ever shall be “perfect parents.” As sinners we often fail to live up to our own standards and so we incur a certain amount of guilt and shame. Maybe this is why that father refused to sit through a sermon about biblical parenting --- it was just too painful for him. He ran away before I could tell him that the blood of Christ cleanses us from ALL our iniquity which includes our failure to be the godly parent that we wanted to be but failed to be. That gentleman never let me share with him those fantastic words of absolution; “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

So this Father’s Day, instead of wallowing in painful memories of what might have been, why not choose to rejoice in the grace of God. By His Holy Spirit we are enabled to be the godly parent or grandparent that we desire to be. Tell your own heart, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And then consider saying to your children and/or grandchildren, “Though I have failed in the past, I intend to live in the present and yearn that in the future I will love you as I have been loved by my Heavenly Father. By God’s enabling grace, this is my resolve and solemn pledge.” If the Son of God forgives you, and He does, by what right do you choose to hold on to the guilt and shame? Are you greater than God? Do you think you can atone for your failures as a father by whipping yourself with the past? That is actually an exercise in self-pity and it only makes things worse.

Grab hold of the forgiveness you already have in Christ and ask your children to forgive you where you failed them (and they want that more than you know) and trust God’s enabling grace to be a Godly father to your grown children and a special grandpa to those precious little ones who tug on your gray beard. It’s never too late as long as Abba gives you breath in your lungs. With this wondrous grace in mind, I wish for all of us imperfect but forgiven fathers a joyous and Christ-centered Father’s Day! To God be the glory!

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