THE DAD YOU NEVER HAD
by Roger Williams
I may have a good memory of sweeping the sidewalk with my dad when I was about 4 years old.
I say "I may," because I don't know if it is an actual memory or one I manufactured based on a grainy photo. My mom snapped a shot of me copying my dad, even down to the candy cigarette to mimic his Marlboro!
If it is a real memory, it is the only good one I have of him.
I think my dad thought he loved us. Maybe he even did in some bizarre way. If he did, he did not show it well. He was mean. He did not provide for our family, and when he was in a good mood, we were all scared that it would change without warning.
I knew he was proud of me when I did well in sports, though he never mentioned it. I don't remember him initiating any meaningful conversations with me. He passed away two years ago, after spending the last 15 years of his life in a mental stupor brought on by schizophrenia.
Honestly, I am not sure if I "miss" him, because there was very little to miss.
In time, I came to see that my father was a broken man, raised in a broken and abusive family. His own father died in a mining accident when he was a young boy. From my perspective, he was a lost boy who grew up to be a lost man. This does not excuse the way he treated us, but it has made it easier for me to understand him.
LOVED LIKE JESUS
In the middle of trying to make sense of my story and the stories of others, something strange happened. In spite of the pain of a father who did not love well, I discovered a new path—a path to a love which drives out all other failures of love. It is the love of the one true Father: my Heavenly Father.
I learned that because of Jesus Christ, I am adopted as God's own son. I was stunned when I first really understood the incredible words of Jesus in John 17:23. Jesus prays to His Father "that the world may know that You … loved them even as You have loved Me."
"Even as" means "just like." Here, He is praying to His Father about you and me. When we accept what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross, we receive real, radical, family love.
We are not just tolerated or put up with. God loves us with the same, fervent love He has for His Son Jesus. Think about this: if you trust in Jesus, God's feelings for you are exactly His feelings for Jesus! His delight in you is the same as it is in Jesus! In fact, when God looks at you, He doesn't see a prisoner—He sees someone who is worthy and honorable. He sees a son or daughter. This is incredible but completely true!
THE GREATEST DAD
One of the ways I have come to understand God's Father love for me is through being a father to my own children. When my oldest son was born, he had medical problems and was hooked up to machines. My wife and I watched helplessly. Before he could do anything for us or give anything to us, I discovered something powerful: that I deeply loved this child simply because he was … my child.
Thankfully, my son is healthy and older now. In fact, he recently graduated from high school and is attending college. He—and his four siblings—still bring great delight to me. In all of this, I am often comforted by the fact that my Heavenly Father delights in me even more than I delight in my own children. He loves me not because of anything I could ever do for Him, but simply because He is my Dad, and I am His son.
Maybe you had a great dad; maybe you had a poor dad. That is not something that can be changed. But, now you can have the greatest Dad imaginable!
Roger Williams is the pastor of New City Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.