Weekly Edgework #85 - February 15, 2006

Finding Daddy’s Heart

Recently Ruth and I hosted a Spanish pastor couple in our home for three days. They needed some time away from a hectic schedule working with immigrant families in the city. We provided a room, meals and conversation for Angel and Blanca when they needed it. By the time they left we were encouraged and strengthened, perhaps more than they were.

One evening Angel told us the story of his youth in Trujillo, Peru. He grew up in a non-Christian home. Although his father was a model parent, he was not a believer. Even so Angel’s eyes lit up as he told us about the relationship that he had had with his father while still at home. Ever since he could remember, he said, he and his daddy had always gone for long walks. “I was always telling him everything I thought,” he said. “If I had a concern, I shared it with him. And he always talked to me as well, introducing me to the big world unfolding around me. I always felt very close to my daddy.”

“When I became a teenager my friends thought it was strange that my daddy and I always talked. Most of their fathers did not cultivate a close relationship with their sons like mine did. But that didn’t stop the special relationship I had with my daddy. Once I ended up in a group of boys who were plotting violence. I felt uncomfortable with the idea, so when I went home I told my daddy all about it. I agreed with him that it would be best for me to disassociate myself from them, and I did. Even though my friends couldn’t understand it, I treasured this close relationship I had with my father.”

“One day I heard about Christ and decided to follow him. When I came home I told my daddy all about it. He didn’t scold me or make fun of me. Instead he engaged me in conversation, trying to figure out what had happened to make me so much more ready to help with household chores than I was earlier. He started following me to church to hear for himself what I was learning about God – from the outside of the building, of course. Eventually he stepped inside to listen and soon became a believer as well. And now we are still very close friends. When I call him in Peru, I tell him everything that is on my mind. And he listens and responds in a sincere and loving manner.”

Then Angel paused for a moment in telling this story and mused quietly, “I think my relationship with my father has helped me develop a good prayer life with my heavenly Father. People sometimes ask me how long I pray. I am often afraid to tell them that sometimes it is one or two hours or more. They can’t believe it. They say that after five minutes they can’t think of anything else to say. But for me, praying to God is like talking to my daddy. I just tell him everything that I am doing and thinking. I never ran out of things to tell my earthly daddy, and it seems I never run out of things to share with my heavenly Daddy either.”

I sensed that what I was hearing was both profound and holy. I had often read about how a good relationship with an earthly father can prepare the ground for a healthy prayer life with our heavenly Father. But since so many of us have never had an intimate relationship with our earthly fathers, Angel’s story seems like a nice theory and perhaps a far-away dream. But here was a young man who was claiming that his non-Christian father had modeled a kind of relationship that had prepared him for a life of prayer as a Christian in later life.

My heart leapt for joy on his behalf. But it also wept with grief at what so many of us have missed. So many of us have never known that deep, heart-felt communion with our earthly fathers. And because of that we find it hard even to imagine what communion with our heavenly Father might mean. I meet a lot of broken people. And the one thing they seem to have in common is that they have never found their father’s heart. And so they continue to struggle to imagine what it could mean to feel close to their heavenly Father.

But I have come to believe that not all is lost. Some of us still have an opportunity to capture a deep relationship with our fathers or mothers, or our sons and daughters. And this we should pursue passionately. However some of our fathers and mothers are already gone, and some of those who remain are just not interested in connecting with our hearts. But I believe that God has a “Plan B” for those of us who missed such modeling on the first round. And that is the church. I believe that in the church God has gifted people to become surrogate fathers and mothers to those of us who missed a heart-felt connection on the first round. At least I have found that to be the case for me.

So we can take heart. God promises to come meet us where we are and give us a second chance at experiencing unconditional love from the fathers and mothers he provides. And for all those of us who failed to give our children that relational model so necessary for a healthy prayer life as adults, he does two things. First, he encourages us to reach out to our children now with unconditional love wherever they are. And second, he gives us opportunity to show this parental love to others who have missed it on their first round.

As this happens, I believe that for many of us dialogue with God will start coming as naturally as it does to my Peruvian brother, Angel. So be it, Lord!