“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love, and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” Luke 15:11
This is the biblical story of the prodigal son returning home after he disobeyed his father and squandered his inheritance away on a reckless life style. He comes home, convicted of his foolishness, unsure of his parent’s welcome.
I have images of a heartbroken father carrying the daily burden of missing his son, wondering about his choices and his safety… He often comes to the gate gazing at the empty narrow road leading away from the house, longing with burgeoning desire to perhaps catch even the slightest glimpse of his child returning home. His heart is expectant with hope, fervidly waiting, until one day his precious son arrives, and the father, not wasting time on reproach, welcomes him with open arms full of perfect love, ecstatic with relief and overwhelmed with joy.
I too, was hoping for a similar experience when I met my father for the first time at sixteen years of age. Though my circumstances were different from this biblical story, I was enamored with the anticipation of finally meeting my father after such a long time. I would lay awake often fantasizing about our reunion. My reveries quickly dispersed as the moment arrived and painfully realized that my father and I were not going to have a close and loving relationship. Although extremely pedantic, and well-educated, my dad turned out to be aloof in manner, distant, unimpressed and expressing little interest in making up for the sixteen years without me . I rummaged through my panicked heart and asked myself how was I supposed to honor my father if we don’t have a close relationship. Ephesians 6: 1-2 tells us that “If you honor your father and mother you will live a life full of blessing”.
All I wanted to do is to lay my head on his lap, welcoming a caress of love and affection. Daughters need affirmation and validation from their fathers. Sigmund Freud, the psychiatrist, says: “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection”.
Consequently, I made the harmful conclusion that if my earthly father that I see doesn’t love me, then how could I receive love from a Heavenly father, that I don’t see. I believe, especially for women, that the relationship we have with our earthly fathers can transfer to the relationship we have with our Heavenly father. I felt abandoned, broken-hearted, and confused. Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged”.
I am still unsure of what propels a father not to seek out his child, and lavish upon him or her undying love and never-ending devotion…Psalm 144:12 candidly imparts: “May our sons flourish in their youth like well nurtured plants. May our daughters be like graceful pillars, carved to beautify a palace”. To me, this verse expresses a certain balance between the wholehearted love and affection of a father and how that causes his daughter to blossom and flourish into a beautiful human being.
My dad was supposed to pick me up from school, come to my first recital, carry me on his shoulders, console me after scraping my knees, teach me how to ride a bike, come to my emotional rescue after a boy broke my heart, call me his “little princess”, give me away with welled up tears on my wedding day. I was supposed to be the color inside his world as singer John Myer puts it… In my utter disappointment, I ended up turning to God, the only father source I had. It took some time to realize that my dad’s love and God’s love for me are not connected to each other, and not to endow my Heavenly father with expectations I have from my earthly one. I understand now that my own dad is God’s child as well, and he also is a sinner like the rest of us, so my bitterness got replaced by love, compassion and forgiveness. I love my father and I choose to honor him for what he is and not blame him for what he is not. He is extremely smart, has vast encyclopedic knowledge, and he is a great story teller.
Even though my dad and I don’t have a relationship, I choose to shed any accumulated grief and take comfort in God’s love for me. I didn’t have the father I dreamt of, but God blessed me with a fantastic father to my children, because He knew in advance of all my needs, hopes and desires. Watching my daughter run into her daddy’s loving arms redeems it all for me, and this reality is tangible and it’s mine to keep and cherish.
The father in the prodigal son story captures the unconditional, unblemished love that God has for us. Regardless of how good or bad we are, how messy, scared, abandoned and broken we may feel, our Heavenly father loves us and wants us near. He longs for a close and intimate relationship with all of us. So, if you have a great earthly father, be blessed and thankful, but if you don’t have a loving dad, be thankful anyway that your father in Heaven loves you and cling to His arduous desire to keep you close, protected and adored. Zephaniah 3:17 assures us of that “…He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With his love he will calm all your fears. He will exalt over you by singing a happy song”.
By Roxana Phillip-Hackett
Roxana is a wife of one, mother of two, who loves to share her faith with sincerity and honesty from her home in Hendersonville Tennessee.