I love my dad.
He’s been nearly four years in heavenly places and I love to think about him.
On reflection as an adult, I can observe his own journey of faith and it does my heart good.
When I was a child, he focused on being the leader and provider for his family. He demonstrated his love for his family intentionally in that way, and was dedicated to it. It could have been easy to think that his love was remote because he wasn’t vocal or demonstrative. Hugs were awkward. But when he said something, I listened. I craved to hear my dad speak to me. When he said something, I hung on his words.
I look back and see his love wasn’t remote at all. He loved deeply but he didn’t always know how to show it emotionally. It hadn't been modelled to him but it was something that he learned slowly, over time.
I’m emotional and highly sensitive to people and atmosphere. Meaning-making through verbal and non-verbal cues are important to me.
I have memories of desperately wanting to know what was going on inside my dad’s mind. I was sure he was thinking things and feeling things but for whatever reason, he didn’t express them. Oh, my love for him seemed to burst within my chest in those moments! I just wanted to throw myself around him and squeeze it all out of him, like air being forced out of a balloon.
One of those moments was when we were driving to the church on my wedding day. We sat in the back of the car and I was sure he had something deep and meaningful to say to me. I waited. It was quiet. Silence stretched around us. I looked at him. He looked at me. He gave me a gentle smile and reached over and held my hand. I worked up the courage to ask him, “do you have something you want to say to me, dad?” He shook his head and said a simple, quiet, “no.”
Oh, well, perhaps I had imagined it. Nothing more was said for the entire trip. We arrived at the church, he helped me out of the car and told me I looked beautiful. Then we stood at the entrance to the church, side by side, waiting for the musical cue and Dad began dancing me down the isle. Oh, so much pent up love and emotion. Unspoken, yet no less real because of it.
I knew my dad’s love for me.
When my marriage ended in a violent act of betrayal and I had run into a relationship, heaving with need to be found worthwhile, questioning God and love, far away from the church and the values my father had tried to instill in me, I became pregnant - intentionally. My ex-husband and I had tried unsuccessfully for years to have a baby. Somehow, now, unmarried, that hope was being born in an unexpected place. After being estranged from my parents for several years, I had only recently reconnected with them. It wasn't the best time to tell them the news.
I remember ringing them outside the clinic, on a sidewalk under huge trees. My dad answered the phone and I told him with trepidation. I could never have expected his response.
Instead of voicing disappointment and disapproval for my choices, instead of judging my life, he embraced me with grace. Not awkwardly, but with rich, unconditional love that reached out and gathered me in. He said, “darling that’s wonderful news, I’m so happy for you”.
Maybe he was disappointed in me, or for me, in the direction of my life but he didn't voice it. The grace he extended to me in that moment showed the transformation that had taken place in his own life. He demonstrated a deep empathy that continued until the end of his life. Over the phone, he threw open the door of acceptance without asking questions or demanding prescribed responses. He just received me where I was and welcomed me, welcomed my life, and welcomed my baby. His grandchild.
Growing up, I learnt about the law of God and how to behave, but not about the grace of God and how I'm accepted even when I don't get things right. Even though my dad believed in God, established our need for redemption, and taught us the bible, he had been very authoritarian. I never understood a Heavenly Father’s heart of love towards me. Sounds strange, given the fact we understood Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection and that we were eternally saved, but the law was what we seemed to operate under. Performance, based on guilt. Diligence, based on works. Obedience, based on fear. That wasn’t sustainable. I always knew I wasn’t good enough but I still thought I had to redeem myself.
I’ve now realized something, and, like my dad, it’s been a slow transformation.
Even if I never did anything significant for God, if I only ever loved Him back, He’d be happy with me. But I’ve discovered something else. If I deeply love Him and understand what He's done for me, I can never not try and do something significant for Him. Ultimately, loving others and being His love to them is what He asks of us, but I am motivated to do good works for Him because I love Him and I know He loved me first. I cannot condemn others, because the righteousness of the law of God condemns me. Yet, Jesus Christ came so I am no longer condemned but made righteous. I am helped by the Holy Spirit, who brings new life, enabling me to love God and love others in a way I can't on my own. If I drop back into judgment of self or others, I’ve dropped back into operating under works and the law of God, rather than grace.
Obedience is vital in the Christian walk but it has to be based on love. If I don’t have love, nothing I do does me any good. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches about love. It’s the first bible scripture I remember my dad leading us to memorise around the dinner table. Studying and applying the word of God is what brings transformation. It may be slow, but we'll get there!
My dad tried to be a good Christian, to be a good dad and to demonstrate God's love in ways he knew how to. He sounded like a bit of a free-spirited rebel when he was a young man. Maybe that's why, when he became a Christian he tried to follow the rules in order to try and live like a good Christian ought to. I think he must have had an internal struggle about the difference between law and grace – which I’m just surmising because I never had that conversation with him. But I think most Christians do.
I say that, because I witnessed a slow but steady change in him over time, as he was able to demonstrate grace more and more. Even when my relationship with my son's dad continued in instability, my dad was there demonstrating a protective love and stability towards me. He was there for me because he loved me. He always had my back and let me know, if I wanted, he would step in for me. Just like our Heavenly Father.
Grace is all about forgiveness. Forgiveness and grace don’t give us license to continue in the same behaviour as before – actually the opposite. True understanding of repentance, forgiveness and grace is a reciprocal exchange. It means behaviour is about change because of love rather than duty.
Romans 6:14 (NLT)
Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
The demonstration of grace that my dad showed me towards the end of his life, was what opened the door for me to now understand and explore the same with my Heavenly Father.
I pray you’re able to relinquish the sins of the past, even though you will have a different experience – your own sins before God, your sins against others, others’ sins against you, expectations, failures, and offenses – and comprehend the Father’s heart of love and grace for you. The old has gone. Surely, the new has come. Embrace it. There is now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1-8 (The Message)
8 1-2 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. 3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. 5-8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.
Galatians 2:19-21 (NIV)
“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”