The Strong Love of a Father

“I’m kinda scared,” my girl confessed as we stood at the ocean’s edge. The day ahead had the potential of a dream-come-true for this eleven-year-old who had long yearned for sand and salt water.  It’s a bummer for Caroline that her parents are mountain people. Tell me and John to “take a hike,” and we say “gladly,” as long as we can follow a trail along winding streams under a canopy of trees.  But this weekend at the beach was a free gift offered by hospitable friends, and Caroline was ready to dive in. Well, maybe not literally. The crashing of waves and the tug of the tide gave her pause, but John was ready to play. At her dad’s urging, Caroline cautiously braved ahead, and after hours of wave riding, all fears were joyfully conquered – as long as John was near.

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As I watched, I thought of a devotion written by my favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot, titled “Learning the Father’s Love.” Mrs. Elliot described a childhood memory of a vacation at the beach with her parents and younger brother Dave. For two days, her father urged young Dave to enjoy the ocean, but Dave stubbornly refused. On the final day Dave finally relented, but his newfound delight was almost ruined by dismay over all the fun he had missed. “Poor Dave!” writes Mrs. Elliot, “His father could have forced him to come into the water, but he could not have forced him to relax and enjoy it. As long as the child insisted on protecting himself, he could not trust the strong love of his father.”

On Father’s Day, I especially appreciate the strong, protective love of fathers – that special kind of devotion that hangs on through high tide and low tide. The steadfast commitment of a father to his children gives them a kind of safety and security like no other. It’s a love that’s meant to image the love of a Heavenly Father.

Pastor John Piper describes the example of a father’s love like this:

The overarching guide for every father should be to live in such a way that his children can see what God the Father is like. They ought to see in their human father a reflection—albeit imperfect—of the heavenly Father in his strength and tenderness, in his wrath and mercy, in his exaltation and condescension, in his surpassing wisdom and patient guidance. The task of every human father is to be for his children an image the Father in heaven.”

That’s a BIG task! But on Father’s Day, we honor our dads who do just that, not by being perfect but by being present.

God gives us glimpses of His love through the fathers who shoo monsters from under the bed, toss a ball in the backyard after a long day at the office, coach the soccer team, attend countless recitals, stay up late and rise early, make sure the college student’s car is properly maintained, write the checks, write the checks, write the checks….

I learned a long time ago that I can’t out-give my Daddy. He is the most generous person I know. Not just financially but in every way. He has poured himself into his family. He has taught us to work hard, to love Jesus and love people. He cheers for us in his own quietly proud way. His gift to his family has been his presence. He has been lovingly committed to his wife for 61 years. He serves as an example of trustworthiness and integrity.

When we are afraid, we remember that Daddy reads his Bible and talks to God.

When we are tempted to give up, we remember that Daddy has been fighting cancer for a long time, and he trusts God.

When we celebrate, we remember that Daddy has given us a legacy of family and faith – the gifts most worthy of celebration.

When we feel like failures, we remember that Daddy calls us “sugar” and “honey,” and nothing will change that.

When we need help, we remember that Daddy has a cell phone.

For me and Daddy, some of our memories were made, not at the beach but in the amusement parks. From Daddy I learned to love roller coasters and fast rides (but not spinning rides – they made him sick). I remember, as a little girl, feeling brave and big with anticipation as we entered the line of Space Mountain or the mine train. As the coaster cranked up the hill, I was afraid, but Daddy was there, so I figured it would turn out all right. I trusted the love of my father, and it gave me great joy. I remember how he laughed as we sped around the loops and corkscrews.  My heart was full just to know that he enjoyed being my dad.

Life, as we now know it, offers a different sort of twists and turns and things that are scary. Some days we don’t feel so brave. But together we trust that our Heavenly Father is here, and it will turn out all right.

I realize that some people didn’t have the love of a dad like I did. I understand that this can make it harder for them to comprehend the love of the Heavenly Father.  If it’s true for you, I hope and pray that your empty place can be overcome by the amazing gift of fatherhood that God offers to you through Jesus Christ.

When you are afraid, remember that “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103: 19 – He is in control!)

When you are tempted to give up, remember that “… from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psalm 103: 17 – God is FOR you. He promises His love, wisdom, and righteousness to His children in Christ.)

When you celebrate, remember to “Praise the Lord, my soul; and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103: 2 – 5)

When you feel like a failure, remember that “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 8 – 12).

When you need help, remember that “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103: 13 – 14 – God understands!)

And if you’re a father, remember your family doesn’t need you to be perfect. They need you to be present. Wait in line for the roller coaster. Go in the ocean.

Become the image of a Heavenly Father who holds on – through the highs and lows and through the waves. In His grip, it will turn out all right.

Resources –

Elisabeth Elliot, Learning the Father’s Love. March/April 1992 newsletter – http://www.elisabethelliot.org/newsletters2/mar.apr.1992.pdf

John Piper – Fathers Who Give Hope. Sermon, June 15, 1986 – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/fathers-who-give-hope

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