The Father’s Love
Some fifteen years ago, a good friend of mine, encouraging me regarding my impending fatherhood, remarked that he never understood the Heavenly Father’s love until he became a father himself. I have never forgotten this quote, and tonight a conversation with my daughter brought this powerfully home once more.
Each night, I pray with my teenage daughter and tuck her into bed. Tonight, she caught me off guard, as she asked me to sing her a lullaby, something I used to do all the time when she was a little girl. As I finished my rendition of “Hush Little Baby Please Don’t Cry,” a sad look came across her face. I asked her what was wrong. She hesitated before responding, and said, “Dad, I don’t want you to die. You won’t be able to sing me lullabies anymore.”
Her simple words rocked me. I felt a lump in my throat, and my eyes welled up as I quickly pondered the truth and inevitability of her statement. The thought of ever having to leave her behind saddened me immensely.
I composed myself, and then gently told her that this is a journey we must all make – each one of us will one day leave behind our loved ones. I was struck by an overwhelming urge to protect her, to shield her from this pain. She asked me not to forget her when I died, and I reassured her that I could never forget her. I kissed her goodnight, then made my way downstairs to talk to my wife. I told her what had happened, and that my daughter’s words had really torn me up. My wife, whose own father died in May of 2010, stated “Now you know why my Dad didn’t want to leave me.”
I am struck by the irony of the situation. Although a weak and sinful man, I can never forget my own daughter. God has blessed me so much more than I deserve by entrusting this beautiful girl to my care. I don’t have adequate words to express the love I feel for my daughter, and I am sure I am no different than any father in this regard.
What then can we say about the love of the Heavenly Father for us, His children? The prophet Isaiah has told us (Isaiah 49:14-16):
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Isaiah 55:9 says
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Imagine that! We are capable of so much love, yet the difference between our ways and God’s ways are so great. Whatever we are capable of, God is infinitely more so. We should take great joy in this fact. We should not constrain God by imposing our own frailties and limitations on Him.
God Will Never Abandon You
Have you ever felt abandoned, left alone, forsaken? If you have put your trust in other human beings, then the answer is likely yes. How many times do we create idols out of the relationships in our lives? How many times have we had great expectations of others, only to be disappointed?
I suspect we have all felt this way at some point in our lives. Some of you may have even suffered this abandonment from your very own family members or people you trusted. Yet, take comfort in the words of Holy Scripture.
I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.
He knows the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7).
The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:11)
The Gospel of Luke, chapter 11, verses 11-13 says:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
These passages are such humbling ones. Despite our wounds, our frailties, our imperfections, each one of us would give our lives for those we love, especially for our children. However, this love pales in comparison to the love that God has for each and every one of us.
A Father’s love for his daughter
As I alluded to earlier in the post, my wife’s father, Raul, died in 2010. He suffered from Alzheimer’s and spent his last two months on earth living with us. The story of his suffering and death is a long one, which I will gradually share in future posts, but I want to relay something unique that happened as he lay on his deathbed.
Towards the end of his life, my father-in-law had been in hospital, and was released into our care, with hospice nurses manning our home on a 24 by 7 basis. The Wednesday he came home, my father-in-law took a significant turn for the worse. losing consciousness, which he never regained. The nursing staff reported that fluid was building up in his lungs, and that they did not think he had much time left. We called other family members to come to visit him before he passed on, and we called Fr. Mark Obayi, a Nigerian priest who is part of our family, to make arrangements for him to travel to America to preside at the funeral. Fr. Mark readily agreed, but he would be unable to arrive for several days. People often say that patients can hear what is being said to them, even if they are unconscious, so my wife told her Dad that Fr. Mark would be arriving the following Tuesday.
Slowly, but surely, every immediate family member was able to make it into town to say their last goodbyes. Yet, Raul kept hanging on, each day defying the original predictions of the nursing staff that his passing was imminent. The nurses asked if there was anyone else that had not yet visited Raul; anyone else he might be waiting for before passing on. My wife told them that the only person left whom we were expecting was Fr. Mark.
Fr. Mark arrived the next Tuesday afternoon, and spent the night in prayerful vigil at my father-in-law’s bedside along with my brother-in-law. My wife awoke early the next morning, around 5 AM, and went to be with her Dad. At around 7AM, she stepped out to take a quick shower. By the time she returned, her father had passed away.
This was a bitter blow to her, as she wanted to be present during his last moments. But, as we thought about it, we became convinced that the timing of his death was no accident. We believe that Raul hung on to wait for Fr. Mark’s arrival, as he knew how important it was to his daughter to have Fr. Mark there in person. He wanted another person to be there for his daughter. We also marveled that he passed away while his daughter was in the shower,and the son that always held vigil with him at night was sleeping. Obviously, we can’t yet know with certainty, but we believe wholeheartedly that Raul did not want his children to see him die. A Daddy to the end, he was just trying to protect his family.
I recount these stories to illustrate how powerful a force human love is. With it, one can be raised to the heights of ecstasy, and without it, succumb to the depths of despair.
If we can love so much, why do you suppose we have trouble believing that God feels the same for us? I suspect in many cases we simply do not love ourselves, but judge ourselves very harshly for whatever we have done, and we then project that harshness on to God. Lest anyone misinterpret my words, I am not advocating canonizing ourselves and assuming we can do no wrong since the Father loves us so much! Rather, we must maintain our balance, and understand that God is a Judge, but he is also Mercy.
Every Ash Wednesday, we are reminded
Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).
The Lord knows our humble beginnings and recognizes our weaknesses. Hebrews 4:15 assures us
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.
The Lord does not excuse our weaknesses, but he understands them. He bends down to greet us where we are (Hosea 11:4), to lift us up.
When we are tempted to condemn ourselves for our lack of gratitude and disobedience towards God, we should recall that despite the callous treatment by his son,
while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
How often does our own pride or false humility prevent us from experiencing this love the Father wants to give us?
Do we say to ourselves “God could not possibly forgive me for the evil I have done”?
There is a spiritual maxim that says “Discouragement is a tool of the Devil.” If we think that our sins are too big for God, then we have put a box around God and limited His power to change our lives. These types of thoughts are not from God, but are a temptation to despair of receiving His mercy, which is so readily available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As we pass through this Advent season and look forward to the coming of the Christ Child, let us take down whatever barriers we have built that will prevent us from allowing Him to fully take possession of our lives. Let us remind ourselves that God, the Hound of Heaven, expectantly waits for us, his little children, to come to Him, to trust Him, to lean on Him for everything, no matter how big or small.
Do you remember the innocence and trust with which you rushed to your Father or Mother’s arms when you were a child? Let go of what encumbers you; let go of the pain and the hurt and the disappointment. Know that the God of the Universe loves you so very much. He aches for you. He wants to dwell within you. He wants you to visit him in the Tabernacle or Adoration Chapel. He wants you to receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharistic feast.
The Lord says to each of us (Revelation 3:20):
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Awake, o sleeper, arise from slumber, Christ is calling your name.
Can you hear the Lord’s voice?
Will you open the door and let him in?