From time immemorial lawyers have ruefully observed that there are three different arguments. The first is the one you planned to make; the second, the one you gave; and third the one you give to the steering wheel on the way back from Court. (Of course, this used to be a horse!)
A similar thing happened this weekend. I was asked to speak for 15 minutes about two words from the “Our Father.” Which ones? “Our” and “Father.” Should have been easy, but since then I have been unhappy with what I said. Here is what I should have said:
We’ve finally reached the beginning. ‘Our.’ ‘Father.’
What do these two little words mean? Here is the best explanation that I can offer.
Come with me to May –, 1996. Place: Okemos, Michigan. It is a beautiful evening, designed by the Almighty Master of the Universe for one thing – golf. I wasted no time getting changed and getting my clubs in the car. I moved so fast that I forgot my wallet. I turned around, ran into the house, picked it up, but then was. stopped. cold.
“Honey, I think the baby is coming.”
“Are you sure?”
Golf out. Sparrow Hospital in.
Waiting. May 2- became the next day. More waiting. A difficult labor. An emergency C-section. Then it was over.
Standing in the operating room, a nurse brought a new perfect person to me. A girl. Blinking eyes. Ten fingers, ten toes. Fingernails. Toenails. Perfect.
It is impossible to describe the pure love that I experienced. That love was more than a feeling; in fact, all I was feeling was tired. But profound love. A love that that is as strong today as on that May morning all those years ago.
That love, however, is the love of an earthly, flawed father. A father who gets tired. A father who gets worried. A father who gets angry. A father who sometimes makes mistakes, but often has a hard time admitting them. A human father.
Now imagine that love without limits. Imagine that love without flaws. Imagine that love lasting forever. Imagine the Father’s love.
Imagine that love extending to everyone who ever was, everyone who ever will be, and everyone who is. And not just the ‘good’ folks. Imagine that love extending whole and entire even to those who misuse their freedom, sometimes in terrible ways. Nothing can diminish a father’s or the Father’s love.
That is what we mean when we call God “Father.” By saying “Father,” we acknowledge that love and reaffirm our commitment to live up to it, to return it to Him. By saying “Father,” we acknowledge our siblings, all those who share in that love. And just as my earthly love for that perfect baby girl is shared, undiminished, with her siblings so, too, is the Father’s love shared undiminished by “our” siblings.
This description may seem naive, silly to some of you. MY father certainly doesn’t live up to that. And you are right. No father, except the Father, does. I don’t. I try, but I don’t. So does that trash everything I’ve been saying? No.
What it does do is require something of you. What? “Honor thy mother and father.”
What does that mean? What that means is that you look to and appreciate your father’s strengths, rather focusing on his weaknesses. It means that you always remember that no matter how much his love falls short – in your eyes – he is giving you all the love he can. It means remembering that as much as you long for a deeper relationship with him, he is longing for a deeper relationship with you. Just as you want a Dad, not an ATM with hair or a rule enforcer with a scowl, he wants you to be his child. Not child-ish. Not a five-year old if you’re 15. He wants to know who you are now because that’s who he loves now.
Here’s a practical tip. From the ‘parent’s playbook.’ Keep this to yourself or they might kick me off the team. Sometimes when your dad makes a decision, he’s wrong. Sometimes he makes mistakes. What’s more most of the time he realizes it.
Let’s say he made a mistake. Let’s say he knows he made a mistake. Let’s say you’re arguing disrespectfully with him over that mistaken decision. How do you deal with that? “Honor thy father.” Tell him that you understand and that you respect his decision. Ask if he’d be willing to reconsider? Because of the earlier disrespect, probably not. But just maybe that will give him enough room to meet you halfway, to rectify the mistake that he knows he’s making. If not, the respect and obedience will go a long way toward leading to a different decision – maybe – the next time. Let’s say the issue comes up again. This time the approach is “Dad, I know you made a decision last time, but would you reconsider? I think you should because …. – and have reasons. The respect (“Honor”) in this approach will melt his heart.
11:35 AM. Exhausted. Sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair. My wife and my perfect little girl sleeping. My cup runneth over with love. And always will.
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