We’re getting sick of the whole mess. The cliché of this being an unprecedented time, the dumpster fire that 2020 is turning out to be, the movement from one mess to the next, has driven people mad. And of course, the election hasn’t helped matters. Though to be honest, it does seem to fit the pattern. In the end there is a rise of anxiety and depression and anger and distrust, and it is spreading across our country with no end in sight.
Some of this is the natural flow that comes from filling ourselves with news and data that we cannot do anything about. I can carefully and fearfully watch the election returns but I cannot affect the outcome. I can get mad a presidential tweet or a pundit’s views, but I can’t change them. In the end I become a consumer that gets mad at the prices and quality of the products, but continue to shop at the same store. We spend our time with the grand and the national, and forget about the small and personal. The things we can impact in a meaningful way are pushed aside.
In fact, I think that it is precisely upon the small and personal that everything ultimately matters. And I think that one of the great guardians of all things small and personal is the father. Here lies the crux of the problem. For good fathers are in short supply, and this affects every part of our country.
Two friends of mine recently lost their fathers. One a few months back due to complications from Covid-19 and the other just yesterday from cancer. Now, when men I know lose their father, it always sends me into a dark place where my heart aches for them as I try to imagine what it would be like. What I find in my contemplation is unnerving. For one of my greatest fears is the death of my own father. I imagine my response will not be much different from that of others. I’ll be sent reeling, shaken to the core. To that place where you begin to question absolutely everything. You question your own identity and your purpose and how you will overcome. The loss of the good father is to lose the rudder of the ship as you feel yourself pushed back and forth by the wind and waves.
A good father is the rock that the small and personal things of your life are built upon. He is the calming presence, the one who bears the beatings and the uncertainty of the age to provide and protect a space that is quiet and sure for the grounding of the family. In his presence, the things that matter are given room to grow and thrive. He may seem detached at times or unmoved by the details, but he continues to grind away to give of himself for that sacred space.
A member of my congregation is currently stuck in this terrifying place where her husband is in the hospital. He’s been there now for over a week (the longest they’ve ever been apart). Pre-covid she would have been by his side the whole time, sleeping in those uncomfortable chairs, attending to his needs as he recovers his strength. But these days she can’t be there. She is left at home in an empty house and every day when I call her to check in she tells me how much she needs him. She says over and again, that he is her rock. I believer her. So, what happens when the rock is no longer there?
Without the rock, without a good father, the small and personal things (the things that really matter) are swallowed up by the grand and the national. We scream at our Twitter feeds and hate Facebook posts and laugh at memes belittling others because they give us some selfish glory. We are pulled into camps that serve hidden idols and break old friendships over things we could never control in the first place. The fatherless are driven by fear, and it shows.
Sometimes the good fathers themselves, those who have been prodding along quiet and frustrated, lose control. Sometimes they break and give in, they compromise and fail to protect and preserve those who need them. Sometimes they demand justice and attention and withhold forgiveness. Sometimes the good fathers aren’t so good, and so the fatherless epidemic grows. Then what do we do? What happens when we learn the awful truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”?
We turn to the only thing that we can, to the Word of God that has invaded our small and personal world. A Word that has good news for us all. A Word that reminds us that in Christ the unfaithful fathers, the bad fathers, the fatherless and the father insecure have a perfect and good Father who remains our rock. Once again we are told that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal. 4:4-7)