My father left my mother and four children when I was very young. As a boy growing up without a dad, I found it hard to imagine a father in heaven who really loved me and would never leave. And while my mother was persistent about taking us all to church, I disliked religion and believed churchgoers to be mostly hypocrites. It wasn't until I graduated college, got married and began my career that I began to sense a deep need to be connected to both my father on earth and the one in heaven.
I did connect with my earthly father, who lived in Arkansas with his wife and children. He explained that he had tried to stay in touch with me, my two brothers and sister. My mother had blocked him at every turn and even threw away the Christmas gifts he sent. We had never known about the attempted visits or the presents.
My stepfather, who was tasked by my mother to throw away the Christmas gifts, confirmed my dad's story. Life is complicated, and as a flawed husband and dad myself, I've learned not to judge others too harshly. Marriage is difficult, and being a parent is even harder. My mother and father have both passed away; I still love them and am grateful for having them in my life.
My experience with my dad helped me realize that God had always been there for me, but that His access had been blocked. In my case, I was the one who had done the blocking.
I always knew there was a God. Even as a kid I was smart enough to know that this infinite universe and the myriad variations of complex life forms could not have happened by accident. But I didn't think God could be trusted to hang around when I wasn't following all of His rules. Moreover, His rules would ruin all my fun. My plan was to wait and do business with God when I was too old to have fun. Until then, I wanted to be free!
Unfortunately, my plan gave me a lot of pain, regret and guilt, but very little freedom. Through it all, God was faithful even though I was not. He, in His own quiet and loving way, finally backed me into a corner where the only way out was up.
In my searching, I came across a Bible verse where Jesus said, "Jim, I have been standing at the door of your heart knocking for many years; if you'll just open the door I will come in" (my paraphrase of Revelation 3:20). I opened that door and prayed that Jesus would come in. My life has not been the same since.
Not long after I opened that door, a business friend offered to take me through a discipleship program called Operation Timothy. One of the lessons was about how to communicate with God. It was about prayer. I learned how to stay in constant touch with the God who loves me and will never leave.
Now I regularly pray that God will make my marriage stronger, to prosper and protect my four children, and to thank Him for the joy of seeing my children's children — my four wonderful grandchildren!
On Father's Day, I am grateful to be a father and to have known my father on earth, and to be able to talk to my heavenly father and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will never leave me.
Originally published in The Washington Times