A seminarian opened my eyes!
Some 50+ years ago, I was his supervisor in what was then called a field education program. He was sharing something that dawned on him after visiting a local prison. As he was talking with a prisoner about the love of Our Father, he realized this man had no experience of a loving father! His experience of his father was quite the opposite!
At some level, I assumed all fathers were like my father. I have always loved and admired my father. Using the image of a loving father helped me understand God’s love. The seminarian’s observation led me to appreciate my father more.
A new appreciation of my father
I don’t recall my father ever saying a word about God the Father.
Yet, I still remember very clearly the experience of my father when I was in seventh grade. I messed up badly. I was caught! (If you must know… I got caught playing hooky from school.)
My mother was furious!! Then my father came home!
To this day, I cannot forget the look of pain on his face. He was a very gentle and loving man. He was not given to anger. When he came into my room, it was clear. My father had great dreams for me. He was so disappointed and hurt by what I had done. That look was the worst punishment he could have given. And as I write this, I can still feel the emotions!
Fast forward to his last weeks on earth. He was facing major surgery from which he never recovered. He was telling my mother that he did not sleep. I can still hear words spoken in German. “So, I kept praying “Vater Unser” (Our Father).” That was the trust he had in his Father in heaven.
Our fathers carry the image of Our Father
Sociologists say it’s common for people to perceive God as like the fatherly figures in their lives. If Dad is caring, patient, and concerned, then children can believe God has those same characteristics. And the opposite holds true when a father is harsh, judgmental, or absent.
One person put it well.
My father was judging, ready to whack me for any step out of line. I toed the line through high school because I was sure that if I ever did anything to get picked up by the police (or any authority like a teacher or principal at school) I would not be bailed out or rescued. I would be abandoned.
Fathering is not limited to biological fathers.
Yet there are many ways other figures can provide the experience of a loving father or mother. This person continued …
One of my favorite books is “The Shack”. God the Father appears in at least 2 different forms — a black woman and a more traditional older man — depending on what the character needed at the time.
The example and acceptance of others who knew a loving God changed things for me.
Someone modeled for me the positive, accepting and forgiving image I never knew.
Obviously, mothers also influence our images of God as a loving parent.
This wonderful analogy works in another direction. We can learn about parenting by looking at God! Just think of the Feast of the Holy Family.
The basic insight here is that each of us can be significant signs pointing to the reality we call Our Father.
For further thought
- What lessons have I learned about being for others an image of a loving God?
- How can I be sensitive to those who were not blessed with loving images of God?
Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk