Recently, a reader gave me some feedback on a piece I wrote. In it, I briefly mentioned my dad not attending church. Actually, I have always said if I ever write a book, that would be my opening line:
Growing up, Mom took us to church, but Dad didn’t go.
In many ways, my entire life story hinges from that line. So, this reader writes in her comments to me:
You could talk about your dad and why he didn’t go to church a little more. It seemed as if that was a sore spot on your heart, but you never went into detail. Maybe it’s just me, but I would be interested in that part.
We all have “that part,” don’t we? According to Rick Warren:
Your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt.
The thing is, I don’t know how to write about my dad. He’s gone from this world, and has been for eleven years. How can it be that long when I still hear his voice so clearly in my head? A friend wrote me a while back and told me she’d seen some random man walking around our hometown, and she could have sworn it was my dad - based on his walk. He lived with chronic back pain, so he had a very distinctive walk. I teared up at the moment I shared with her. Someone else remembered my dad!
I met with my pastor recently, and in the conversation he asked me,
How transparent are you?
Well, I blog so it’s pretty much all out there.
But how do I tell you about a man who meant the world to me, yet wasn’t able to be present in my life in so many ways? He had emotional limits to what he could offer, and although I feel like I took every ounce he had available, it left me wanting. I tried to write about that here. And here. And here. And here at the Mudroom Blog, where they ask you to write about the messy things of life.
All my life I’ve loved the church - everything about it. I love church buildings. I love the quiet of entering an empty sanctuary. I love an altar so much. I love the people who taught me about Jesus. I love the people I worship with on Sundays. Truth be told, I love the rules too. It feels safe and comfortable having set guidelines. At least it always felt that way to me.
None of this ever fit my dad though. His soul lacked peace. He loved his family, but there was a wildness in him that wouldn’t settled down. He had a work-related injury in his late 30’s, and he never worked full-time again. That affected him and our family in a number of ways. It does something to a man when he can no longer provide for his loved ones.
It wasn’t only on Sunday mornings that my dad didn’t show up. He wasn’t big on crowds, so he didn’t attend the plays I performed in, he never heard me play in the band, he didn’t hear the public speeches I gave, and his seat sat empty at all my graduations. He was there to walk me down the aisle at my wedding though, and for that I’m thankful.
While I don’t make excuses for my dad, I never fault him either. My great love for him won’t let me. Maybe that’s the defining characteristic that makes it unconditional. I know that’s why it’s difficult for me to write about him. What if I say something to make you think he was a bad person? That I could have had a better dad? None of this is true. He’s the only dad I ever had, and the only one I ever wanted. God gave him to me.
My reader suggested I write more about my dad not going to church because it seemed like a sore spot on my heart. She nailed it. It is a sore spot and will always remain so. There’s no happy ending. Life doesn’t always offer us packages with shiny wrapping paper and bright-colored bows - all perfect gifts.
If there’s ministry in the hurt I carry from the relationship I had with my dad, I’ll embrace that. If there’s any comfort in the words I can barely piece together to talk about the man who called me Pooh, I offer it here. I fully trust my Father in heaven to use every part of my story - the hurts and the victories - for his glory. Even when we don’t talk about our hurts, our actions reflect what we learned from it - compassion, forgiveness, empathy.
I had a dad who didn’t go to church with me, and for the rest of my life, he never will.