A Trinitarian Prayer for when Father’s Day is Hard

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Last month, during our church’s celebration of Mother’s Day, our congregation cried out to God in a call-and-response lament over broken motherhood.  I debated whether or not we should incorporate a similar lament into our Order of Worship on Father’s Day. I confess that I nearly decided against doing so. By God’s grace, the Spirit led me to conclude that it would be wrong to deprive our congregation of a similar lament on Father’s Day, primarily because that decision would have been predicated on two powerful lies.

Lie #1: Real Men Don’t Lament; They “Suck It Up”

At least in my context, many of the more vulnerable emotional expressions that are excused or even adored in women are considered symptoms of weakness of inadequacy in men. In response to these contextual norms, many churches refrain from the more tender and contemplative prayers that may be employed in celebration of Mother’s Day. (Ours almost did!) In doing so, those churches misrepresent both the identity of Jesus Christ and the Bible’s clearest teaching on manhood and fatherhood.

Jesus was (and is) the ultimate man. From outdoing MacGyver’s improvisational skills (i.e. turning water into wine in John 2) to being much better armed than John Wick in Parabellum (see Revelation 19:11-21), he far exceeds any “masculine” character we can envision.

And yet the Bible also tells us that Jesus is far tenderer than any Hollywood exemplar of masculinity. The victorious conquering King of Revelation 19 is not possible without the afflicted crying which Jesus exhibited in Gethsemane. Apart from the bitter tears which Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), we would not have the hope of Jesus wiping away every tear from every eye (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus’ masculinity – true and complete masculinity – is far more complex than anything we’ll construct on our own. God desires his men to be fully formed into that mold of masculinity (Romans 8:29) – a task we’ll never complete if we never engage the emotions of men today.

Lie #2: People Hurt by their Fathers Don’t Lament; They “Suck it Up”

The sad truth of the matter is this: broken fatherhood is almost as universally experienced by children as it is by fathers. A father who never said “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.” A father who never made it out to see a child perform in a school play or compete on an athletic team. A father who abandoned his family for another woman. A father who was never present at all.

These descriptions are simple anecdotes, but chances are you can connect the dots to the pain you feel in your own life, as well as the pain felt by your friends and family. We are all affected by broken fatherhood, one way or the other – to the point that, either explicitly or implicitly, we tell both ourselves and others, “This is just the way things are.”

Few conclusions have as much potency to distort or altogether destroy the gospel narrative in our hearts and minds. The gospel is a story about children being restored to right relationship with their Father, and how we view fatherhood will inevitably affect how we view the gospel.

If our current experience of fatherhood is normalized – if it is all that can ever be – then the gospel offers us no reward. In fact, it may be viewed as a punishment.

Alternatively, if we recognize that broken fatherhood is not the way God intended the world to work, then the gospel offers us much hope indeed. We have hope of experiencing the love, affirmation, adoration, and pleasure of our perfect Father with such joy as makes our present dealings with broken fatherhood pale in comparison (Romans 8:18). And, for those who follow Jesus, we have hope of seeing healing in our own fathers and in our relationships with them, as God through Christ makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

The Value of Lament

How can these two common, destructive lies be debunked in our churches? How can the church be faithful to challenge its fathers to be like Christ while also acknowledging the deep pain associated with broken fatherhood?

One answer: lament.

Jen Pollock Michel beautifully defines lament as the heaviness of care we heave into God’s great ocean of love (Surprised by Paradox, p 177).  Lament offers us the opportunity to both acknowledge that God’s gifts are good and to mourn how deeply those good gifts have been broken by sin. And, instead of bottling up our deep groanings, we instead cast our anxieties into the open hands of our gracious Father, who condescends to actually care about us (1 Peter 5:7).

I pray that this prayer may serve as a fresh administration of God’s healing grace to everyone who finds Father’s Day difficult. So if you personally benefit from this prayer, of if you know someone who would, my only ask is that you share this gospel hope with others.

(Please note: in our order of worship, the unbolded sections are read by a leader, and the congregation responds with the bold sections).

Instead of a celebration of a gift we’ve been given, Father’s Day is often a bitter reminder of what we’ve never had:

A man we never knew.

A man who abandoned us.

A love that’s only been imagined; never enjoyed.

Father’s Day can also be a painful reminder of what we once enjoyed, but can enjoy no longer:

Children who have lost their fathers.

Fathers who have lost their children.

But the gospel is good news!

The Father in heaven will never leave us or forsake us.

The Spirit of God moves among us: comforting us; keeping us.

The Son of God has not left us as orphans. He has risen from the grave; death no

longer has the final word!

Father’s Day can be a reminder of deep wounds we’ve receive from our fathers:

Why did they never say, “I love you?”

Why did they never come to concerts or games?

Why can nothing we do ever make them proud?

Likewise, Father’s Day can remind fathers of the wounds we’ve received:

Guilt over our sin that has broken those we love.

Inadequacy as we struggle to raise and to train.

Worthlessness as we struggle to provide.

Pain as our families want nothing to do with us.

Anxiety as we decide to place a child for adoption.

Shame over our role in deciding to abort a child.

But the gospel is good news!

            God the Father is always pleased with us!

            God the Son took our wounds as His own, and by His stripes, we are healed!

            God the Spirit washes us and makes us new. There is no condemnation for those

who are in Christ.

We lament the fact that fatherhood – a good gift designed by God – has been deeply broken by

sin.

There are no perfect fathers.

There is no perfect fatherhood.

There is no one who has not been scarred by this brokenness.

But the gospel is good news!

            God the Father is working all things for His glory and for our good!

            God the Spirit is praying for us with groanings too deep for words – and His

prayers are heard on our behalf!

            God the Son is seated on heaven’s throne. Soon, he will say, “Behold! I am making

all things new!”

All Shout: AMEN! COME, LORD JESUS!

 

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