The Journey series
This week’s Mustard Seed takes a break from my travels. We are now well into Lent, a good time to consciously take a break from routine.
People often ask, “What did you give up for Lent?” This year I gave up evening snacks – more to have an answer than to make serious progress in my spiritual life. In honesty, my choice was more concerned with the growth of my middle than the growth of my soul.
This is not to say I’m being frivolous with Lent. Rather, this year I decided to focus on my prayers. I’m being more discerning and contemplative in my prayers. I ask myself, “What am I saying?”, “What does that mean for me?” and, “Do I truly mean what I’m saying?”
As an example, The Lord’s Prayer can roll off our tongue at the snap of the fingers. We hear the first two words and the rest slips out with hardly a thought. But wait. What do those words entail? Our Father. Not my, not your – our. We are brothers and sisters. How big is that we? Who belongs in that we? Catholics? Christians? Everyone? Is there such a thing as a half sibling or step sibling? Can anyone choose not to be a sibling? What are our obligations to our siblings? How should we treat our siblings? This contemplation can go on and on.
Father is difficult and still painful for me to contemplate. My father left when I was five years old. I was too young to know him. My friends had fathers. I knew something of fathers from observing my friends’ fathers but, mostly, I knew that I lacked something I should have. I faced many hurdles that I felt would be easier to tackle if I had a father; they should have been easier.
When I was nineteen I went to visit my father because I needed to know who he was. During the week I was there I learned a bit about him but not enough. He suggested I attend a nearby college and stay with him and his new wife. We could come to know each other. The following July I moved from Vancouver, British Columbia to Fremont, California to attend college, and to come to know my father. Shortly after settling in, my father accepted a new job and moved to New Jersey. He left me again.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He gave us a new understanding of God. Previously, gods were thought of as masters, tyrants, despots, or puppeteers. Jesus’ prayer revealed God to be Our Father. Yet for me, that was an alien concept. For some people from broken and dysfunctional families it's even terrifying.
How does one with such experience understand The Lord’s Prayer? My intellectual comprehension of fatherhood was incongruous with my experience of it. I didn’t truly know what a father was until well after my own sons were born. Without my wife’s understanding, patience, and help as I learned to be a father I might never have known.
Fatherhood is rife with doubts, concerns, and failures, yet nothing can break the bond between father and child. I found through my sons that what my father lost by our estrangement was greater than what I had lost.
For many years I struggled to understand why I am, why anyone is. Now that I have two sons, I have an idea of why Our Father who art in heaven created humans. It is better to have children, with all their imperfections, than to not have the love we find through them. I am now comforted to know He is my Father. He will not forsake me. There is nothing I can do that is beyond His mercy.
Next week: On the Road Again.
Peter T Elliott