Perfect Father, Imperfect Dad: The Nature of Love

Difficult visits to see my dad increased from a few times per year to once a week after my return move to Ohio in September 2015.  He continued with put-downs I had heard all my life. Other than those, he basically ignored me. Soon, an unexpected call from the nursing home where 84-year-old Dad had spent the past six years, informed me he was refusing food and water and would pass away in two to three days.

Dropping everything, I went there immediately to spend those days with him. It was Christmas week.

He was unresponsive but could hear. Dad’s attitude taught me young I  was not good enough as a person, let alone as a daughter. In a whisper, I asked my other Father, the Holy God of heaven, to help me know what to say and when to say it. Concerned for Dad’s eternal salvation, my prayer continued, requesting that God would have a conversation with him before he died.

Sunday afternoon, the third day of vigil, a chaplain asked about dad’s spiritual story.  When I told him my father had long ago been removed from ministry, the chaplain responded with an idea I had never considered.

He said, “Your dad may have trouble believing he can be forgiven. Since he was a pastor who fell into sin, he may think he is not good enough.”

That evening I took a walk. Carols wafted out of the dining hall. Pausing to listen, tears rose for the first time. I would not let them go. There was no doubt that once they started, it would be hours before they would stop. 

Upon returning to dad’s room, I was met by such a force that I froze.  Recognizing the presence of the Heavenly Father,  I entered humbly and quietly. It was clear my prayers were being answered; God was having a conversation with dad. After several minutes, God’s tangible presence lifted. Dad breathed strangely and died within the hour.

I knew my Perfect Father had met with my imperfect one. Still,  I asked God if he would be willing to give me a sign to remove all doubt that dad had accepted his invitation.

Putting my fingers in the Bible, it fell open to Micah. My eyes landed on chapter 7, verses  18 and 19. “You [God] will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!”

In the end, grace met dad where he was and reminded him no one has to be good enough to earn God’s forgiveness. God delights, actually has fun, showing unfailing love to his own who repent. 

We are all mixtures of honesty and deceit, kindness and severity, faith and doubt. We do not have the power to love without fault, and that is okay because it is not in the “doing” that we experience grace.

At one point I said to my dying father, “Dad, all you ever had to do for me to love you is be my dad. All you ever had to do for God to love you is exist.”

It is nice to think of the irony- that God chose this oft-rejected daughter to show a stubborn and broken love to a dad who never had to be good enough to earn it.

Today’s Helpful Word  

Luke 11: 11-13

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  -Jesus



NOTE:  I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental and behavioral health challenges.  In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S. or go to your nearest emergency room. (for international emergency numbers, go here ). Hope and help are yours!

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