Rejoicing and Mourning on Father's Day
On October 14, 2012, my dad died. He was riding his bike in suburban Orlando when an eighteen-year-old high school senior, high on synthetic marijuana, lost control of his car. I was nowhere near the scene of the crash, but a slow-motion video of the crash is seared into my mind’s eye. I was nowhere near the police deputies when they knocked on my mom’s door to tell her the news, yet I still see the sorrow in their eyes.
The point of these reflections, though, is not to describe the grief my family has experienced. That is for the best, for the grief is impossible to describe. These reflections are meant to explore how the body of Christ should celebrate a day that is simultaneously wonderful and tragic. Is it possible to honor godly fathers while acknowledging and caring for those who never had fathers, for those who had absent fathers, for those who had abusive fathers, and for those whose fathers have passed away?
Paul wrote to the church in Rome that they should “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” It is natural for rejoicing Christians to celebrate with other rejoicing Christians, and for grieving Christians to mourn with others who are also grieving. It is tremendously difficult, however, for rejoicing Christians to mourn with those who are mourning, and for mourning Christians to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Yet the body of Christ is called to this.
To those who rejoice on Father’s Day, praise God! Your rejoicing is pleasing to the Lord. It is good to send cards and gifts to your fathers, to take them out to dinner, and to pray for them. At the same time, the intensity of your joy should remind you that Father’s Day is, for many, a time of intense grief. Therefore, in keeping with Paul’s command in Romans, those who are rejoicing on Father’s Day are also called to weep with those who are weeping. How can you do this? Be present in the lives of those who are mourning. Hug them. Cry with them. Celebrate your dad at lunchtime, and then mourn with someone that night over dinner. This is one of the rhythms of Christian living on this side of heaven. Want an example of someone who did exactly this? Look to Jesus, the one who brought the better wine to a wedding party (John 2), and the one who profoundly identified with the plight of Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus died (John 11).
To those who mourn on Father’s Day, God is near to you. Our heavenly Father is particularly near to those who are brokenhearted, to those who are crushed in spirit. At the same time, your mourning is a reminder to us all that the Kingdom of heaven, though inaugurated, is not here in all of its glory. All is not yet well.
But those who mourn can and should rejoice with those who are rejoicing on Father’s Day. Mourners can rejoice because, through Christ, the fatherless are reconciled with their perfect Father. We experience his nearness in the present, but that nearness pales in comparison to the intimacy we will enjoy with our Father in the New City. When we who are fatherless look around us on Father’s Day, it is natural to feel like we’re missing out. But in Christ we’re not missing out on anything. A day is coming when our heavenly Father will wrap his arms around us and welcome us home.
For the fatherless, this same blessed hope has the power to transform your bitterness and despair into a genuine desire to honor and encourage the fathers in your midst. Those without fathers understand, perhaps more than anyone, the value of godly fathers. What you do with that understanding depends on the extent of your hope in Christ. The fatherless who have hope are sincerely encouraged and joyful when they see fathers sacrificially loving their families and pointing them to Christ. Those with hope want to show appreciation and pray for such fathers, even though Father’s Day is simultaneously a painful day. The fatherless without hope become cynical, bitter, and critical. Is it appropriate for the fatherless to grieve on Father’s Day? Absolutely. Should churches intentionally care for the fatherless on Father’s Day and avoid celebrating fathers in an insensitive manner? Absolutely. Those who are grieving can still find hope in Christ and escape the dreadful trap of resentment and criticalness.
To the fathers who are caring sacrificially for their children and their spouses, I commend you in the Lord. Your faithfulness has borne and will continue to bear fruit. I am so grateful for all of you! To the fatherless, please join us as we pray now for the fathers in our midst. Despite your grief, pray with sincerity and even joy because of the hope you have in Christ.