Yesterday I celebrated the first Father’s Day since my dad passed away on September 11, 2014.
I say celebrated, because that’s what I chose to do. Honestly, it was hard. I would have rather curled up in bed with a book (or three) all day and avoided it. But since I have another father to honor—the man who has devoted so much love and care over the years to our now-adult kids—I wanted to make it special for him. He deserves it.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t get my mind off Dad. One of the facets of grieving his loss is the guilt of moving on. It’s as though celebrating anything, especially Father’s Day, is an affront to Dad’s memory.
As I anticipated the holiday this week, I dug through some old photos. As I looked through them, a clear theme grabbed me: Fun.
I remembered how much Dad loved playing with my siblings and me. I can still hear his deep belly laugh whenever he’d watch me tear around, being silly. Dad had a knack for making us laugh by bringing inanimate objects to life. He even created beloved family pet named Tyrone by shining a flashlight on the ceiling. In the evenings we gathered around the dining room table for cribbage tournaments or Uno games.
My dad was no slouch. My stepmom snapped this photo of him pushing my little sister on the swing after he worked a ten-hour shift of changing oil and fixing flat tires. (He did that for thirteen years, six days per week.) We all worked hard too—we helped him cut, split, and stack firewood, build well houses and rabbit hutches, and paint the exterior of the house. We learned to change our own oil and swap a regular tire for the spare. Whether he wielded a chainsaw or a deck of cards, I happily loped along by his side.
That didn’t end when we grew up. I took this picture (above) during our cribbage game to mark the momentous score of 28. (For you non-cribbage players, there’s only a 1 in 15,028 chance of getting that hand. The only way to do better is to get a 29.) One only need look at the expression on Dad’s face to see how much fun we had.
So now, every time I feel a twinge of guilt for having a happy moment during a period of intense mourning, I remember the joy Dad exuded when we’d play. I remember that he would want me to have a fun day and enjoy my kids, just like he did. I had forgotten that in the midst of the sadness of losing him.
Sometimes, we forget the nature of our Heavenly Father too. We can get so focused on the rigors and responsibilities of life that we don’t hear Him beckon us to come and play with Him.
For me, that can look like a long walk in the woods or an afternoon cultivating my garden. Often, it’s a Bible and concordance with a bunch of other notebooks and a Bible study spread across the dining room table. My most joyous times have been creating narrative nonfiction with Him. It’s different for everyone.
But sometimes I get bogged down in performance-religion; I forget that God calls us to an abundant life. If I’m spinning my wheels, I burn out. That only results in exhaustion. Instead of delighting in the task He gives me, I start to see the world as a weight on my shoulders. When I think about shootings in Charleston and ISIS threats, I lose sight of the light and see only darkness.
As I look at these decades-old photographs, I’m reminded that our Heavenly Father doesn’t yoke us in slavery, but invites us to come along on whatever He’s doing next. He doesn’t guarantee ease or comfort, but He does desire a relationship with His children that goes deeper and deeper. He’s more like the playful dad than the taskmaster.
I love these verses from The Message:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Are you hearing a call for adventure with our Heavenly Father? Or do you feel the weight of the religious grind? What ways do you like to enjoy time with God? Please share in the comments.