reflection and image by Thomas KortusPsalms 119: 49-72, 49, 53 Isaiah 9: 8-17 2 Peter 2: 1-10a Mark 1: 1-8
Six months ago today I held my dad’s hand as he breathed his last. We had become so accustomed to the unnaturally loud inhale and exhale of his breathing that when he stopped the stillness was deafening. I held his large and warm hand, laid my head upon his chest, and smelled him until he became cold and his color changed. For a while nobody spoke until we broke the silence in prayer.
The last six months have been a journey for me. I have been numb, busy, angry, distracted, apathetic, emotional, tired, lonely, hurt, but also deeply thankful for my dad and for how God has been and is present. I have spent a lot of time remembering my childhood with greater intentionality; thinking about my relationship with my father; replaying certain interactions and memories with him over and over in my mind; and discovering more about him and his life by talking to my mom, other relatives, and friends.
I find myself giving thanks to God for such a faithful, loving, and supportive dad, but I also find myself confronted by regret. I had a good relationship with my dad, but it was wasn’t all that I had hoped for. So I find myself in this season full of thanksgiving for my earthly father of 32 years, but also confronted with regret. As I sat with dad the last three weeks of his life and interacted with his close friends, acquaintances, and co-workers at his bedside and at the memorial service, my esteem for my father grew, and I began to see him in a new light. I got to know him again from a multiplicity of perspectives and people. This has been a beautiful but also painful experience. I had written my dad off in ways that were unfair and judged him in ways that were not loving; and my pride and arrogance blinded me to who he really was and constrained my relationship with him. I find myself ever more thankful to call him my earthly father but left with regret when it comes to our relationship.
One woman called me the day he died to tell me that my dad was the reason her husband was a Christian. She told me she had been praying for years that her husband would come to Jesus and that my dad had befriended him, shared his faith with him, and bought him his first bible. She said my dad showed her husband that he could still be a man and follow Jesus. I hung up the phone in tears. I had underestimated my dad’s life in Christ. I underestimated my dad in many ways in my youthful arrogance. I have regrets.
Why didn’t I call him more? Why weren’t we closer? Why was I not more honest with him? Why did I hide my need for him and his wisdom and experience only to seem stronger and more capable than I was? Why did I assume his faith was not strong? Why didn’t I open up myself to him and pursue the relationship I always wanted with my earthly father? I guess I thought I had more time. We were making some real movement this past year, but things were far from where I hoped we would be. So I am left with regret along with thanksgiving for my father.
I had been stuck in this place for a few months when last week I was reading Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff and came across this passage:
I believe that God forgives me. I do not doubt that. The matter between God and me is closed. But what about the matter between Eric and me? For my regrets remain. What do I do with my God forgiven regrets? Maybe some of what I regret doesn’t even need forgiving: maybe sometimes I did as well as I could. Full love isn’t always possible in this fallen world of ours. Still I regret. I shall live with them. I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them.
I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that great day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other’s arms and say, “I’m sorry.”
The God of love will surely grant us such a day. Love needs that.
This Advent season I find my longing for Jesus’ return stronger than ever. I long for all that is wrong with this messed up world to be made right. I long to be reunited with my dad. I long for us to see each other face to face, both made perfect by the presence of God. I long for us to stand before one another and embrace and talk in ways we were not able to in this life as a result of our pride, brokenness, and generations upon generations of sin and rebellion. I long for Jesus to come again to make all things new, especially my father’s disease-destroyed body and our relationship as father and son. My prayer is that my regret will indeed inspire and fuel a greater intentionality in my earthly relationships as well as strengthen and intensify my longing for Christ’s return and the reunion with all the saints that have gone before me–especially my dad.