I grew up Baptist and my dad was a Southern preacher, first the head pastor of the church we attended when I was small and later an interim pastor for a year or two at a time in different churches in our area. I might not have to tell you how intertwined our perceptions of God and our perceptions of our earthly fathers can be, for better or worse. And I can’t help but think that truth might be intensified when that father is in professional ministry.
Whether it was an act of rebellion against always being “the good Christian family,” or just a natural exploration of adolescent independence, my late teens were marked by a reckless pursuit of pleasure. Among other things, this meant lying quite frequently to my gentle parents about what I was doing and with whom. In the midst of this time, perhaps unsurprisingly, I was also battling depression, self-harm, and heartbreak.
I carried on in this destructive lifestyle in college until it broke me, and when it did I had no other options but to crawl my way home and come clean with my parents. I remember sitting at their kitchen table, counting on my social worker-mother’s sensitivity, but unsure of what my dad’s response would be. What is the best that can reasonably be expected of a man coming to terms with the fact that his daughter is a liar, a delinquent, and definitely not a virgin?
I can’t even remember what was said, but it doesn’t really matter. I remember his gentleness, his concern. I remember knowing that he was hurting, but I heard none of the reprimanding words I knew I deserved. I remember most of all that he hugged me, told me he loved me, and that he would always be there for me. And I remember knowing in the core of my being that he meant it all; it wasn’t what I deserved, but it was true because my dad was good.
In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus is urging us to believe that not only is our Father Holy and Mighty, our Father is equally as good and delighted. He takes our shame and says, “I have no use for that.” He takes our failure and says, “It doesn’t matter anymore.” He takes our sin and says, “I make all things new.” And just like the father in Jesus’ parable and just like my own, earthly father, God our Heavenly Father offers us undeserved, unconditional love.
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Take your shame, your sadness, your reluctance to tell anyone, and give it to Our Father.
Shannon Evans is a Protestant missionary turned Catholic convert who lived to tell the tale. An adoptive and biological mom of three boys, she enjoys hosing mud off children, scrubbing sticky furniture, and rushing to the ER to have nails extracted from small intestines. You can find out more about her here.