This year will mark the first Father’s Day I have ever spent without being able to see or speak to my dad. For 35 years, even after moving away from home 14 years ago, I have spent almost every Father's Day with him. But this year, I remember him.
On January 4 of this year my dad passed away after an almost 28 year battle with Parkinson's Disease. For 28 years my dad was keenly aware that he was “outwardly wasting away.” His body and mind just quit doing what he wanted them to do most of the time.
It was hard to watch him suffer. I had a great dad.
At his funeral, I told our friends and family that it has always been effortless for me to find things to love and admire about my dad. As I remember him this year, I want to share three lessons (of the many) my dad taught me with his words and his actions.
A Life Serving God and His People is a Life Well Spent
Beginning with my earliest memories I can recall my dad pointing me to Jesus and his life- changing, grace abounding gospel. He told me Jesus loved me and that he had a plan for me. He told me I was a sinner and that I needed a Savior (Rom 3:23). I knew that sin led to death but that God's gift to me was eternal life through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom 6:23).
I always knew that my dad’s (and mom's) greatest desire was for me to know and love God. He knew the most important thing he could share with me was the gospel of Jesus Christ. He loved Jesus and he prayed that my brother and I would too.
He also loved the church. He heard Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:36-40 that the greatest commandment is to love God and love people, and my dad obeyed him. This fact was obvious and sincere. While he didn’t do it perfectly, this love for God and others was the consistent pattern of his life. I can't think of a better assessment of one’s life and I hope the Lord will give me grace and strength to live my life in a way that causes my children to say the same of me.
People Are More Important Than Things
When I was in elementary school my dad quit a very high paying job to spend more time with his wife and kids. He had to travel weekly for this job and he was just plain sick of missing us. He wanted to be at our games and recitals. He wanted to be at our dinner table every night and by our beds tucking us in and praying for us. This was not an easy or a comfortable decision, but in doing it he communicated what was in his heart: my people are more important than things. He knew that laying up treasures on earth was meaningless (Matt 6:19).
He exchanged what the world had to offer to have a close, tender relationship with his family. He knew being present with us would make him less important to the world but more important to my mom, my brother and me. Instead of receiving praise for his earthly accomplishments, he cheered me on at my field hockey games, made me breakfast and gave me hugs before school and held me while I cried lamenting my first broken heart.
He was there to admonish me with scripture (Ephesians 4:29 was a favorite during my teenage years) when my actions and words didn't honor Jesus. He told boys who stayed too late that it was “great to see” them and to “have a safe drive home.” (The Tony DeCaro way of saying “Get out of my house.”)
My dad knew the Lord had entrusted us to him and that faithfulness meant being present while loving and leading our family.
In This World There Will Be Trouble—Hope in God
Dealing with an uncertain future, dreams unrealized and a life plagued with physical frailty could have caused my dad to be bitter towards God. It could have made him angry and stolen his joy. While he struggled at times to understand this unexpected turn of events, until his final breath his life was characterized by his hope in the kind and gracious care of Jesus.
He took comfort in passages like 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. . .”
While I know that my dad longed for the independence that comes with an able body and a sound mind, he laid these longings down at the feet of Jesus, who had a different plan. Even though his physical ability was limited he maintained a caring heart for others, a gentle attitude and an abiding love for those around him. He couldn't teach or labor at church, but he could pray, and so he did. He couldn't run around with his grandkids but he could snuggle them close and softly ask them questions. He could tell them jokes and kiss their heads. He could bear fruit of love, gentleness, and patience (Gal 5:22-23).
My dad could accept the life God gave him and trust him to use it rather than focus on what he thought was lacking. He could do this because his hope was not in his own strength or accomplishments but in the unchanging, gracious Father whom he loved and trusted.
So on this Father’s Day I am going to think about my dad. I loved him. I miss him and I will probably shed some tears, but they will mostly be tears of gratitude as I thank God that he used the gift of a wonderful earthly father so that I could know, love and hope in Christ all the more.
Lauren Lambert is a pastor's wife to Heath and mom of three children. She lives in Jacksonville, FL where Heath serves as Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church and is the Executive Director for Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.