Sermon Father’s Day Sunday September 5, 2010
A Father’s BlessingDeuteronomy 1:29-31, Ephesians 6:1-4, Luke 11:9-13
Friends, on this Father’s Day I would like to do some talking straight to men. We need it. Women need it and children need straight talk to men more than they might know.
There is a epidemic emptiness among us that is causing men (and women and then children) so much pain that we need to talk about on Father’s Day. I begin with a gifted man of Christian faith, Father Richard Rohr. He names the huge chasm in the soul we are all dealing with in various ways that is crippling our relationships and families and society. Let me explain…
Rohr says, “All men know how to do is pass on roles, money and opinions, but not who they are. The fundamental drive affecting male spirituality is “father hunger.”
Rohr speaks of one example of what this “father hunger” is. He says, “I gave a directed retreat recently to a very fine man, a priest who has driven himself to be perfect, successful. We were trying to determine where that drive was coming from…… “
’It’s like a chasm. It’s like a canyon,’ the priest said.”
“’What is?’ I asked.”
“’The depth of the emptiness and pain of my relationship with my father,’ he replied. All he could keep saying was, ‘It’s like a canyon.’”
“Here was a man who looked very productive and creative. And he was, but in his 40’s his world started collapsing because he was always driven by a need to please his father. Nothing he ever did for his father was right. He transferred that need to please the Church, the bishop and the people. But that drive was keeping him from the real experience that he already was loved by God.” “That little example is the story of much of the Church as far as I am concerned. This father hunger is running so many things for good and for ill. When we don’t recognize we are seeking love and approval from the absent father, then we become compulsive, frenetic, busy, wild in a bad sense. That is why we need power, addictions, money…. We don’t recognize that what is really at work is father hunger.”
Another well known man who really names this great wound we carry is John Eldridge. He wrote a little book called “Wild at Heart”. It sold millions of copies. He was onto this chasm in the soul of a man that affects his partner, children, work, health and our community.
This hunger we have is for affirmation from the only one that really counts at the human level. A man will not become a fulfilled and functioning man in relationships and life until he has his father’s affirmation – or in older terms, “the blessing of his father”.
Our modern reality is that this foundational blessing that a man can only get from his father is not being given. It is not understood, not valued and not experienced between fathers and their sons at epidemic proportions.
As an example of how wide and deep this chasm between sons and their fathers is and how completely it affects our community, Rohr speaks of his experience in prison ministry. He says that in his 15 years of working in prisons in the US, the single most potent and common underlying driver of crime is this chasm of father hunger.
“Somehow – and this is the heart of the problem – men have lost the ability to pass on the wisdom and experience of their life and who they are. All they know how to do is pass on roles, money and opinions, but not who they are. I would see that as the single greatest lack of power, dysfunction and disability in civilization today”. (Rohr)
Rohr says, “By “father hunger” I mean the profound, but usually unconscious longing for affirmation and limits from male authority figures. The most common words people use to describe their relationships with their fathers are “absence,” “sadness” and “I don’t know him.”
“Men have not been given the permission or the skills to pass on who they are to their children. We often know what makes fathers angry, but not the deep desires and dreams of their hearts, much less their loneliness and hurt. That vacuum creates a similar emptiness in the hearts of sons and daughters. Dad is an unnameable mystery, which only calls forth fear, doubt and sometimes endless rebellion”. ”In so many of the countries that I have visited men are no longer authoritative or empowered – leaders in any true sense. They have walked no spiritual journeys so they have nothing to offer. All they can do is go in the direction of clichés, control, comfort, legality and all the rest. That’s all that is available to them. As a result, there is a tremendous father hunger within many societies today”.
So, have you got it? Have we got it here? For sure. I see it in adults and kids, Christian and non-Christian. I see people striving, busy, emotionally guarded and yet obviously hurting, seeking affirmation from anyone and everything they can find – I see it my own spiritual journey.
Here’s a reflection point for men and women about whether or not you have received that precious “blessing of your father”. What is one specific way you knew that you received your father’s blessing? Here are some answers to that question asked of one hundred people by Gary Smalley, popular author and psychologist. 1. “My father would put his arm around me at church and let me lay my head on his shoulder.” 2. “When my father was facing being transferred at work, he purposely took another job so that I could finish my senior year in high school at the same school.” 3. “When I wrecked my parent’s car, my father’s first reaction was to hug me and let me cry instead of yelling at me.” 4. “When I was thirteen, my dad trusted me to use his favorite hunting rifle when I was invited to go hunting with a friend and his father. 5. “My father went with me when I had to take back an ugly dress a saleswoman had talked me into buying.” 6. “My father would let me practice pitching to him for a long time when he got home from work.” 7. “Even though I had never seen him cry before, my father cried during my wedding because he was going to miss me no longer being at home.” For me , I would say even though I would use those words of “absence” and “just not there” for my experience of my own father, I would also say that I have received my father’s blessing. For me it first occurred on our wedding day when I was 21. My Dad had a tear in his eyes as he looked straight into my eyes and shook my hand firmly. No words – but that longed for affirmation that “You can do, son. You are a man now, son”. “You have my blessing”.
The problem was for me that it took 21 years to know that I had my father’s blessing. Some people never get it. In fact, they get just the opposite. “You will never amount to anything, son”. “You are lazy”. “You are useless”. “That ‘B’ was not good enough. You should have got an ‘A’. “Why can’t you be like Jack. He’s really good at footy…..”.
Oh, the pain this withholding of a fathers blessing creates deep in a person – girl and boy, but especially boy. Oh, the mistakes we parents make and the pain we cause. Oh, the length of time it takes to discover why we are so driven, so busy, so restless, so empty and lonely! All along we have been longing for our father’s blessing.
In steps God. In all the years of dealing with this wound of the absence of a father and his blessing, God has been blessing me. Jesus has given the gift of naming God “Father” to all who repent of their sin and weakness and need and believe in him.
All along the journey of being a man, a complete and fulfilled human being, God is the ever-present Father who invites us to call him “papa” and to seek him, knock on his door, seek his presence, his word, his healing, his love – his blessing. I can tell you that without those words of absolution, gospel grace and especially that word of blessing, I would be an even more wounded man, driven to find what I desperately need from somewhere – in addiction, control, power, achievement in others’ eyes…..
It is true. Brennan Manning, another mentor of mine, believes that the single most important, radical and needed word Jesus ever spoke was, “Abba” (The Signature of Jesus). Jesus allows us to call God, ‘Father’, ‘Papa’. In this intimate relationship of he as Father and we as his sons and daughters, God is pouring out his affirmation and his blessing on us and filling up that chasm we may have between our own fathers and ourselves and our children.
Fathers, we have the calling to be a father. God has given us children. Our single most important task in the 18 + years we will live at close quarters to our children is to give them our blessing.
The single most important message a young son needs to hear from his Dad is “You can do it, son.”, “I believe in you, son”. “You’ve got what it takes, son”.
If you have never received this blessing from your father and it is still possible to receive, seek it from the old man. If it is not possible, then hear your heavenly Father’s blessing on you. It will be enough for you to be the man he created you to be. Take that blessing (‘The Lord bless you and keep you, …….’) whenever you hear it as your heavenly Father saying “You can do it, son”.
What must accompany this single message also is passing on who we are, not just what we know.
Rohr chimes in…” If fathers could pass on their feelings, their excitement, their grief, their touch and the process of their struggles to become authentic men instead of just their dogmatic conclusions to their sons and daughters, I believe that we would have a very different world. There would be less mistrust and anger toward power and maleness, much less need for war and competition,……
Not only that, we would be becoming more like our own Heavenly Father who “carries you as a father carries his son, all the way until you reach a safe place…” (Deuteronomy 1:30).
The blessing of God our heavenly Father be with us all.