My father’s spirit passed into the presence of God last week. He had battled cancer for over seven years, but succumbed at 77. The calm, serene man whom I re-discovered after 18 years of estrangement was a far cry from the stern, forbidding disciplinarian that I grew up with.
A harsh approach typified my early interaction with my Dad. Perhaps, he was simply mirroring his own father’s behaviour. Whatever the reason, his parental skills were characterised by the adage, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. There were countless instances of ‘applying the rod of correction to the seat of understanding’.
I am sure that there were many times when I deserved chastisement, so let me be clear: I’m not advocating a wholesale rejection of parental discipline.
My father re-married and although I tried to maintain contact, it became increasingly obvious that I was the outsider.
I got on with my life and converted from an aimless life to Christ at 20. I got married and took comfort in the knowledge that, by God’s grace, my daughters would enjoy a loving father.
In my conversion experience, I felt immersed in a deep reassurance of God’s fatherly love: a Father who relinquished His most cherished possession, His Son, to become the object of His wrath against our sins on our behalf. I still tried to ignore the nagging fears of abandonment. Although God had done His part in bestowing amnesty, the show of gratitude seemed to be up to me. I struggled to believe that dedication to God was as much of a gift as my conversion. Yet Paul stresses the contrary, ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32). Again, challenging a return to ritual and self-discipline in order to advance their spirituality, he asks the Galatians, ‘Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?’ (Gal. 3:3)
Over many years, I began to think that some relationships could never be healed. So I thankfully acknowledge the efforts of my Mum, who called my half-brother and passed on my Dad’s London phone number. She had heard that he had returned to the UK for cancer treatment.
Although it wasn't easy at first, we began to build up a bank of new memories. In bereavement, I hold them all up as precious jewels of experience.
For instance, I remember taking my Dad to Brighton earlier this year with my brothers. We had a wonderful time, although we cut the visit short because of Dad’s discomfort in the hot weather. He was trying to sit up on the seafront bench and the planks began to dig into his frail ribcage. I ran over to the Cargo Store and bought him a cushion to sit on: I relished another chance to love my Dad. He made a point of thanking me in a way that melted past pain and fears. We were and still are reconciled. And God has persuaded me to yield to the in-working of His Spirit, rather than trying to prove my worth to Him.
So, a few hours before my Dad died last week, I held his hand. He was beyond speech, but the nurse reassured me that hearing would be the last of his senses to go. I reminded him of how precious he was, that I wouldn’t forsake our pact to believe God for a miracle unless he chose to be with the Lord. I told him that I loved him so much and that I would take care of my brothers. A few hours later, Erskine Earl Shepherd, a man of God and my father passed, not away, but above.
I hope you can understand what Christ meant when he declared, ‘Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Matt. 5:9)
Far more can be gained from reconciliation, than maintaining estrangement. So if your life is characterised by reconciliation overcoming lasting resentment, you have reason to rejoice. In the family of God, it’s the defining trait.