On the day I graduated from high school, I saw my father for only the third time in four years. That’s what divorce does: my parents separated when I was in eighth grade and divorced a year later. My Dad lived a thousand miles away.
That graduation day I wasn’t even thinking about my Dad, because I was the graduation speaker. It took weeks to write and practice the speech. I stood up that day, wearing a ridiculous robe and a hat that looked like a red aircraft carrier. I was supposed to say something profound, but really–how profound can you be at 17 years old?
What made the day memorable was that my father had come to my graduation. I didn’t know he was there. He and my mother weren’t on speaking terms. She didn’t want me to have anything to do with him, so she intercepted any mail he sent. I hadn’t heard from him in over a year.
The graduating class marched into the gym, crowded with people. Like most high school students I cared only about getting the diploma and getting out of there. I didn’t realize that all those people came to graduation because they love those who are graduating. Sitting somewhere in the back, my father was watching.
After the speech and the endless roll of names, we were ready to leave that old high school building forever, and celebrate. In the confusion of the students and parents and hallways and shouting my father suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He had come to see me graduate. He didn’t know I would be speaking. I was shocked when I saw him.
“Dad!” It was as much a question as a statement.
“Congratulations, son.” He gave me a hug, and looked around quickly. I saw the tears in his eyes when he looked back at me. “You’ve really made something of yourself. I’m so proud.”
And then he left. As quickly as he had appeared, he disappeared.
It’s been a few years since that day. I’m married, and now I have kids of my own. That day sticks in my memory not only because of what my father did, but also because of what it reveals about our Heavenly Father. Here’s what I discovered that day:
Fathers can’t turn it off: Even though my Dad was separated by divorce, years, and distance, he still fought through to show he cared. We place plenty of obstacles in God’s way, but he doesn’t stop being a Father. He fights through our defenses and demonstrates his love. He will never stop.
Fathers don’t have to be perfect: Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:11) Jesus recognized that earthly fathers have flaws. Earthly fathers are not perfect. Jesus still pointed to imperfect men–fathers–and indicated that we can catch a glimpse of the Perfect Father. It’s crazy, but God has chosen to leave the work of parenting to radically flawed people.
The Heavenly Father fills in when earthly fathers let us down: My personal story isn’t just about graduation day. I grew up in a family characterized by bickering and bitterness. No one had a relationship with God. When this flawed family began to break apart, the Heavenly Father was already at work. As a fatherless teenager, a thousand miles away from my Dad, Jesus was drawing me toward the true Father. My first year in high school was also my first year without a father. I was welcomed by a high school ministry called Campus Life. They gave me my first Bible. They gave me friendship and confidence. And most of all, they gave me Jesus when I became a Christian at the end of my freshman year. I may have gone through high school without my Dad, but the Heavenly Father took me in. He accepted me the way I was, and gave me a new family.
If that’s where you are—teenager or full grown, I promise He’ll do the same for you.