How to Celebrate Fathers When Yours Was Absent

This past Sunday was Father’s Day, a holiday to celebrate fathers and honor fatherhood. Our church leaned into Father’s Day by applauding fathers and urging them to use their influence in a godly way. Our family leaned into Father’s Day as well. We got together with some of our extended family for meal. My wife and kids got me some great gifts (my favorite was some new shaving supplies) and let me set the agenda for the afternoon and evening.

I am well aware that Father’s Day can be awkward for those who’s fathers were absent. My father abandoned me and my mother when I was young. A few years later he passed away, closing the door on any possible reunion.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 children grow up without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. But fathers can be absent in other ways. Some fathers are physically present, but emotionally unavailable. Some fathers give up their role through or mistreatment or abuse. Dads are taken out of the home through no fault of their own through accidents and sickness.

This brings up the question of how to celebrate Father’s Day when your father was absent. Is it possible to appreciate God’s design for the family and to honor fatherhood when your experience was or is less than ideal? I think it is and here are 3 suggestions for how to do it.

1. Emphasize what you had over what you miss. Even the best dads have weak spots. Rather than focusing on your dad’s flaws, try to focus on their strengths. In some cases, you may have to adjust you sights so low that you are just thankful they helped give you life – that’s all. Those with present, but unavailable dad’s might have to praise God for a roof over their heads and shoes on their feet. A caring father-like figure is much better than no one at all.

2. Decide to do better. This is for those in a position to make a positive change. You might not have had the best experience with your father, but you can make sure the next generation grows up differently. This mentality has pushed me to be the best dad I can be even if I didn’t have the best dad. You can’t change the past, but with God’s help you can change the future.

3. Focus on your Heavenly Father. The Bible presents God as a Heavenly Father to all who exercise faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. My favorite verse on God as Heavenly Father is found in John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB). God’s fatherly influence should be more than enough to compensate for an absentee earthly father.

Celebrating Father’s day can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. You can honor the fatherhood and appreciate your family (as imperfect as it may be) by focusing on what you have rather than on what you don’t have – and that is worth celebrating!

A Test of Faith

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Fathers can be excellent examples of faith. Martin Luther King Jr. father, a pastor, and a civil rights activist. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This fits very well with the Bible’s definition of faith found in the book of Hebrews 11:1: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB).

Abraham is a father in Scripture that stands out as an example of faith. Abraham stepped out in faith when God called him to leave his homeland and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-3). That blessing included a new land and family to pass that land to (Genesis 13:14-18, 15:1-4). Abraham’s faith was tested many times as he and Sarah passed out the childbearing years without an heir. When the finally had a son of their own, Isaac, it was a confirmation of their faith in God.

In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is tested one last time. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son on an altar. As we follow Abraham along this particularly hard part of his faith journey there are three lessons we must learn if we are going to walk by faith.

Genesis 22:1-6 describe the toughest test as Abraham’s faith was tested by God. A test is simply a way for God to reveal obedience, produce reverence, and discover authenticity. For Abraham, it looked back to the way His relationship with God began, and it looked forward to the way his family would relate to God in the future.

God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and offer him as a burnt sacrifice.  The next morning, Abraham rose early and made preparations for the trip. After three days, Abraham arrived at this destination and left his helpers at the base of the mountain. As he climbed to the place of sacrifice, Abraham carried the torch and the knife and Isaac carried the wood for the fire.

God tests us for our benefit. Sometimes our faith is strengthened like a muscle under pressure. Sometimes, we reconnect with the purpose for which we were made: to listen to and to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.to enjoy Him forever. Tests aren’t always pleasant, but they are effective.

Genesis 22:7-8 describes the longest walk as Abraham and Isaac approach the place of sacrifice. Isaac saw the wood and the fire, but he asked where the offering was. Abraham responds with a tremendous amount of faith explaining that the Lord would provide the offering. According to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham trusted God to work out the details of the sacrifice and to raise his son from the dead if necessary to fulfill His promises.

God wants us to trust Him in spite of the benefits we may experience. I wonder if some people would trust God if heaven or hell wasn’t hanging in the balance. I wonder if some people would still pray if their prayers weren’t answered. I wonder if some people still give to the Church if there were no tax incentives.

Genesis 22:9-14 describes a last-minute pardon as the Angel of the Lord stops Abraham at the last minute. Abraham had built the altar, arranged the wood for a fire, and tied Isaac up on the altar. As Abraham raised his knife high over his head to kill his son, the Angel of the Lord cried out, “Stop, now I know that you fear me!”

As Abraham caught his breath, he noticed a ram caught in a nearby thicket. He took the ram and offered it up in place of his son. Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh, or “the Lord Will Provide.”

God cares for the long-term and day-to-day issues of life. God provides an eternal home in heaven for his children when they graduate from this earthly life (John 14:3). God also provides for the ongoing needs of our current reality (John 10:10). I like to think about it as the “here and the hereafter.”

Father Abraham’s test of faith teaches us about our faith as well. I hope it encourages the fathers to be men of deep faith and conviction. I also help it encourages others to pay attention to their examples of faith.