No Father, No Rest—of the Fatherless
“Not one has a father,” Ami commented as we watched our sons bounce.
My oldest had stopped by bringing his girlfriend’s young son. He quickly rounded up my other sons and they made a bee-line for the trampoline in the backyard. Within a few seconds, all were immersed in the delirious gaiety of bouncing, frequently dissolving into a pile of flailing limbs and kicking feet. Laughter was the order of the day.
Ami’s comment prompted a quick mental roll call. Yep, all of ours had come from fatherless homes. Our young visitor’s father had long ago walked.
We never sought out the fatherless. Years ago, we’d relinquished control of the foster system to the Lord. “Send us who you will,” though I wrestled with the Lord on each occasion. Still, over the years God took the opportunity to fill our home with boys, young men, all fatherless.
They had all been abandoned in varying fashion. Their fathers had walked out, signed away rights, or drifted away. They succumbed to addictions or lost interest in fathering. They failed financial obligations or were deported to other countries. And just like that, I found myself a father to the fatherless.
Easy research reveals the plight of the fatherless. The deep inward wounding wrought by fatherly abandonment manifests itself in a number of typifying behaviors, the usual suspects of addiction and affliction. Over the years, Ami and I have noted unifying characteristics that all our fatherless sons exhibited to varying degrees.
Most of them could be traced to a single quality. They lack the ability to rest.
I love our church’s children’s class. Every Wednesday, children of every shade and background gather to learn of the Lord. Ami pointed out to me that there were just as many kids from a non-traditional background as there were from a traditional background. Foster kids, adopted kids, kids with amazing biological parents, kids from unspeakable circumstances: all accepted one another without question, without hesitation. What a beautiful picture of the church!
However, after just a few minutes in the class, you could make an educated guess about who came from traditional families, who had been fathered and who had not. A restlessness, an anxiety, pervades in the hearts of the fatherless, even the formerly fatherless. They had no ability to just rest, to just exist, to just be. They constantly fretted about seeking something that they could not comprehend. An unsettled spirit drove them, manifesting itself in some obvious ways. They cannot be content with things as they are, even if things are the way they desire.
The fatherless find no rest.
Want of a Heavenly Father
In much the same way, those lacking a heavenly Father want for peace. I know of two men from opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum. Meth addiction drives one of the men, the biological father of one of my sons. He leads a day-to-day existence scratching out a living from whatever handyman work he can muster. His refuge lies in the gratification of the flesh in the form of whatever chemical he can obtain. The other man is a highly successful corporate lawyer having dabbled on Wall Street for a bit before finding his niche. The wealthiest man I know, he finds his refuge in obtaining—homes, cars, motorcycles, wives etc.
Both men pursue the bread of anxious toil. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest.” (Psalm 127:2)
With no heavenly Father, both men live as slaves, long since vanquished by their idols. The pursuit governs their drive despite the disparate nature of their pursuits. Contentment evades them, satisfaction but a dream. In desperation, they shred themselves for one more hit off the pipe, sacrifice their family on the altar of promotion for a bit more prestige and influence.
They have no Father in whom they may rest.
The Father beckons, calling forth. “I will satisfy the weary soul.” (Jeremiah 31:25)
“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)
“Be still, and know that I am God,” He commands. (Psalm 46:10)
In Him, His children find their rest. In Him, we abandon hapless worldly pursuits. In Him, we forsake the gratification of the flesh. As sons of God, because He has sent the Spirit of God into our hearts, we may cry, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6) In Him, as sons, we may…rest.
Father to the Fatherless
Jesus calls to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
I know of few heavier laden than the fatherless. The fatherless—even the functionally fatherless, those absent a father during the formative years or those absent an engaged or godly father—the fatherless bear a burden that those unencumbered can never fathom.
Considering Christ, for those of us appropriately reared, it becomes easy to assume the marvelous. Incredulously, we observe the adoption of the fatherless as sons of the living God and still the doubt, still the fear, still the anxiety. Why does the warm embrace of our heavenly Father not still your restless heart? We wonder at the harsh reality of a fatherless existence, maybe doubt the efficacy or potential for healing.
All men cling to their sin. Even in adoption as sons of God, our sin nature refuses to die necessitating the daily call to crucify the flesh, to mortify our flesh. Some cling to sins of pride or sins of lust. Some grasp at doubt. Others, often the fatherless, cling to the sins of other men, men who’ve walked away in abandonment, the sins of their fathers. The sins of an absent father afflict well into salvation.
God heals. It’s what He does. It probably won’t be as tidy as you’d like.
Fatherlessness twists and distorts the psyche of a man far beyond comprehension. My own sons, even after being fathered, some of them for as long as they can remember, bear unfathomable scars. Some of them are of Christ, some are not yet. Either way, their restlessness persists, their pursuit continues, tempered though it may be by the presence of an earthly father, me, and the knowledge and promise of a heavenly Father.
God’s effectual call summons His children, His sons from the darkness. The healing salve of His grace melts and mends, softens and sustains. He will give peace. In Him we find rest. His way, His timing, they are perfect.
For the fatherless, this promise may seem a never-to-be realized dream as the all-too-familiar feelings of restlessness persist. Why can’t I have peace? When will my struggle end? Why did God allow this to happen?
All we can do is cling to the promise and to our heavenly Father. He is good. He defines goodness and I pray that you’ll soon realize that serpent is actually a fish. (Luke 11:11) Liberty for the oppressed…the very business of our Lord Jesus. (Luke 4:18)
For those called to minister to the fatherless, as husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, know that superficial banners and vain, shallow excursions into the faith will likely yield little fruit. Answers, when they do come, do not come easy. Steel yourself for the onslaught of a life in tatters. Find honor that God has called you as a tender healer and joy in the promised redemption.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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