Twenty-five years ago, I was privileged to stay with a couple in California on a couple of occasions. They had 4 lovely children between the ages of 6 and 12 and were truly a devout and loving family. There were also two teenage girls in their house in the last stages of pregnancy. These girls were treated with great affection, as their own daughters. They had come from far away, to stay with Dick and Barbara to have their babies. The babies would be given for adoption and the girls go back home to finish their schooling.
Over a period of years, more than 50 girls have visited them and experienced love, healing and understanding. More than 50 lives have been saved and the babies given to childless couples who longed for a baby. As surrogate parents, this couple was able to give these girls an experience of Abba father's love and care for them.
I heard an expression very often in that home. "The Father is very fond of you". Husband and wife said it to each other when one of them felt low, upset or annoyed. Once, Patrick complained to his father about Michael's behavior. Dick held the erring one in his arms, looked at him with great tenderness and said: "Mike, the father is very fond of you." What a wonderful way of correcting a child and affirming him at the same time!!
They gave me a book with that title. The author in his preface mentioned that he was on holiday in Ireland and was sheltering from the rain under a tree. An elderly man was also standing there and looked so peaceful and happy as he stood there, praying softly. The priest said to the old man: "You seem to be close to God." To this the man replied: "Yes, the father is very fond of me." I returned to India with that catch phrase resounding in my heart. Many a time in these past 25 years I felt upset, annoyed, ashamed, threatened, hurt, depressed, anxious, afraid, disappointed, disillusioned, used, let down, rejected, ignored, disturbed or frustrated.
I often remind myself that the father is very fond of me. When I come across others who experience such feelings too, I remind them of this truth.
Being human and living among other human beings, we may often clash with each other. We may then feel guilty that we lacked patience, understanding or gentleness. Like the prodigal son, instead of devaluing ourselves, we need to turn and face the father's welcoming embrace.
Let us see ourselves loved and reinstated as precious children. "Do you love me? Do you really love me?" he asks us. "Feed my lambs".
Yes the father is very fond of me, perhaps fonder of the prodigal son who has returned to be forgiven than of the self righteous elder son who prided himself on his dutiful obedience.
The father is giving me a chance to be life giving to those who have hurt me. How do I feed his lambs? By revealing to them this truth that he is very fond of them and showing it to them in some practical way.
In a home, there are many opportunities to forgive and restore hurt and broken relationships. At night, after a quarrel, many husbands and wives lie awake, each facing the wall on their side of the bed. One needs to turn over and with a touch or a word reveal to the other that the father is very fond of you. The other has to respond.
Children are bound to make mistakes and do wrong. Warnings, lectures, reprimands and threats may instill fear and bring about desired change. A spanking or slap may show that might is right and authority is asserted. We are human, but sometimes can act in inhumane ways. Some may even quote from the Book of Proverbs to justify stern, paternal, correction. I believe that holding a child in your arms or sitting and talking to him in a respectful and gentle way is more effective in the long run and helps to build convictions.
Some of you may know the hymn: "The Prodigal son". The words of the chorus are: "I forgive you, I love you, you are mine, take my hand. Go in peace, sin no more, beloved one."
Jesus presented the Father in this way to sinners. He went out of his way to look for them and have table fellowship with them. Surely, as his disciples, we have to follow in his footsteps. Let us first of all ourselves believe that the Father is all-powerful to take away our many sins and cast them behind his back. Let us believe that he loved us so much that he sent Jesus, his beloved son, to wash us in his precious blood to save us. Let us welcome the spirit of son-ship to pray: "Abba father" in our hearts. Then with this firm confidence in God's saving love, let us in turn, reveal to one another, that the father is very fond of us.
I find that one of the great obstacles to believing this great trust, is clinging on to a poor self image. I do this when I think that I am worthless, bad, will never amount to much, have let others down, or am not trustworthy and am a failure. The words or punishment that I received as a child by stern but perhaps well meaning parental persons, could have left an indelible label. Like Judas, I can condemn myself as unredeemable. Instead, like Peter, I can turn and face the forgiving eyes of Jesus and hear him say: "Do you love me? Feed my lambs".
It is never too late to let go of our shame and guilt and to stop punishing ourselves by staying away from a God who loves us with such a powerful, life-giving love. Accept the invitation right now. You do not have to measure up to some false standard of perfection, because God is not a Pharisee. He is a loving father, abounding in compassion. That is the good news that Jesus came to proclaim to those who found religion so odious, the way it was presented by the Pharisees.
Be Jesus' hands and voice today in your own home. Reach out to children who are hurting like Dick and Barbara did and let them know that: "The father is very fond of you".