Father’s Day offers chance to forgive

Published 1:37 pm Friday, June 7, 2013

Bob Richards, the former pole-vault champion, shares a moving story about a skinny young boy who loved football with all his heart. Practice after practice, he eagerly gave everything he had. But being half the size of the other boys, he got absolutely nowhere.

“At all the games, this hopeful athlete sat on the bench and hardly ever played. This teenager lived alone with his father, and the two of them had a very special relationship. Even though the son was always on the bench, his father was always in the stands cheering. He never missed a game. This young man was still the smallest of the class when he entered high school.

But his father continued to encourage him and also made it very clear that he did not have to play football if he didn’t want to. But the young man loved football and decided to hang in there. He was determined to try his best at every practice, and perhaps he’d get to play when he became a senior. All through high school he never missed a practice or a game but remained a benchwarmer all four years. His faithful father was always in the stands, always with words of encouragement for him.

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When the young man went to college, he decided to try out for the football team as a “walk-on.” Everyone was sure he would never make the cut, but he did.

The coach admitted that he kept him on the roster because he always put his heart and soul into every practice, and at the same time, provided the other members with the spirit and hustle they badly needed. The news that he had survived the cut thrilled him so much that he rushed to the nearest phone and called his father. His dad shared his excitement and was sent season tickets for all the college games. This persistent young athlete never missed practice during his four years at college, but he never got to play in a game.

It was the end of his senior football season, and as he trotted onto the practice field shortly before the big playoff game, the coach met him with a telegram. The young man read the telegram and he became deathly silent.

Swallowing hard, he mumbled to the coach, “My father died this morning. Is it all right if I miss practice today?” The coach put his arm gently around his shoulder and said, “Take the rest of the week off, son. And don’t even plan to come back to the game on Saturday.”

Saturday arrived, and the game was not going well. In the third quarter, when the team was 10 points behind, a silent young man quietly slipped into the empty locker room and put on his football gear. As he ran onto the sidelines, the coach and his players were astounded to see their faithful teammate back so soon.

“Coach, please let me play. I’ve just GOT to play today,” said the young man.

The coach pretended not to hear him. There was no way he wanted his worst player in this close playoff game.

But the young man persisted, and finally feeling sorry for the kid, the coach gave in.

“All right,” he said. “You can go in.”

Before long, the coach, the players, and everyone in the stands could not believe their eyes. This little unknown, who had never played before, was doing everything right. The opposing team could not stop him. He ran, blocked, and tackled like a star. His team began to triumph. The score was soon tied. In the closing seconds of the game, this kid intercepted a pass and ran all the way for the winning touchdown. The fans broke loose. His teammates hoisted him onto their shoulders while the crowd cheered.

Finally, after the stands had emptied and the team had showered and left the locker room, the coach noticed that this young man was sitting quietly in the corner all alone.

The coach came to him and said, “Kid, I can’t believe it. You were fantastic! Tell me what got into you? How did you do it?”

He looked at the coach, with tears in his eyes, and said, “Well, you knew my dad died, but did you know that my dad was blind?”

The young man swallowed hard and forced a smile, “Dad came to all my games, but today was the first time he could SEE me play, and I wanted to show him I could do it!”

Is there any other word in the human language that could evoke so many different emotional responses as “father?” For some, that title is a mysterious unknown due to an absent or unknown dad, thus it causes anger, frustration, even a desperate longing that no earthly experience can fulfill. Others sense a deep sense of connection when they hear “father,” because their dads took the time to lay aside their money chasing, promotion hungry workaholism long enough to effectively parent and love their children. Or perhaps your experience is somewhere between those.

I guess we all wish we had the kind of relationship with our dads that the skinny kid in the story did, but the reality of it is that most people don’t. So how can Father’s Day mean anything else but fake grins and facetious feelings?

Simple, and I’ll lay it out for you. Just remember that I said simple, not easy, but I think you’ll find it is one of the most freeing things you can do.

If you are reading this and you are harboring any anger and bitterness towards your dad, my advice would be to let it go. That’s not only my advice, but it is God’s as well.

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do.

You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Of course I don’t know all the circumstances regarding your individual relationship with your father, but God does. He’s the one is asking you to free yourself from your own prison by releasing your anger, hurt, and frustration and getting on with life.

My friend, you have choices, and with God on your side you cannot say that you are trapped by your memories. Too many people I know blame their dads for all their character flaws- but God doesn’t quite see it that way.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus instructs us to call God “our Father” (which really means Daddy). He knew that no one ever born would have a perfect dad and a pain free home- so He’s letting us know that it’s O.K., because as believers we already have a perfect Father who removes our pain.

When you empty you heart of bitterness, you make room for God’s grace. If you are reading this and you are a dad who made mistakes, I would say “welcome to the club.” I mess up everyday with my children. But the difference might be that I make it my top priority to apologize to my kids when I mess up and make things right. I don’t want to end up like some dads who haven’t had a meaningful father’s day in decades.

Jesus told us: “This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

Many fathers out there know that their kids still have grudges against them, yet have never made the effort to do anything about it. I don’t know about you, but this verse scares me more than a little.

Each Father’s Day gives you an opportunity to either grin and bear it, or forgive and enjoy it. Remember to choose wisely, because your heavenly father is watching from the stands!