This will be the 22nd year in a row that I've observed Father's Day without my father. I was barely a teenager when he died, yet the memories are still painfully present. I can't help but feel a pang of sadness each year this day comes around and I am reminded once again that my dad isn't here for a card, a breakfast, a ballgame or even a hug.
So, I know firsthand that holidays that bring joy to so many often bring sadness to others. Many of us struggle with the loss of our fathers or grandfathers, remembering the happy times together and lamenting their absence and simply missing their love, wisdom and presence. Too many others feel the aches of an absent father — who didn't die for reasons out of his control, but either left for unknown reasons or was simply never present. That sense of abandonment at childhood or otherwise causes deep wounds that only become all the more raw on days like Father's Day. Worse, some have suffered abuse at the hands of their father, and unsettled feelings of anger, betrayal, sadness, guilt and suffering rise up annually.
Many of us use the name Father to refer to God, while others find that language limited, or painful given their experiences. In my church, we try to use more expansive language to refer to God so that God's many qualities of love, wisdom, guidance, nurture, beauty, healing, comfort and peace are uplifted.
And yet, on this day, I am reminded that Jesus called God "Abba" and taught us to pray to God as "Our Father." He redefined God from a distant, otherworldly, judgmental being into a close, loving, parental guide who cares and protects instead of doling out law and punishment. He chose an endearing term that translates more directly to "Daddy," offering us an image of a loving, playful, doting parent who is personal enough for us to share secrets, to cry in his arms, to turn to for help.
While the term "Father" is by no means expansive enough to encapsulate all that God is, this image of God as father offers us a different way to approach Father's Day. For any of us who grieve for our own fathers, who wish our experiences had been different, who longed and long still for a Daddy to love us, protect us, play with us and cuddle us close, our God becomes the perfect Abba. The comforter in our pain, the strength in our weakness and the hope in our sadness: The divine perfections surpass human failings, aches and pains.
For any who feel sadness, pain, regret, loss and alienation in this day and time — may you know the love of God, and may it become a happy Father's Day!
THE REV. SARAH HALVERSON is the pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.