This Lent I have found that my prayer has led me to strengthen my relationship with God the Father. The Liturgy and the various traditions of this Holy Season draw me into solitude and I have become mindful of my dependence on Him, who cares for His little daughter.
I do not think it is a coincidence that my (earthly) father’s birthday is today, Friday of the First Week of Lent. As I reflect on the gift that my father is to me, I am reminded of how the Lord is at work in my life during Lent – particularly how God the Father is pursuing a more intimate relationship with me, His daughter. These are just a few ways that I see parallels in the relationships with my two Fathers, with a special Lenten focus.
1. My Father loves to look at me.
There are few things more precious than watching a new parent hold his or her child. It is easy to think that after we grow up our parents stop looking at us this way, since we have exhausted their capacity to look tenderly upon us. But I know for a fact that my Dad still likes to see me. I know that between the hours of 4 pm and 8 pm each Sunday I will receive a voice mail from my him, asking when I will be able to visit again. And ever time I do visit, his last words are, “…So when are you coming back?”
In the same way, as I enter the silence of Lent, I see that my Heavenly Father is overjoyed that I have committed to increase my time of prayer, not so that I can “do” anything for Him, but so that He can just look at me and be with me.
2. My Father watches out for me, even when I’ve done something wrong.
Often times when I fail to meet expectations or am struggling in life, I hesitate to tell my dad. It took me a long time to realize that he doesn’t judge me as I judge myself, and that he cares for me even when I come to him with my failures and brokenness. When I spoke to him recently about my struggles with depression and my eating disorder, and my plans to help others in recovery, I was incredibly nervous. Up until then I would usually pretend I had it all together. After I finally revealed my life the way it truly was, rather than putting up a happy-go-lucky facade, I saw my dad’s face prouder than I’ve ever seen. Even though I was admitting my brokenness, without the illusion of self-sufficiency and autonomy, I felt more than ever that I belonged to my father, and that he would always care for me and support me.
This reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son, who was embraced by his father upon his return, who was waiting for him. He did not punish him for squandering his inheritance, rather, the father meets him with a heart full of mercy and forgiveness, in his poverty and humility – and draws him into the intimate bond of sonship. This reminds me of the words of the Attende Domine, a hymn sung during Lent, “Draw near, O Lord our God, graciously hear us, keep us from sinning before you…”
We who are sons and daughters of God can be confident in the fidelity of the Father’s love. He is always ready to forgive us and capture us in his loving arms despite our fear of disapproval. Lent reminds us of this truth, that we can turn back to Him and that we belong to Him regardless of our past.
3. My Father loves to give me presents.
I remember as a kid, being so excited when my dad would return from his business trips. Aside from the fact that I missed him, he usually used to bring home presents for me and each of my siblings. Even when I entered religious life for two years he would send me gifts, and to this day he still has a great desire to give me things. Last year he gave me his extra car (!) so that I can visit more often. It is not the gift itself but the love that is expressed in the act of giving that I treasure so much.
My Heavenly Father does the same for me. Lent is a time when we “give up” consolations, but the stripping away of those earthly comforts reveals those spiritual gifts we so often neglect to see. Each day He nourishes me with the gift of His Son in the Word and in the Eucharist. In Confession He strengthens, heals, and forgives me. Many of His presents are not so tangible, but with the eyes of faith I can see how His grace surrounds me. Each day brings with it so many little miracles that remind me of God’s love and affection. Many of these go unnoticed, for example, the smile of a stranger, the Scripture verse that struck my heart, the flower that blooms in the middle of winter. These are all reminders of what the love of my dad points to – the eternal, never-failing, inexhaustible, and unquenchable love of Our Father in Heaven.
I realize that there are many who are not blessed with a father like mine, and so this inspires gratitude in my heart to God for this great “present.” It also reminds me that no matter who we are, no matter what our relationship is like with our father, we all have a God in Heaven that we can call Father. I pray that each of us this Lent will be strengthened in the relationships with our father and father figures, and most importantly with Our Heavenly Father, Who looks upon us with great love, Who protects and forgives us, and Who gave us the best gift of all – salvation by the Death and Resurrection of His Son which we commemorate during this Holy Season.