A little over two weeks ago, my dad turned 80.
It’s hard for me to believe that the dad of my youth – tall, strong, handsome, gentle, kind, accomplished, invincible – is the dad of my adulthood.
Some things have not changed – my dad is still as tall, handsome, and gentle and kind as ever – but I’ve learned he’s not invincible. And I don’t care if you are 4 years old or 45 years old; that ever-slowly dawning realization that our parents, especially our dads for girls, aren’t invincible, is a tough pill to swallow.
I think that’s because when God shapes, forms, and creates us in our mother’s womb, He creates a craving in us for an invincible father. A father who is tough, strong, gentle, kind, handsome, tall, never grows weary, never ages, and never dies. The problem is we grow up (at least I know I did) thinking that craving is supposed to be filled by our earthly fathers.
And in some part, it is. The God-given role our fathers are supposed to fill is protector and defender of our families. They are supposed to gently and tenderly instruct, discipline with wisdom and foresight, and guide and lead us down life’s paths, preparing us for the world ahead. They are to equip us for the realities of life while gently tending to the hurts from life that inevitably come. They are supposed to be present in our lives through thick and thin, faithfully loving their wives and families, intentionally moving towards us, creating space that welcomes us in and then confidently pushes us out to live the life God created us to live. That’s what fathers created in God’s image are made to do.
I have a great dad – a dad who did so many of those things well. But while most fathers do at least some of the above in part, no father does it all.
No father, that is, except One.
Every craving in our hearts for a perfect, sinless, strong, eternal, present, steadfast father was made to be filled by God Himself. He is our perfect Father; and the job of every person who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and belongs to Him is to take those God-given, created longings for a perfect father and transfer them to our Heavenly Father who fulfills every single one.
Our job as adults is to see our earthly fathers honestly, forgive them for where they have fallen short, to see ourselves honestly, admit where we have fallen short, and then to see our Heavenly Father honestly, and see how He fills every single ache and craving the human hearts holds. He has never fallen short. His faithfulness has never failed. His strength has never run out or dried up, and not once has He forgotten us or left us or abandoned us.
But somehow, during my college years – those years when you start seeing your parents as they really are instead of the knight-in-shining-armor, perfect-heroes you always had to imagine them to be – I fell off the path thinking my earthly father was supposed to fill every longing in my heart created for only One Father to fill. I put burdens on him he could not possibly carry. (Trust me, I am already saving up for the counseling sessions I know each of my girls will need when they have these realizations about me.)
And the journey of my adult life has been slowly, ever so slowly, releasing those heavy, unfair expectations and burdens while learning how to have every valid, legitimate, God-given, God-created need to be filled by Him.
This is the journey of restoration. And this is how we restore.
It’s not by silencing our needs, or stuffing our needs, our numbing out so we don’t feel our needs anymore. Nor is it running to every other semi-stable person around us trying to have them fill our needs. Both ways of coping are only recipes for ruined relationships.
We restore as we journey towards our perfect Father’s steadfast love.
This journey took on new and living color for me last weekend. Like I mentioned, two weeks ago, my dad turned 80. And for almost 80 years, he has wanted to see the Grand Canyon. When I was a kid, I remember him reading books and articles while talking about it, always followed with the statement: “I’ve got to get there one day to see it.” So my husband, brothers, sister-in-laws, and I decided for his birthday, that dream needed to become a reality. So last week, not only did he see the Grand Canyon – he rode down into it and back up again on the back of a mule.
Praise God when I signed us up for this trip 15 months ago (it’s a thing I tell you – you have to sign up through a lottery system 15 months in advance – apparently, a lot of people want to ride mules down into the Grand Canyon), I had no idea what riding a mule into the Canyon would be like. And that’s because if I could sum up our descent in one word, it would be this: SCARY.
The mule pen sits at the top of the Bright Angel Trail, and every morning at 8am, wranglers lead an unsuspecting group of riders out of the pen, down a path that immediately starts with a sharp descent down a path covered in ice and snow. The path itself is about four feet wide and consists of a set of switch backs that descends for several miles until it flattens out (at least for a little bit). On one side of you is a sheer rock, and on the other side is a vertical drop of 2000 FEET. With no guard rail.
The wranglers start the orientation at the top of the trail with these words: “Thousands of people have ridden on the backs of mules down into the Grand Canyon, and NO ONE HAS EVER DIED. This is THE safest way to get down into the Canyon.” Let me tell you, those words become a life preserver to hold onto when your mule begins to make that first turn and you realize with one stumbling step, you are TOAST. – 2aizAOpYQved9anCXpBwEQ
If I am honest, I will say – I did not enjoy the descent. Nor could I enjoy the Canyon. I sat ramrod straight and looked up at the sky and sang “Kumbayah” the whole way down. Why? I have no idea. They were the only lyrics I could think of at the time no matter how hard I tried to recall what Dante Bowe’s worship sounded like.
The descent was so terrifying because of one thing – I was not in control. My mule was. I was reliant on a pointy-eared, stumbly-stepped, furry animal to get me down the path safely.
It was only the next day, on the ascent, that I could actually relax, look around at the Canyon, and enjoy my ride up. Not only is going uphill easier than going downhill, I had become a little more used to being out of control and trusting my mule to take me safely to where I needed to go.
It was in those moments of the ascent, looking out at the majestic beauty around me, and enjoying the fellowship of my mom, dad, brother, and sister-in-law (my other brother and sister-in-law decided to hike the trail on their own two feet like sane human beings), that healing took place in my heart. I realized we were doing in the physical realm what my heart had been doing in the spiritual realm the past few years.
We were all placing our trust in our sure-footed guides underneath our feet. We were all having to trust someone, or something else, to get us down and take us up. We were all experiencing the depths of descent and the breath-taking beauty of ascent. And we were doing it all together – my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, and me.
When we think about restoration, this is the journey we must all take. We all have to face ourselves as we really are, face our past as it really is, and learn to put the full weight of our trust in the guide underneath our feet. We all have to surrender control of our lives to a guide who knows the path and the way down no matter how uncomfortable it feels.
We all have to learn to trust that the time-worn tools of confession, honesty, repentance, and receiving our Heavenly Father’s love really is the safest way down and only way we can actually learn to enjoy the journey and the ride.
And this is what you have to know – no matter how scary the descent, no matter how raw the confessions, no matter how shameful or terrifying or bleak or barren the past feels, ascent is coming. With the Lord by your side and the Holy Spirit as the sure-footed guide underneath your feet, resurrection and healing isn’t optional. It’s part and parcel of the journey.
God never takes us down well-worn but frightening paths where we have to surrender control, remember, repent, and forgive just to leave us in the narrow, confining walls of a canyon. He leads us down to take us up. In God’s economy, the very nature of the descent means ascent and resurrection is coming.
It doesn’t always mean resurrection of our circumstances – most things in my circumstances have not changed. But what it does mean is resurrection and restoration of the heart. It does mean the steadfast love and faithfulness of a perfect Heavenly Father has so flooded the lens through which I see my life – past, present, and future – that the sting of rejection is gone. The burden of shame has been lifted. And I am free – free to enjoy the journey, free to love and enjoy my family in ways I never have before, free to trust my guide, free to forgive, and free to receive my perfect Father’s love while simply enjoying being His child.
This is what my new book and Bible study, Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds, is for – it is an invitation for you to join me the same journey. It is a tracing of our way down into the canyon through remembering, repentance, releasing, lamenting, and forgiveness, and a recounting of the way up through restoration, prayer, praise, trust, and the Word of God.
The end of the journey doesn’t mean we will have restored circumstances while we live on this earth; but it does mean we can have restored hearts and actually have moments where we enjoy the ride.
So join me in the journey – while the descent is real, the joy of ascent and restoration is coming.