Fathers, tell your sons you love them.

His wife’s voice shook. “He’s in the ICU.” By the time she arrived at the last syllable, her voice thickened into a sob.

We left the party right then. Grabbed the children, coats, rushed out. I dropped everyone off at home and sped to the hospital. A few buzzes through security and I arrived at his room.

This giant of a man lay like a shadow on the bright white sheets. Wrists strong enough to break my hands atrophied to sticks. Blood crusted under his nose. He smiled to see me. “Pastor, you should have stayed with your family.”

“You’re worth my time,” I tell him. And he is. No doubt.

“You’ve tracked down this lost sheep. Go find the others.”

“I can do both,” I say, a stab in my conscience. I have not been terribly faithful in calling out to those who do not yet know their Savior.

And this giant who lays dying, this man known for strength who has become so weak, his heart overflows to me. “The children, pastor. The children. I think of all the children who hurt. And my wife! Who will take care of her? This woman who brought me to God. Who loved me, even though I sinned so much. Will she be ok?” His wheezes make each sentence come out one or two words at a time. And his heart… oh, his heart. Even in his great pain, he is so much more concerned for others.

This is a man worthy of respect.

And then, through his controlled breathing, he sobs. “Pastor, tell your children you love them. Give them a big hug. A big one! My father… my father never told me he loved me! He refused to tell me. Pastor, tell your children! Tell them!” And he weeps. In the hospital bed, as he lies dying, this man in his eighties, he weeps… because his father never once told him that he loved him. That wound has been so deep and so long festering, now it breaks open and cannot be staunched.

Fathers, tell your sons you love them.

I hug this giant of a man. He should not be so small. I hold this hulking giant who quivers like a child. I tell him, “I love you.”

“I know, pastor. I know. I love you.”

And we weep together for him.

And I share with him Romans.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Except every time it says “we” or “us,” I speak instead his name, and his bride’s name.

Nothing can separate you from your Father’s love. I cannot speak for your human father. I never knew him. I can say he did you such a great injustice when he refused to tell you he loved you. But your Father… how he loves you. And nothing can separate you from that.

Fathers, tell your sons you love them.

Don’t be “manly” in that way that God never designed you to be a man. Yes, you are to be brave and courageous and physical and all those good things that smell like sweat and sawdust. But that does not mean you do not love.

This man’s wounds run decades deep because his father refused to be the man God called him to be.

Do not do that to your children. Hug them and hold them close. Not just your daughters. Your sons, too. Teach them what it is to love in that fierce way a father is designed to love. Show them in your actions that you are a warrior who will protect his family, but who opens his heart to those nearest. Even to them.

And tell them. Let them hear the words that match your actions. Use those syllables thick with meaning. Speak “I love you” to them. They need those words. They need to hear them from your lips. Not from other kids saying how awesome you are. Not from your bride who tells them what you refuse to utter.

Your sons need you to be fathers. They need you to be men. But oh, tell them you love them.

Fathers, tell your sons you love them.

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