My friends wondered if it was awkward for me, having my Dad sitting beside me in that class. But it wasn’t, really. I didn’t mind. I was in the middle of a life-changing three-week course at a ministry school, and today my parents had finally been able to drive up, visit, and sit through a day of classes with me. And then it turned out our guest teacher today was speaking about how God heals the wounds we may have from our earthly parents!
The instructor told us all to take our paper and pencils and prepare to write the first three words that popped into our heads when we heard her prompt, to write quickly without thinking about it. I poised my pencil and she asked,
“What are the first three words you can think of to describe what it felt like to be in the presence of your father when you were growing up?”
I put the pencil down onto the paper and wrote the first three words that came to me, without letting myself think twice. Then I looked down at them, dark-gray graphite on off-white paper.
My words were Love. Joy. Peace.
Holy Spirit-fruit words. I felt a swell of gratitude. I didn’t do anything to deserve this, I didn’t have anything to do with it, but the Holy Spirit got ahold of my father a long time ago.
As usual, I suspected I might have the most positive set of father-associations in the room.
I elbowed my Dad beside me and asked if I could sneak a peek at his paper. It was similar to mine. The first two words were the same. Loving. Joyful. Rude. I didn’t have too many memories of the years my life had overlapped with that of my grandfather, but it rang true. His rude-tongued streak wrestling with the new life in Christ he had discovered when his son, my father, was six. His new life had pinned his old life to the mat and scored two out of three positive memories for his son. And my father had taken what he had been given and improved upon it for me.
Now the teacher was giving a second prompt. Again, write down the first three words that pop into your head, quickly and without thinking about it.
“What are the first three words you can think of to describe what it feels like for you now to be in the presence of God?”
My pencil found its way around the exact same three words. Love. Joy. Peace.
Well, I hadn’t had much homework to do. My Dad had handed me a good view of God on a silver platter, somehow. I leaned over to read what he had written. This time, his was exactly the same as mine.
Love. Joy. Peace.
Oh. That was how.
The teacher invited several people to share what they had written, and compare the two sets of words. Were they similar or different? What were the similarities and differences? Both positive? Both negative? When one student read a very negative first list and a very positive second one, the teacher said, “I’m going to wager a guess that you have done a lot of hard work with God.” The student nodded. The teacher concluded, “Usually, whether positive or negative, both lists are going to start out very similar unless and until you go on a healing journey with God to find out what He’s really like. This exercise is just an invitation to find out where you are and start that conversation with Him.”
Then she turned on some music and invited us to close our eyes and dialogue with God about it. I lay my head down on the table in front of me. Suddenly I started to see vivid pictures:
I saw that every father in the world was given a room to furnish for his child and God to meet in together. When the room was finished, the father left, and God and his child would live together in that room.
The room was their child’s idea of what “Father” is.
I saw the sexually abusive fathers spraying the room with gasoline and dropping a match.
I saw the fathers who died or walked out, leaving the room empty and unfurnished, with nothing for Jesus and their child to sit on, no lights installed to switch on when the night grew dark.
I saw the fathers who did their best but really had no idea what they were doing, putting in an odd assortment of furnishings, some adequate, some inadequate.
But no matter how well or poorly they had done, there came a day when they moved out, and God took over. He stood back, looked at what He had been given to work with, and then got to it.
The burned-out rooms He stripped down to the bare timbers and replastered the walls, or if needed, demolished the whole structure and started over from the ground up. He never gave up. It took a long time, but the result was a masterpiece all His own.
The empty rooms He pulled up to with a moving van full of soft furniture, bringing out gift after gift with great grins of delight, until the floors were carpeted and the walls had the very best pictures and the table and chairs could handle the feast He was making and even serve it to guests. He could do a lot with a blank slate.
The variously-furnished rooms He moved into right away, then, one at a time, he carried the distasteful accessories out to the garbage and brought home fabulous replacements. “I really do not like that lamp. Will you let Me take it out with the trash and install a better one for us?” He would say, which meant, “This one thing your father taught you is not true of Me. Can you repent of believing it and ask Me what the truth is, and receive what I want to give you in exchange?” Sometimes He changed the lighting fixtures, and sometimes just the lightbulbs. But He always knew just what to do.
I saw that the people who had soft cozy couches in their nicely-wallpapered rooms sat on the couches and gazed up at Jesus adoringly while He changed the lightbulbs. I saw that the people whose rooms were devastated had to sleep outside in a tent until Jesus had made enough progress in His super remodeling project to at least get the room habitable enough to sleep in. Until then, the smoke smell was too bad and you couldn’t even breathe in there. Those people couldn’t even call God “Father” or handle the thought of Him as Father, because it was just a trauma-trigger that would associate Him with a million lies and none of the truth.
But I saw that every day, Jesus kept working on their rooms. And every night, when they slept outside under the stars, He was lying there on the ground beside them, wrapping His arms around them tightly to keep them warm. He didn’t wait to be called “Father” in order to start loving them. He never waited for anything in order to start loving us.
And then I saw my own father. Unlike many, he understood fully the weight of responsibility he had for furnishing that room. He knew that, whether he did it right or wrong, he was shaping my understanding of God. And he feared God and he cared. I saw him, with fear and trembling, planning that room down to the smallest detail, installing a soft indirect lighting system to facilitate deep heart-to-heart conversations with Jesus, making sure the height of the couch was just right for us to snuggle together, leaving two coffee cups sitting out on the table. He had built that room for intimacy.
I saw him running down the checklist of everything Jesus would need to work with in a Father Room: loving authority, consistent discipline, a listening ear, a million hugs. When he had finished his checklist, I saw him take one final look at the room, twist the coffee cup on the table so it’s handle was facing out, and then step outside into the night. He carefully took the key out of his pocket and locked the front door. He turned away. He was finished here. He had done everything he could do.
Then I saw that he was sucked up into the heavenlies. He appeared before the throne of God in heaven and knelt down. He held out the key to the room with an open palm. He had done his best. He presented his offering.
The One on the Throne stood up and took the key into His own pierced hand. He smiled broadly. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” He beamed.
Then He took the key, went down to the earth, and unlocked the door. He took a step inside, and inhaled deeply. Scented candles. Oh yes, I can work with this.
By now, I was sobbing, my head still on the hard wooden table. I felt an unimaginable sense of loss. I hadn’t wanted my father to leave that room. I hadn’t understood, as he had, that he had never been furnishing it to live in himself. I knew what Jesus was asking me to do. He was reassuring me that my dad was totally OK with this, and had always wanted this shift to happen in my heart. He wanted me to make the change of allegiance that most kids felt only too ready for by age twelve and that I, now at age 28, had still never dared to make:
The Person at the center of my universe, the person who will always keep me safe and that I can always run to, the One Person I must obey and please in order to have a happy life, the One Person I must never disobey, the Person who is always right and will never need to be disagreed with, that Person isn’t Daddy anymore. It’s You.
The music ended. I lifted up my tear-covered face and prayed that my classmates weren’t looking at my poor dad and thinking he must have horrible abused me because I cried that hard during the prayer time!
Over lunch the next day, at a wooden picnic table out in the summer sunshine, I shared with a couple of new friends about my experiences during that class, and they shared theirs.
“I had a really hard time with that, because I don’t really have any loving memories with my dad, or any memories with him where I felt special. I remember once shelling and eating a bag of peanuts together. That was a good memory. But that’s it. Nothing else at all.” The woman sharing was middle-aged. She shook her head sadly. “I went to a one-on-one healing prayer session after the class, but the only thing God showed me was a picture of Jesus dressed like that guy who hosts the Extreme Home Makeover show. I didn’t understand what it meant, and I didn’t get anything else.”
I started to get excited. “Wait, wait, what do you get if you combine my revelation with yours? If He gave me that vision of everyone having a Father Room, and He gave you a vision of Him being the guy who does Extreme Home Makeovers, what do you think He wants to do for you??”
Her eyes widened with the realization, as her husband chimed in. “He wants to build you a palace!”
What are the first three words you can think of to describe what it felt like to be in the presence of your father when you were growing up?
What are the first three words you can think of to describe what it feels like for you now to be in the presence of God?
What did your “Father Room” look like when you met Jesus? What does it look like now? What would He like to do next?