My husband and I went to the beach with 130+ high schoolers from our church for a retreat. As retreats tend to go, we had a great time connecting with the Lord outside of our normal daily routines.
The most impactful part for me occurred the third night. During the message, the speaker, Greg Speck, invited students to accept Christ, to rededicate themselves to living for the Lord if they felt they had wandered off the beaten path, or to commit to continue pursuing Him fervently.
This is a pretty standard part of retreats, so I was not surprised by the invitation. But, almost as a side note, the speaker took an unexpected detour and began talking to the kids whose fathers have left them.
Understand, we are a predominantly white church located in an upper-middle class suburb. In other words, we have a higher rate of dads in the home than other sections of Memphis.
But for whatever reason, the speaker, an experienced communicator with teenagers and a man with four grown children of his own, felt the need to address abandoned kids. I found this a little odd given our demographic.
He explained that when he leaves, in the dad’s spot is a hole in his kids’ hearts only Jesus can fill. Counselors who knew this to be true looked at one another with tears in their eyes.
Then the speaker said something like this to the students, “If it’s been a long time since you’ve had a fatherly hug, or if you just need someone to speak some fatherly truth to you about who you are in Jesus, I’d be glad to do that at the end of the message.”
I had only known most these kids about 3 days and already 3 popped into my mind whose dads had either left them or passed away. But what happened after the message blew me away.
Student after student lined up to wait for a dad hug.
Students from affluent suburbs. Students who more than likely knew their dad at one time. Students who now come from broken homes because the divorce rate knows no economic nor spiritual boundaries. But also students whose dads are physically present in their homes but completely checked out emotionally.
The line stretched down the aisle as teenagers – people who are highly sensitive to what their friends might think about them – cast aside their egos out of their desperate emotional need for a connection with a father figure.
The following evening – the last evening with the speaker – kids walked up to say goodbye and thank you to him. Others, still starved for father attention, humbly requested one more father hug.
The best part?
The speaker was not playing the hero to these students; he was pointing them to the only One who can permanently rescue them from their pain – their Heavenly Father.
I watched this fallen, kind-hearted, imperfect man offer all he could – a hug and some words – and it was a beautiful example to these students of what God’s fatherly love looks like. With his words and actions, the speaker not only modeled God’s love, but he purposefully pointed these kids to their true Father as the ultimate, perfect Source of fatherly love.
And you know what?
The speaker’s humble offering was enough. It was enough to give the students a glimpse of the One who can fill their hearts eternally and perfectly. It was enough to crack the shell that some of these abandoned students had around their hearts. It was enough to encourage some of them to open their hearts to God for the first time or once again after months or years of having turned away from Him.
And my hope in sharing this story is that it will be enough for you, too. You whose dad has died. You whose dad left before you were born. You whose dad left when you were a kid. You whose dad stayed physically but abandoned you emotionally. You whose dad is not enough. And, when we get down to it, that’s all of us.
Max Lucado tweeted this week, “We never outgrow our need for a father’s love. We were wired to receive it.”
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