Michael L. Baird, flickr.bairdphotos.com
Parenting is hard. Actually, it may be the hardest thing out there. As a mother of three growing girls, I can attest to this. Parenting can be as grueling, demanding, exhausting, heart-wrenching and exasperating as it can be wondrous, joyful and rewarding. My husband and I embraced parenthood enthusiastically; we did our reading; we had every intention of being perfect parents to our darling children. But you know, children, as darling as they are, need a lot of time and attention and patience. The physical effort alone that is involved in rocking a crying baby for 2 hours, or chasing a toddler while pregnant, or lugging a stroller, a diaper bag and a 5 year old around a shopping mall is exceptional. Add to that all the stresses that can take an emotional toll on young parents and you get an often very overwhelming life.
All parents frequently make mistakes and fall short of what they truly should be. Some parents make mistakes more as a rule than as an exception. Many parents drop the ball all together; they give up and "check out" on their kids, either through emotional neglect or even physical abandonment. Sadly there are also many parents who are abusive to their children, teaching their children to be victims and and sometimes also to be abusers themselves.
As I get older, I realise I was one of the truly blessed ones, who had a mom and dad who loved each other and put their whole hearts into raising their children. My home was safe and loving. Many people are not so fortunate. I can't imagine what it would be like to be raised in a home with a volatile, angry father or mother, or a parent who is emotionally distant and neglectful. Many people grow up with a huge need to be loved, guided and affirmed by a father or mother figure because they did not get the parenting they needed as children.
The Orthodox Christian faith provides a way for everyone to have a perfect father. I don't want to sound trite when I say this. I understand that having a relationship with an invisible spirit is not the same as the relationships we have with our earthly fathers. But it is through this relationship we find perfect, unconditional love, which is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we come to the Father, we see the Father, we call the God of the universe "Our Father."
“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 5:18
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.
A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
God wants to be our father. He wants to be the father that will "never leaves us or forsake us," who will never fail to love us unconditionally, who will discipline us with absolute love and never out of frustration or anger. God cannot fail us as a father. People will always tend to let us down, but God, by his very nature is unable to do this.
I went to the Orthodox Church at first to simply find a place for my family to live out our life of faith, but I stayed because I felt and experienced there the fierce love of God. In the liturgy, in the faces of the icons, in the sweet aroma of incense I feel God embracing me, holding tightly on to me, just like a father. This is a mystical experience that is hard to describe in words. All I can say is that in the Orthodox Church, the Scriptures come fully alive, God is there and one feels and knows that He is very real and His word is very true.
For this reason, I know I shall never be alone. I don't just have a religion or as set of customs to follow; I am God's daughter. For me this is the bottom line, the true meaning of life.
For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5b-6