Written in August 2005
REFLECTIONS BY A FATHER OF THE BRIDE
In a few hours my daughter will be married. Last night the four of us met for sharing and prayer for the last time as a family unit of four. We were amazed at how happy we have been and acknowledged that it was because of God’s grace not because we deserved it. Nelun and I knew how many mistakes we had made as parents. So the joy had to be a work of grace. Of course, I think the fact that Nelun never let her joy be destroyed because I was so busy in the ministry had a big part to play in the children growing to love the Lord and his ministry. But joy too is a gift of grace.
I have thought a lot about why God gave us such a happy home. I know that many great people did not have such joy. My hero John Wesley’s wife left him. Abraham Lincoln, possibly the greatest national leader of the modern era, had a wife who gave him a very hard time. Why did God permit us to have such a happy home?
I am by nature very timid and shrink from conflict. Yet when you are in the ministry you can’t help but experience a lot of pain and conflict. I have had my fair share of this. Nelun and I have had to share the pain of a lot of unhappy families and individuals as we have tried to minister to them. In addition there is the hurt that comes from disappointment and conflict.
But I always knew that when I come home I come to a peaceful, happy place where there is acceptance of and joy over each other. God knew that if the home also was crisis ridden, I may have been unable to handle the strains that go with ministry. This was yet another example of what Paul found out when he went through his “thorn in the flesh” experience: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Jesus has promised that those who follow him will suffer. His basic call to discipleship is a call to a cross (Mark 8:34). These days, when a Christian suffers people ask, “What wrong has he done, that he should suffer so much?” That question should be asked if we do not suffer for Christ. Because Christ promised suffering as basic to all who follow him. Just as the Bible promises suffering, it also commands joy. For Christians God’s commands are equal to promises. God always gives us the grace to keep them. So when he commanded joy he was also promising that he will give us the joy we are asked to have.
We will go through suffering, but we must always have joy (Phil. 4:4). That is something we cannot be without. And God will ensure that every single Christian has joy in the midst of suffering. He knows the make up of each one of us. David said, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psa. 103:13-14). Therefore he will order our experiences in such a way that each one of us can always have joy.
Isn’t it interesting that shortly before going to the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)? He has the fullest joy and he gives this to us. But we are told that a short while after making that statement, “…being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). He could have full joy and also be in deep pain and agony at the same time. This is the glory of Christianity. We can be sad and hurt, and our hearts may be broken. But in the midst of it all we can have the joy of the Lord. And that joy gives us the strength to go through the pain (Neh. 8:10).
So we won’t run away from pain and from painful callings from God. Neither will we let bitterness rule our emotions, for that not only ruins us but also hurts those around us as our bitterness spills out when we are tilted. Instead we seek his joy and remain faithful—rejoicing in the Lord all the time. Paul Tournier wrote a brilliant book, Creative Suffering, after the death of his wife. There he talks of the sorrow of losing his beloved wife and the grief with which he lived all his life because his parents died when he was two and five years old. About this he says, “I can truly say that I have a great grief and that I am a happy man.” That is the work of grace in our lives.
How does this all apply to the wedding of my daughter? My home is the haven of joy and peace that the four of us have had all these years. This is where I long to return after the loneliness of travel, or amidst the conflicts of ministry or the tiredness of work. Now a key ingredient of that joy is being taken away from us. We are going to reduce by 25%! How do I feel? There are tears; there is sorrow. All four of us wept a lot last night! But the joy we experienced was all because of grace. Circumstances change; but grace never changes. For every experience there is sufficient grace.
We will commend our daughter to God’s grace. And we will daily look forward to the surprises of grace in our lives and hers. And there are surprises indeed. Each new year brings with it new experiences of the faithfulness of God. We know that whatever our daughter will experience in life, there will be sufficient grace. So we have no fears. We can send her out with peace in our hearts. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92) wrote,
I know not where the islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond his love and care.
We can look back with gratitude for joy. And we can look forward in anticipation of joy. We may long for household voices gone, for the vanished smiles (Whittier) of those who have left us. But the joy they brought was primarily there because God gave it. He continues to smile at us and to put a song in our hearts. That will always be there: for my daughter in her new home and for us in our old reduced home.
This, this is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable Friend;
Whose love is as great as his power,
And neither knows measure nor end.
’Tis Jesus, the first and the last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;
We’ll praise him for all that is past,
And trust him for all that’s to come.
Joseph Hart (1712-68).