Great is God’s faithfulness to fathers
by Sharon Simpson
Every Father’s Day on our campus of care, we invite the men from the apartments to join in a special Father’s Day brunch. The food is delicious and the men appreciate enjoying the time together while our staff honours their role as father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Poems, tributes, recollections and memories kick off the brunch. The food is delicious and there is a positive and happy energy in the room. As we begin the meal our chaplain shares a few words. His words remind us that God is faithful and that He continues to uphold us. He reminds these men that God will walk with them in their elder years.
And then a veteran of church worship seats himself at the piano and the group begins to sing…
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness… O God my Father
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me….
There is something stirring about an all-male chorus. The deep richness of the voices, the tenors, the basses singing their affirmation of God’s work in their lives. I close my eyes to listen as the voices share the testimony of God’s daily presence.
As they sing all the verses of the hymn, I watch men close their eyes and pour out their worship to the Lord. I watch as they join in a song that means so much to some and is a renewed expression for others.
To be a spectator among these men is a gift. The gift is all the more meaningful as I reflect on their stories, their challenges and their faithfulness to God. I’ve grown to know and love these men. I’m learning their stories and I know that their lives have had challenges, some that are deeply painful.
Hands raised in worship, one man is affirming God’s faithfulness as his wife is in critical condition in a hospital 20 minutes away. The drive to see her is challenging. Two others have recently had open-heart surgery. Several lost their wives in the past six months. Some are caregivers, daily attending to the needs of a wife who is slowly losing her capacity. Many are widowers, having said good-bye to their lifelong partner and ache as they remember and miss her.
Several of the men have served the church their entire lives, calling others to follow after them as they follow after Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). They don’t take lightly the admonition in James 3:1 that a teacher will be judged more strictly for their words and teachings. They have deeply desired to be faithful in following Christ.
Not everyone at the brunch is a follower of Christ. For some, the song is new; the words are only beginning to have meaning. For others, there is a renewed faith after years of living without paying attention to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. This community brings safety to the journey of revisiting a faith that once was worthy of their rejection.
More than 80 per cent of Canadians who are over 80 years old have a Christian faith background. The numbers may be higher in our community as this is known as “the Bible belt”. When these men were small boys, their parents faithfully took them to Sunday School, church service and even Wednesday evening prayer meetings. Many of these men will tell of travelling through prairie cold to go to church, pulled in a sled behind horses – warmed with a heated brick at their feet and furs across their bodies.
I remember my own years in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the bitter cold that froze my legs as I walked the short distance from my home to the University of Manitoba. Even with a full-length parka, I was scared I’d harm my legs in the cold. I’m not sure the modern Canadian family would bundle up for a 20 mile sleigh ride in minus thirty degrees to get to a church service every single Sunday. Being a part of the church community was a significant commitment.
For some, the faith journey carried on after their childhood. They continued to follow the faith of their fathers and live out obedience to God among a community of believers. For others, it was unattractive in some way – perhaps intellectually or socially. They were ready to explore another way, and so they did.
The men who gathered in our dining room for the Father’s Day brunch came together, not because of faith, but because of age and need. In our city, there are only a few places to live when you need additional supports. Our campus of care is one of them. Regardless of faith expression, elders come to live here because they need to.
And so, we find some of the same people who were raised together as children now gathered together again in their elder years. Separated by life’s circumstances or geography for many years, they are brought back together. The shared memories from long ago draw them close together. The shared stories of their lives, their work, their families, their heartaches, their joys draw them even closer.
It is good to be among these men – to honour and to acknowledge their foundational role in our society and in the lives of the generations who follow behind them.
Of great significance to our society, is that these men love their wives. They tell the stories of meeting their wives, sometimes under bizarre conditions. One man tells of how he walked 10 miles in the mud to attend an event where he hoped his future wife would attend. Stuck in the mud in his waders, he prayed for a way out. God’s answer? Some short rubber boots found alongside the road gave him all he needed to continue the journey to meet up with the beautiful new teacher who had arrived in their rural community. Did he marry her? Absolutely!
In a recent study, the issue of father abandonment was researched (Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson, Camden, NJ). They examined the question of how a father becomes a “deadbeat” dad. Why is it that fathers who desperately want to be good fathers walk away from their children?
Interestingly enough, the primary discovery was that semi-relationships with the mother of their children was the main reason that the fathers did not continue to parent their children. Having a committed relationship with the child’s mother was the key to stability or abandonment. This commitment is needed in both the initial choosing to be together and in the staying together over the years.
The research concludes with the plan to bring our society back to stable two-parent families… “It would be great if society could rally around the six or seven key bridges on the path to fatherhood. A few economic support programs and a confident social script could make an enormous difference in getting us there.” (David Brooks, The New York Times).
It is without doubt that the men at our brunch have rallied around these key bridges their entire lives. They chose a woman to love. They married her with intent to be faithful. They daily relied on God’s faithfulness in their marriage. After all, you need God’s faithfulness in order to love, honour and cherish your wife for 50, 60, 70 or more years. God’s faithfulness is deeply needed to keep our promise to our spouse when things are better, when things are worse, when we are richer, when we are poorer, in our sickness and in our health and until the time comes when death parts us. We need God’s mercies every morning. We need His pardon for our sins, His peace and His daily presence.
And so the men sing – full of belief and remembrance of God’s support for their lives. They sing even through the difficult circumstances that they face in these elder years. They sing of the blessings that are theirs – with ten thousand beside! They sing of God’s strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
This is holy ground.
Sharon Simpson is the Director, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place