Thoughts on Fatherhood, Faith and Suffering

Letter to a friend with a terrible father:

Written on April 20, 2020 

I knew being a good father was important, but I didn’t truly realize the impact and importance of the “why” until recently.  My father was in the hospital with double pneumonia back in February.  It almost killed him.  I think he had Covid19.  All tests were normal when my Mom and brother finally talked him into going to the ER Monday 2/17/20.  

Before releasing him that evening, the ER doc ordered a CT of his lungs just to be sure everything was ok.  Things were not okay.  It was bilateral pneumonia that the X-ray missed.  He would have died if he had been sent home.  

While in the hospital, Dad told me about a series of tragic events that happened over a short time in his life that I have never heard before.  I am still stunned that I’ve never heard this story!  I knew I had a great father, but I never thought about why he is a great Dad.  His story perfectly explained “why” he loves so well.  The “why” is important!  

My father is ridiculously patient and kind.  So much so that it bothered me when I was young, nothing I did made him angry.  I could disappoint and frustrate him, but he never responded in anger.  When I failed him or embarrassed him, he just kept loving me. 

He loves my mother who is Scots-Irish to the core.  Loyalty, family pride, eagerness to fight, and self-sustainability are traits of the descendants of the Scots-Irish settlers of East Tennessee, a perfect description of my mother and her six sisters!

My father is unflappable in the midst of any crisis.  He is very British in his demeanor, a perfect reflection of the 16 centuries (yes, 1,600+ years) of British family history we know of before our Morrell ancestor arrived on Long Island in the 1640.  It is a trait I earnestly strive for and attempt to portray, but I am very much like my mother on the inside.  

I know why my Dad loves so well now.  He made a decision to live his faith and love others as Jesus loves us.  May I make an observation?  From the outside, it looks like you live the same faith.  You take care of your family.  You even chose a career that serves others.  You serve others like Christ told us to.  To be honest, you are doing a better job living the “Christian” life than many christians I know.   

I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you that most of what you think you know about being a Christian is wrong.  The church has really messed the message up.  It took almost 20 years of intense suffering for me to finally figure it out.  You can’t earn your way in.  God loves you like you love your kids.  I have realized that my kids really won’t know how much I love them until they have their own children.  

Real faith is about accepting the claims of Jesus and following Him.  That’s it.  To be clear, Jesus claimed to be God incarnate and he backed it up with the resurrection.  The concept of the Trinity is not as complex as we’ve made it.  You are one person, but you are also a mother, a daughter and a sister simultaneously.  Each role is different, but they don’t change who you are.  

Jesus said “I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you.”  He set the bar pretty high.   

He didn’t say you are required to believe the Genesis version of creation.  He didn’t command you to give up logic.  He didn’t tell us to legislate our version of morality.  He didn’t say you can’t have questions.  He said love others as I have loved you.  This is the faith that changed the world.  Think about the freedom in that!

It took reaching the end of myself to realize the true power of God’s Grace through Jesus.  I finally realized there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love and I nothing I can do to lose or keep it.  My works are unnecessary.  It is a gift we only have to acknowledge.  God loves us like my Dad loves me.

It’s make perfect sense to me that you would choose to call yourself an atheist.  The important men in your life have let you down and you are rightfully angry at God.  It would be a miracle for you to believe there is a loving Heavenly Father when you have not seen an example of a loving earthly father.   

My initial faith was easy.  My father brought me to the pool of faith and taught me how to swim.  He gave me the example to follow.  Your dad threw you into the sea of life and didn’t teach you a thing.  You learned to swim on your own.  

Many Christians are content to stay in the kiddie pool where the water is shallow and safe. They are in the water but they are just splashing around.  It is a good place to get wet, but you don’t learn to swim in a child’s pool.  There is no need to learn to swim if your feet always touch the bottom.  

The community pool is great for learning how to swim.  That is where you develop strength and initial skill.  But is still just a pool surrounded by safety, walls and ladders.  Most Christians never leave the safety of the community pool.  They happily stand on the sides after they learn to swim, criticizing the styles of those still learning.  

Many Christians think because they train in an Olympic sized pool that they are qualified to stand on the shore and tell others how to swim in the ocean of life.  They don’t even get their feet wet and only show up when the weather is nice.  It’s just a day at the beach for them.  They go home having only seen the ocean we are called to enter.    

I learned the importance of the “why” when I was also thrown into the sea of life.  Deep truths can only be found in deep waters where your feet don’t touch the bottom.  Those truths aren’t found in a swimming pool.  The true calling of Christ is to save people from the raging sea of despair by meeting and serving them where they are.  That’s why Mother Theresa served where she served.  That is the power of true faith.  Serving others in the storm.   

Ghandi had a profound observation when he said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  That comment should have been a huge red flag to the Christians of his time.  Even the non-Christians could see we weren’t doing what Jesus told us to do.  How sad.  Unfortunately, it’s still true.  Church history is filled with followers attaching strings to the message of Christ.  Those strings eventually turn into chains.  You can’t swim in chains.  That is why most Christians drown when the inevitable storms of life come.    

Twenty years of suffering incinerated my chains.  The blast furnace of suffering should have consumed me.  My suffering refined what was left of my faith into something pure, something basic.  It lead me to the “why.”  The “why” is Jesus and the example he laid down for us to follow.  

I do not believe in coincidence.  It is no accident that you have been a witness to our story.  I look back at what my family has been through with amazement that we survived intact.  The term “miraculous” has been used more than once.  My survival and recovery are nothing short of a miracle.  I believe in miracles.  

Since you are already serving others in the storm, you should get the benefits!  The benefits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  That whole eternal life thing sounds good too.   

Grace is a gift.  All you have to do is take it and follow Christ.  Followers are prone to wander.  Follow Christ, not the followers.  

It has been helpful for me to study the lives of people like CS Lewis who survived his storm of doubt.  His progression to faith is inspiringly logical.  From atheist to deist to full blown believer.  He went though terrible suffering, too.  He learned the importance of the “why,” the significance of Jesus.  Hillsdale College has great online series on the life of CS Lewis.  I think you would appreciate the academic presentation.  

My father was thrown into the sea of suffering in 1968.  He had every right to be very bitter about what he went through.  His experience purified his faith, too.  I asked my Dad if he would change anything in his past.  He said, “Are you kidding me?  I wouldn’t change a thing.”  

My Dad is a great example of a Heavenly Father, but he is just an example.  It made my initial faith easy.  I was content in the community pool of faith.  I liked the safety of the walls and ladders.  I liked the comfort of touching the bottom.  I had no desire to go into the ocean.  It wasn’t my choice to be thrown into that raging sea of suffering.  

I was initially upset with God and wondered what I had done to deserve such treatment.  While I was wallowing in self pity, I started noticing I wasn’t alone.  I was surrounded with other sufferers that needed help.  That’s when I remembered how to swim.  It is also when I remembered the reason we learned to swim in the first place – to save ourselves and to save others when we fall or get thrown into the water.  

Everyone gets thrown into the ocean of life at some point.  We each have to make the individual choice to sink or swim.  That’s the great thing about free will.  It is our response to suffering that defines us.  I hope I can show others how to keep their heads above water until the storms pass.  That is my mission now.    

I know it is hard to believe that there is a God that loves you because the example you endured.  I hope my story helps you see the love of God available through Jesus.  Thanks for helping me see things clearly!  

If the sole purpose of my suffering was to show you that there are faithful men who actually love their families and love the Lord in times of trouble, my suffering was worth it.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

One Comment

  • Lori Hamilton Dykes

    Thanks Kent. Having suffered great pain myself since October 20, 2000… I really do appreciate your article. And id like to know your Dads story… Love your parents. You are a great writer like my Dad and sister. Thanks for sharing this story. Sure glad your Dad made it through the pneaminia.

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