The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 29 “On Dads, Pastors and Priests”

mom and dad on boat

When I was 9 years old Lizzie Hover’s dad died. He died in a head-on collision on a dusty desert road in the Sindh area of Pakistan. The night before he had been at my parents home with his lovely wife Carol. They had talked, laughed, and discussed furlough plans as both were heading to a home leave in their passport countries in the summer. My parents and the Hovers were good friends.

I heard the news along with twenty other little girls in a boarding school dormitory. The collective trauma was immense. If Lizzie Hover’s daddy could die, that meant our daddies could die. Suddenly we were no longer safe from death, we were vulnerable, our jugular veins exposed.

Ever since I can remember my father has been there for me. As the only girl in a house full of boys, I enjoyed a special place in his heart. Somehow I knew this without even being told. My father was this strong force against a world that could change in an instant, in an instant like the one that took Lizzy Hover’s father.

They say that your earliest connections with your father affect your view of God. As a little girl I viewed God as completely trustworthy, a strong force against a world that could change in an instant.

I never had a pastor growing up. Such is the life of a boarding school kid. You go to church during the year at boarding school where different faculty members serve up various denominational versions of theology each Sunday. During winter vacation I attended the local Pakistani church, always struggling yet hopeful, Miss Mall’s booming bass voice starting every 20 verse Punjabi song. During the summer we all attended Holy Trinity Church on Mall Road in Murree, a multi-cultural, multidimensional church that sprinkled one week and immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit the next week.

I rarely thought about growing up and having a pastor. That was for other kids and adults, not for those of us who didn’t know what the role meant. But during the rare occasions when I thought about pastors I assumed they would be like my father, trust worthy, wanting the best for me, willing to sacrifice and care, sometimes at great personal cost. I did (eventually) grow up and I grew into having an actual pastor. God in his gracious way allowed for my first experience with a pastor to be wonderful. It was an international church in Chicago and my pastor was Indian, his wife American. The connection was immediate on my part, and I willingly trusted this man. He was trust worthy.

But later in life I learned that pastors weren’t all like my father or Samuel Mall. I learned the hard way that you can share with a pastor but they may not be trust worthy, that you can pour out your heart and yet be met with stone cold, that you can offer up your hardest situations and not be comforted. I began to think of God as less like a father and more like a pastor. It was not a good change.

Because I began to see God as one who could be stone cold, as one who could not be trusted, as one who could not comfort me in my hardest situations. When you are hurt in this way, a part of your heart shrivels and dies to the point of needing life-giving resuscitation.

It is a mystery of how this resuscitation has happened through the Orthodox Church, but it has. There is no tangible explanation – perhaps my hard crust has softened, perhaps I’ve just grown weary of being wary. But through my journey and through the pastoral care of my priest I am learning more about the God that I used to know. The God who is always present and ever faithful, the God who meets me with compassion, comfort, and challenge; who takes my hardest situations and makes them a touch more bearable. The God who I saw my own father trust and love, bowed in adoration in the early morning hours in a Muslim country.

My father celebrated his birthday yesterday. My white-haired handsome father, who enjoys life in a way that many envy, is now 88. We talked right after he had reeled in a large fish while on a birthday fishing expedition with my brother. Each day that I know my father is still alive becomes more precious as I know his life on earth is limited. And today as I think about pastors, priests, and fathers I want to honor him. A man who has loved family, loved life, and most of all loved God. Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.

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11 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 29 “On Dads, Pastors and Priests”

  1. What a wonderful picture of God! I love this piece Marilyn.
    I do wish you could meet our pastor, Steve Ratliff. He is the pastor you long for: honest, compassionate, patient. You would like him I think.

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  2. Oh this is such a sad commentary on the state of pastor’s hearts! I know this is true, and it’s sad. I meet so many who think all they have to do is preach some brilliantly-thought-out, doctrinally correct sermon once a week, and that’s all the pastoral care they need to provide. But really that is just part of what is needed, and I can completely see how that kind of pastor changed your view of God. So thankful it’s been changing back the last few years. (And loved last weeks’ description of the wise Orthodox wives, made me quite jealous for their wisdom, maybe I can be like them someday, or like the Nonnatus nuns . . .)

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  3. Your father-daughter experience is one that I have longed for all of my life to have, and I grieve that I never will. It has shaped my view of God and it continues to. I want to believe but am at a point where it is so hard to believe that God is good or that he loves or cares about me. You are “blessed among women” for having a father so wonderful, and then a husband who is the same. :-)

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    1. Dear A.F., I wish I could sit and chat with you over a cup of tea. I feel so sad for you that you have not had a father who modeled God’s love to you. And even more sorry that it has hindered you in relating to God as He is. The very best of earthly fathers are imperfect. I know, and Marilyn knows all too well that her Dad, as special as he is doesn’t have a halo! Our Father God is the only One who is truly good, loving and caring, the only One who will always be there for those who love Him. I pray that you will open your heart and mind to learn from Him. Jesus said, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14: 9 Blessings on your journey!

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  4. I know a lot of women who have had tumultuous relationships with their fathers (and mothers) and many of them have issues with trusting God as well. How else can we understand unconditional love if it is never modeled for us?

    My parents divorced when I was nine and my sisters and I moved back to the States from overseas, while my father stayed behind. The circumstances were confusing to the little girl that I was but the one thing I knew for sure was that my father loved me. Every year, my sisters and I would travel to wherever he was living to spend the summer holidays. My mom would book our return tickets back in time to get us ready for school but Daddy often changed those flights, just to have a few more days with us. I know he is not perfect but Mom was good enough not to tell us all the ways, at least until we were older.

    We are so blessed to still have our fathers in our lives, Marilyn. Wishing your dad a long healthy life on his birthday!

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    1. Absolutely beautiful silhouetting God the Father’s love and authority and our earthly Fathers role in parenting..You are so blessed to still having your precious earthly father, Marilyn. I am very thankful, however, for God my Father caring so beautifully for me since my early Father went to be with the Lord when I was 31, just after our Son was born.

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