Hensley: Few things stay with us like the words of our parents
There was a time not that long ago when the church I attended would, depending on whether it was May or June, call people down to the front for a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day blessing. This may still take place in some churches, and I have led prayers of this type on occasion.
So this is not to fire a shot over the bow, only to recall my own feelings some 25 years ago when I didn’t “qualify” to join the sizable contingent of other men down at the front of the sanctuary being prayed over. I wasn’t a father at the time, so I was on the outside looking in, so to speak.
Which is no way to feel in church.
These special days, set aside with the best of intentions, can conjure up complicated emotions. The same might be true in church with a prayer directed at a select group from within the larger group. Not everyone has warm and fuzzy feelings just because the calendar says today is such-and-such a day. I addressed this around Mother’s Day last year and explored a similar path regarding Christmas, which was not that long ago, but it sure seems like it.
My experience isn’t like anyone else’s. I was raised by a stepfather who never treated me like anything other than his own son from day one. Throughout my life and to this day he remains a positive influence. I also have been fortunate to have had a number of male role models throughout my personal and professional life. Even today, when I’m trying to work through a challenge or make an important decision, I can call upon any of a half-dozen or so men who would literally drop whatever they were doing to help.
Along those lines, one approach I’ve seen in churches is to be more intentional and inclusive during prayer time on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. For various, valid reasons, people choose not to be parents. However, that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from joyfully filling a parent-like place in the life of others. I can look back and see numerous examples of this in my own life as I’m sure many others can as well.
We also have to be truthful about the fact that in many cases the relational bonds between parents and their children snap. Words and actions from long ago can leave marks, create emotional distance and, in some cases, physical distance. It is a difficult and challenging place for both, and there are no easy solutions.
As just about all of us can testify: There is nothing like family.
Many years ago, shortly after procuring my driver’s license, I was “distracted” while behind the wheel and clipped a telephone pole in what had been my beautiful Gran Torino Sport. Talk about leaving a mark. Then I had to break the news to my dad, one of the few people I totally trust driving a car. (Translation: I never have to use my imaginary passenger-side brake while they’re driving.)
Anyway, I told him what happened, blamed it on the sun being in my eyes and hoped for the best. He subsequently drove to the spot where it happened, returned and said, “That was just a piece of bad driving.”
The truth of that statement remains imprinted itself on my memory banks. The reality was I had disappointed the one person whose opinion of my driving ability mattered most. Contrary to popular belief, driving is a privilege, and those of us operating motor vehicles should do so in a manner that demonstrates respect for our surroundings and other people. Common courtesy and all that.
Flash forward a couple of decades to 1995. My parents were living in Dimmitt. My youngest sister was scheduled to be married in northwest Arkansas on New Year’s Eve. Over the span of a couple of days, I’d covered Texas Tech’s Copper Bowl victory over Air Force in Tucson, Arizona, and signed the papers on our first home (these two things took approximately the same amount of time).
One of the Rules of Dad is something like this: Any family trip should begin shortly before the crack of dawn to get a jump on fellow travelers. My parents, wife and I took off for the wedding. I was driving. We left Dimmitt early and made our first stop at a convenience store just east of Amarillo. An ominous development took place as I attempted to walk across the parking lot. It was slick and icy.
Anyone who has traveled the seemingly endless stretch of I-40 from Amarillo to Oklahoma City knows it is one of those drives that you just grind on through. Keep an eye on the 18-wheelers and click off the various towns along the way. The drive was going to be much longer this time. We crept along at 35 mph from that store to somewhere around El Reno, Oklahoma (home of Hensley’s Restaurant, no relation). It was nerve-racking, and my hands have never gripped the wheel harder.
The conditions improved after that, and the rest of the trip wasn’t nearly so dramatic. The highlight, though, was when my dad looked at me later that day and said, “That was some great driving.”
Even now, so many years later, recalling that praise puts a huge smile on my face. We should never underestimate the hold parental approval has on us – something important to think about when we transition from being our parents’ child to being our children’s parents.
Back to where we started and prayerful moments. Having been in ministry for only a short season compared to many others, my personal takeaway when it comes to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is to lift a prayer with three emphases. First, gratitude for fathers (and mothers) in general and those who serve in those roles for others. Second, reflection for those who have lost their mother or father. Third, reconciliation and restoration for those parent-child relationships that are strained or broken.
Like many others, I’m thankful for my dad and will call and check on him today. I might even tell him about a recent driving adventure or two – just to see what he has to say.
Happy Father’s Day.
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Globe-News.