Growing up in the 70s and 80s wasn’t easy, especially for someone like me who always had some mischief up her sleeve. My parents couldn’t help but obey the proverb “to spare the rod is to spoil the child.” What is considered ‘abuse’ today was normal for my peers and me. We were used to getting beatings at home and at school. If we informed our parents about the beatings received at school they didn’t go running to the Principal, instead they would ask for the reason and we would get two from them too.
Being the last among four siblings and a late child, I was convinced that I was two generations separated from Papa. He never understood me and I never understood him. I did everything that was restricted, like playing on the street, with mud, climbing trees, stealing fruits from the neighbour's garden and not returning home until the streetlights came on. Nobody could convince me to do my homework and all I wanted to do was be outdoors and play. As a result, beatings became a routine and my Papa was my biggest enemy because he insisted on correcting me.
He was a total killjoy who always pushed me to study or do the right thing. While my friends’ fathers were pampering them, I was engaged in digging soil, fixing taps or painting grills. Not that I didn’t enjoy doing all those things, I was just annoyed that I wasn’t being pampered. His discipline made me feel unwanted and unloved and I rebelled by doing exactly the opposite of what he would ask me to do. He told me to take science, I took humanities; he told me to go to a particular school, I went to another. I couldn’t wait to complete school, get out of home and away from him and his disciplining.
My wish came true through admission in a university away from home. It was my ticket to freedom from Papa’s discipline. I started living recklessly, obsessed with self-gratification. I kept in touch with Papa only for money, which he sent sincerely. I wasted it without thinking (echoes of the prodigal son story here), not caring once that he had retired and was getting a very small pension.
Initially, I did exceptionally well in my studies and then my lifestyle got the better of me and I failed. Papa was heartbroken when I dropped out of the university just two semesters away from graduating. I couldn’t return home, so I piled on with friends in the hostel and even spent a couple of nights at the bus stop to avoid being caught during hostel inspections. I missed home but my ego didn’t allow me to return.
In an age without mobile phones it was a task to keep in touch, especially as I wasn’t staying at one place alone. The only way Papa could know about my wellbeing, was if I contacted him, but there wasn't enough money to make those expensive outstation calls. I stayed away as long as I could and then fell severely ill and my friends with limited resources couldn’t handle it. I called home only to hear Papa begging me to return. My friends pooled in money and booked a train ticket. Papa was there to receive me at the station, and he took me directly to the hospital where the doctors examined me only to give a poor prognosis.
Most of my memory of the sickness is a blur but what I remember is that Papa used to sit beside me and read from his Bible and pray for me daily. While my mom took time to relent and forgive me, he was always by my side while I drifted in and out of consciousness. He nursed me back to good health. You would think that I would have come to my senses and turned from my ways. But it wasn’t so. I still possessed a heart of stone. I got better and went back to my old ways quite like the Israelites.
But neither God nor Papa gave up on me. God pursued me as Papa continued to pray. Years later, after suffering much, I found myself in the pits because of my choices. I didn't know what to do except cry out to God. He answered me and gave me my second ticket to freedom, not from discipline but true freedom from the bondage to sin and death.
God replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh and everything changed. I felt washed by the love and grace of God. I wept for days and reconciled with Papa and all the others I had hurt over the years. Papa’s discipline didn’t seem harsh but reflected his unconditional love and concern for me. I saw Papa’s love for the first time, through the love poured into me by the God who hadn’t forsaken me.
For years I was blinded towards the love of God as well. I blamed Him for my miserable life as a late child with older siblings while my friends had siblings of their age. I held Him responsible for my choices and messed up life, after all He was in control of everything. But somewhere deep inside there was also the desire to reconcile but not without the fear of rejection. Yet in desperation I called to Him and He answered me. I realised that He had been with me the years I felt abandoned by Him. He had protected me the nights I spent at the bus stops or living my life recklessly. He loved me through my years of rebellion.
There is a quote from ‘The Forgotten Father’ by Thomas A. Smail that states "the love and grace of God were not the results of atonement but its preconditions in the heart of the Father."
It means that the cross was the manifestation of God’s love and not the precondition of it. He loves us not because Jesus died for us, but Jesus died because God loves us. This quote unchained me and opened my heart to the unchanging love of God and I heard Him say "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3
My rebellion and perception did not affect Papa’s love for me, and our rebellion and perception won’t alter the character of God and his steadfast love. He has always been loving and will continue to be. Our rebellion alters our perception when we see with our finite eyes. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to affect His great love towards us so no matter where we are, we are never too far from Him. He is waiting to rescue us from the pit and free us from our bondage.
Trust His word. Cry out to Him. He will hear you and save you from all your troubles. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles (Psalm 34:6) Thank God for every discipline that takes us back to our Forgotten Father and allows us to experience His steadfast love.
Photo by Sam Headland on Unsplash
Thank you for this great post. It is so hard for us to comprehend the love of God - but she who has been forgiven much, loves much. She understands.
Thank you for introducing me to the book 'The Forgotten Father' that had an immense impact on my life. Thank you for your encouraging words. They mean a lot to me.
Thank you Ritu for sharing such a beautiful story of God's love. We are always testing His patience but God is always extending His grace and love. So grateful to God that He did not give up on us. Your story will give hope to many in similar situation. God bless you my dear friend.
Thank you Preeti. God bless you too 🙂
Thank you for sharing Ritu.
A Father’s steadfast love so much of what you write was my journey too. So blessed.
I'm humbled Aunty. Thank you for always encouraging me.
Thanks Ritu for this fantastic heartwarming honest heart situation of yours. This is absolutely beautiful and a great reminder of unconditional love of God and also how God made sure to bond the bridges with your dad and also with him sitting up in heaven.
I'm glad that the post touched you 🙂
God is good all the time. Beautifully penned Ritu. Loved every word of it and could relate to every word of it. He never leaves us or forsakes us... All Glory to Him!
Thank you Mayur. Indeed He's a faithful God.
Ritu: I am honored that you allowed me into these deeper recesses of your life. Your story is not unlike my own, and my younger brother, both of us who experienced the severe mercy of our mother who wanted so much for us to be exceptional. I never rebelled openly, but carved my life and my own disciplines somewhat more liberally. My brother did rebel and abandoned the faith for many years, but "came home" and reconciled, and became a pastor. Your willingness to see the story not just as confession but as a metaphor of God's unfailing love comes through powerfully. I'm almost jealous that this is being published, because I would have liked at some point to put together a book of similar stories of my students around the world, who have shared deep and gracious experiences and redemptive thoughts. Thanks. You have made my day!
Thank you so much Professor Tink for your kind words. They mean a lot coming from you.