I Had Unfinished Business with My Dad. Then I Found His Message From Beyond the Grave
By: Gordon Dasher
I should have known that it was right around the corner. After all, my dad had been on this earth for 88 years. That’s a pretty good run at life — a long time, right? A long time, but not long enough.
For one thing, he was a robust old man. When he drove, he did so as if he were an hour late, even though he was never late. Pedal to the metal, that was my father. The preacher at his funeral said, “When Johnnie wanted something done, he wanted it done yesterday.” Some of the words he used to describe my dad were “impulsive, stubborn, and driven.”
And while he was all of those things to the extreme, he was also something else. He was always affectionate with his children. Unlike many men of his generation, he never hesitated to tell me that he loved me. He tended to widows and orphans and visited the sick. And even though we didn’t always agree on interpretation of scripture, he had an uncommon love for his heavenly Father.
I told him at Thanksgiving that he was a little 12-year-old boy trapped in an old man’s body. So, when he called me and told me that he tested positive for COVID, I wasn’t worried. And neither was he. We both knew he would beat it. He boasted, “This is no big deal — just a little cough.” As soon as he left the doctor’s office, he went to the polls and cast his last vote. Then he shopped at Sam’s and had his car cleaned up. But within a week, he was in grave danger. Eventually, my siblings and I had to make the difficult decision to disconnect his life support.
The main reason, however, that I was not ready for him to go was that we had unfinished business. When my mother had fallen and suffered a serious brain bleed a year or so ago, his lifelong desire to take control and find a fix was fanned into flame. She couldn’t make a move without him chastising her for doing something dangerous. He became harsh (he would call it “direct”) in the way that he spoke to her and others. At first, I was angry with him, but then I began to see his behavior for what it was — he was afraid. He had always been a take-charge guy, but now he couldn’t manage what was wrong with Mom. He couldn’t fix it, and it was driving him crazy.
So, I did what I didn’t want to do; I confronted him about it. I challenged him to relinquish control and allow God to manage my mom’s welfare. I encouraged him to enjoy his time with her. Yes, I was worried that I would become a casualty of his anger, but he did the unexpected — he listened to me. Still, until the day after his funeral, I didn’t know how much he had listened.
When I visited at Thanksgiving, I noticed a quote he had typed out and glued to the refrigerator (I guess he didn’t know about magnets). Unfortunately, at the time, I only read the first line: “Be still and know that I am God.” I wish now that I had taken the time to read it in its entirety while he was healthy. I wish that I could have told him how proud of him I was. I wish that I had read it before I spoke at his funeral so that I could tell it to the crowd assembled to pay their respects.
The crudely typed quotation (he always typed in capital letters) was from a blogger named Sheila Walsh. I had never heard of her, but I emailed her to thank her. Her words changed my father’s life.
Be still and know that I am God. The original Hebrew root of “Be still” doesn’t mean “be quiet”; it means “let go.” That’s very different, don’t you think? Let go and know that I am God! Let go of trying to control your spouse! Let go of your worry about your finances! Let go of your unforgiveness! Let go of your past! Let go of what you can’t control—and rest in the knowledge that God is in control.
And there it was — all I had ever wanted to know about my dad’s heart, and as it turns out, his heart was what I had always hoped it would be. Ironically, he was just like me — a man conflicted by the raging battle between his flesh and the Spirit of God that lived in him. Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, he found that he often lost the battle with himself. And just like the Apostle, he was a wretched man who sought rescue from Jesus Christ our Lord. Just like Paul, and just like me. For Dad, as is true for all of us, his only hope was in the Chief Rescuer, Jesus. I hadn’t been sure that he had listened to me this past summer, but on his fridge for all to see was all the encouragement that I could ever want. He had heard me — more specifically, he had listened to God.
It’s only now that I realize that he was so much more than I ever thought he was. The lesson for me, and I’m sharing it with you because I want you to learn it too, is that we only see the exterior of folks most of the time. We don’t see the forces that shaped their lives and personalities. And we certainly don’t see the mighty work that God may be doing in that person at any given moment. More importantly, we are never wrong to recognize that no other human being is any more flawed and broken than we are. No one! We are all caught in the crossfire between flesh and Spirit. And we all sometimes lose a battle or two here and there.
This is why I am so desperate for forgiveness. No one needs it more — no one! My father needed it too — I saw glimpses of it over the last twenty years or so, but Sheila Walsh’s quote will comfort me for the rest of my life because my dad had made it his own. God had spoken to him, and he had listened.
Father, I cry out to you. On the one hand, I am shamed by my tendency to judge other broken people and hold them to a standard higher than I am myself able to live up to. But I give you praise and honor for revealing my father’s heart to me — for giving me a message from beyond the grave. I plead with you to make me desperate, not only to be forgiven, but to forgive other undeserving sinners who, like myself, are struggling to be conformed to the image of your son but too often fall prey to the lies of Satan.