When My Dad Loved Me At My Worst
Many of us think (whether we admit it or not) there must be some breaking point where our Father God gives up on us. Even if we successfully avoid believing this fallacy, others’ overzealous cries still reach our ears: certainly there must be some sin or amount of sin that is just too much.
My understanding of unconditional love and its implications deepened when I was 10 years old. Our neighbors had moved and they were trying to sell their house. One day I broke in through the back door and closed all the drains in all the sinks and tubs and turned on all the faucets. Then, I just sat there and watched the water run. I let it keep running when I went home for dinner, only finally returning a few hours later to turn it off. I flooded the entire house.
I knew right away that what I had done was wrong. I was shocked that I just wanted to do something so destructive. Our neighbors saw the damage the next day while showing the home to prospective buyers. They came to our house, and asked us if we had seen anyone around their place recently. On top of what I had already done, I lied to our neighbors and my parents.
I felt completely messed up. I was destroying stuff for the sake of destroying, and then I lied blatantly to everyone. I had heard about asking God’s forgiveness (my dad had taught me the Lord’s Prayer), so I begged God to forgive me.
But I was worried that he wouldn’t. Surely something so deliberate and cruel was just too much to forgive.
After a month of an uneasy conscience, I was finally found out. Another neighbor had seen me sneaking around and told my parents. My father called me in from playing outside with my friends and asked me if I remembered anything important about the flooding incident. I knew something was up, but I felt like I had to stick with the lie at this point.
Finally, my dad told me that I was busted. I experienced an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt for my sins, and intense fear of the consequences. I sobbed and muttered, “Dad, I’m so sorry. I’ve been asking God to forgive me for so long for this and I don’t know if he ever will.”
In a moment of parental love and great wisdom, my dad said, “If you asked God to forgive you, then you are forgiven. You deserve to be punished, and this will cost lots of money to fix. But, son, you are forgiven. Go back outside and play.” In that moment, the reality of forgiveness and gratuitous grace powerfully moved me.
Instead of experiencing my fears unfold, I knew I was safe with my dad and I finally understood what he told me growing up: “I love you unconditionally.”
Now when I confess my sins, I think of that experience of absolution. My dad didn’t take grace “too far.” He saw that my misunderstanding and fear of God’s wrath and my dad’s discipline threatened to crush me. He took on the consequences of my sins and literally paid for them for me.
I know there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me less. And I also know there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me more.
He loved me because I was his.
God the Father loves you like that. It’s gratuitous grace, the only kind there is.
A version of this story appears in Judgment and Love, a 35-story collection from Mockingbird.