The Strength in Thanks
When I was in my teens, my father would drop me off at the orthodontist and spend his time waiting at a bar. It wasn’t a fancy sports bars, but a small, dark and dreary room with barstools and a few tables.
I imagine most were drowning their sorrows away, or like my father, didn’t have the self-control to enjoy a beer and leave. Conversations would escalate and I felt that most often my father was the initiator. I was embarrassed and wishing we would leave, but if I asked, there was a higher probability we would sit there longer. “You want to leave so I won't another beer?” You think I won’t drink when I get home?” “Sit there and learn something.”
I recall one instance when a gentleman yelled over and told my father, “you have no business bringing a child in here.” When my father was told to do something when he was intoxicated, it was usually followed with, “Don't tell me what to do. If I want to bring my child in here, I will. Shut up or I'll come over there," with the intent to beat him up.
I had a silent prayer, “Lord, get him to stop drinking so we can go home.” When we arrived home I pretended as though everything was fine. All my mother knew was that our delayed arrival was because my father had stopped at the bar for a few drinks.
A few years after my mother’s passing I was taking time to read my Bible. It was a beautiful evening in spring and everybody in the house was asleep. I sat on the couch, looking up into the night sky, and began to pray for my father’s salvation the way I had done since my childhood.
With my Bible resting on my lap, I had no words in which to pray that I hadn’t prayed over the last 30 years. “I don’t know how to pray for him anymore, Lord.” Immediately, God pierced my heart with a word of instruction. I knew what I needed to do, but I didn’t want to do it. I ignored God and went back to reading my Bible.
An hour later, I had the courage to obey: “Not my will, Lord, but yours.” Luke 22:42 “Whatever it takes to see my father saved, do it.” To say the word “whatever” and mean it, didn’t come easy.
God knows whether or not my words are “good intentions or God intentions.”
God was telling me I had to be willing to release my father into his hands and give him permission to do what was best, no matter how much it would hurt.
Within seconds of surrendering my father to the Lord, he gently said “Thank me for everything your father has done for you.” My immediate reaction was, “nothing.” All I could think of was the pain and challenges that came from living a life with an alcoholic parent.
When I was willing to submit to God to do things his way, it was the moment I stepped into the “river” of God and gave him permission to part the waters.
At first I stumbled over my words. It took a few minutes, but once the words “thank you” came out, it was as though I could see the waves of life receding. I can’t remember everything that I thanked God for, but once the dam was opened, the floodgates of thanks poured out and I couldn’t stop. In so many words, these were some of the things I thanked God for (and still do today):
Lord, I’m thankful for:
- a father who didn’t drink every day.
- a father who loved me.
- a father who provided a home and a bed to sleep in.
- his childhood experience of poverty to ensure his kids were clothed with fine clothes and good shoes.
- his generous heart.
- the Bible he gifted me with; my greatest treasure.
- the love he gave to ensure I had the best medical care for my illnesses. Letting me choose what glasses to wear no matter the cost. He would say, “you have to wear them every day. You should like them.”
- family vacations and camping. (I didn’t focus on his drinking during these trips, but the fact that we were blessed to go and see places.)
- for movie nights, and going to Lions and Tigers games. For the joy to eat anything I wanted at the stadiums because it was all part of the experience.
- his patience when I lost $20. We traced my steps and we never did find it, nor did he scold me for doing so. We never talked about it again.
- his patience when he wasn’t drinking.
- instilling in me to not do as he does, but what he says. What he said was actually for my benefit and protection.
- teaching me to not steal or lie.
- instilling in me good work ethics and to never abuse sick days (something he did on a weekly basis).
- teaching me the importance to show appreciation.
- the money he spent for me to have straight teeth.
- visiting me before and after work when I was hospitalized. (Morning and night he would bring me a Happy Meal from McDonalds.)
- taking me to see a counselor, which ultimately taught me more about myself and how to be an overcomer living in a home with an alcoholic.
- his stern, even aggressive, instructions to not come home pregnant. I thank God this was his way of protecting me, and as he put it, “from men like him.”
When I ceased thanking God for everything I could think of, I looked at the clock and an hour had passed. At a time in life when I felt there was no more to pray for my father, God said, “yes there is. Thanks!”
It wasn’t that I was an ungrateful child, it’s just that I hadn’t taken time to see the good of the whole. I saw good in increments. Philippians 4:8
A time to focus on the good of my father gave me the strength to endure the pain of my father’s choices for another eleven years. I had no idea it was the gateway to “wait for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:26
When you surrender a loved one fully to the Lord, you will find strength in the waiting and how to do it with joy. God’s strength will give you endurance, no matter how “whatever” looks like.
Heidi Baker said, "we may not know where God is taking us or what he wants us to do, but we know it doesn't look like nothing."
I wish I could have chosen the “whatever it takes,” especially when the waves began to crash over me. I found strength in thanks simply by obeying my all-knowing, all-loving God.
Trust God’s process as you “wait for the salvation of the Lord,” for your loved ones.
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Thumbnail photo by Karamel