“What are you planning to do for your father this year?”

It’s the question I’ve dreaded answering whenever Father’s Day rolls around. I haven’t celebrated it since my dad passed away when I was 10 years old.

It’s not that I’m still distraught over the loss – this happened 11 years ago – though loss will always be loss. It’s the shades of shock and pity that colour their faces once I give away this one detail of my life. I feel like I’ve rained on their Father’s Day parade.

We had no idea, I can almost hear them thinking.

You see, my life looks pretty good from where they stand. I do relatively well in school, serve actively in church and fit well into society. In other words, I appear too normal to have grown up without the presence of a father in my home.

Global reports and statistics have shown that growing up without a father is correlated to a child’s future involvement in criminal activity, entrenchment in poverty or poor academic performance.

This caricature of the fatherless child has only been exacerbated by the media we consume – fatherlessness being a classic backstory of a criminal or wayward teenager. Even fatherhood movements unwittingly contribute to this image at times. And they aren’t entirely wrong.

In many cases, fatherless children do struggle significantly more as they grow up, and this could lead them to make poorer choices. However, I seem to have emerged from my family situation relatively unscathed. One of the greatest reasons: the care and concern shown to me by my church family during that difficult time.

But it was through a relief teacher in my primary school that I encountered the heart of my Heavenly Father in the wake of the loss of my earthly one.

When he discovered that my father passed away, this man went the extra mile to spend time with me, to care for me and to guide me. He demonstrated what it meant to love sacrificially with an authentic love that has the power to touch and change lives.

I still remember that one time he brought a few of us students out for a day of fun. I can’t remember exactly where we went, or what we did. I only know we took a few selfies because he later had these photos developed and left short written notes on the back to encourage me as I studied for my PSLE. I still have them.

Selflessly stepping into the shoes my father left behind, my teacher shaped much of how I view my relationship with God and the amazing love He has for me.

These photos remind me of the power of simple, yet thoughtful gestures that create positive ripples for a person’s lifetime. I want to be a teacher just like him one day.

God knows, God sees, and God provides. Although this man was not part of my church, he availed himself to be used by God to change my life.

He may not fully understand the significant impact that he has made in my life but I am certain that I would not even be half the man that I am today without him. Selflessly stepping into the shoes my father left behind, he shaped much of how I view my relationship with God and the amazing love He has for me.

However, I also know that there are many who experience fatherlessness to a greater degree than I have.

There is a global push for fathers to increasingly be more involved in the lives of their children. Having a close relationship with your father has been linked to greater success in life. But what about people like me, whose earthly fathers are no longer around? Or people whose fathers aren’t physically or emotionally present?

In James 1:27 it is written, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Pure and undefiled Christianity before God is one whereby Christians go to the fatherless and the widows and to care for them in the midst of their pain.

The Church is supposed to rise up and to champion the cause of the fatherless. 

The Church is not called to wait on their laurels and serve only those who ask for help. The Church is called to go and visit those that are in distress and need help.

For all eternity, God has always been Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals that He was there with God the Father even before the world began (John 17:5). Therefore, even from the very beginning, God was and is a Father and He has a special place in His heart for those without fathers (Exodus 22:21-24).

As A.W. Tozer writes, “The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men.”

The Church is charged to display God’s glory through our love for one another.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Before we can effectively look outwards to the communities our churches are strategically placed in, we must ensure the fatherless, the widows and the foreigners in the Body of Christ are cared for. They are our responsibility.

God works powerfully through the lives of ordinary men who know His Word and stand ready to obey it. Rather than simply remaining sorry when hearing about someone’s fatherlessness, rise up, heed the call and go to the people that are disadvantaged. In loving God, we must love people – especially those who need it the most – in the personal, intimate way that He loves us.

It is not good enough to open our mouths and pay lip service to this idea of visiting the orphans around us. We must be ready to open our hearts to let them in.