A Father’s Compassion

As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. -Psalm 103:13 

Dear members and friends,

I have only four memories of my father being with me in my entire life. The first, which happens to be the happiest memory in my entire childhood, was when I was about two years old. I was playing with my sister on a narrow street between houses and the sun was near setting. Suddenly, a big, dark shadow covered me and so I looked up. There he was: a big man with a huge smile on his face. He picked me up and put me on his shoulder. Suddenly I was the tallest person around! I was even taller than the walls of houses. A gentle breeze passed by me and I felt like I was flying. Yet at the same time, I felt safe and secure, as if nothing in the world could hurt me because the firm hands of the big man were holding me tight and would never let me go. 

The next memory of my father is from when I was about seven years old living in a small village with my grandparents. I was playing out in the field when someone shouted that my father came to see my grandparents. I ran to the house with great joy in expectation of meeting my father for the first time after my parents’ divorce. When I was near the house, I saw a big man walking toward the house and immediately knew it was him, so I called out, “Daddy!” Slowly he turned, but when I saw his face I was frozen because he wore a dark frown and I felt afraid of him. “What do you want?” he asked with a very low tone, devoid of any emotion. So I asked, “Can … you give me five cents?” His face became even scarier after that and I ran away from him and stayed away until it was dark. When I returned to the house, he was gone. Much later, I learned that he was suffering from heart failure and had come to ask for money to get heart surgery.   

The third time I met my father I was a teenager and had heard that he wanted to see me. I was not sure if I wanted to see him, but went to meet him anyway. He invited me to go for a hike and we walked together for about three hours, but barely spoke. I was constantly wishing that he would initiate a conversation about anything, but he was silent for most of the time. When the hike was over, he finally asked, “How are your grades?” I hated this question because I knew he was the number one student while he was in school, but I was just about in the middle. “Not great; just okay …” I thought that he would be mad at me, but he said, “That is good. Do what you like to do.” Afterwards, we parted ways. 

The last memory is from when I was 23 years old. I went to see him because I needed his signature on my U.S. visa application. He was having his lunch when I arrived at his office in the university where he taught. Glancing at his meal, I noticed that it was particularly healthy and he told me that he is on a special diet due to his heart condition. We had about 30 minutes or so of conversation regarding my reason for the visit and my future. During this talk, he told me, “A religious profession would suit you well. Becoming a Buddhist monk could be the best path for you, but since your mom is a Christian, becoming an ordained minister is also a good choice.” At that time, I did not have even the slightest desire to become a minister! But that was the last time I saw him. About three years later, while I was studying at the Swedenborg School of Religion, he had a severe heart attack and passed away.   

Now I am over 50 years old and am a father of two children. Reflecting on my memories with my father, I feel like I hear his unspoken words and sense the unexpressed pain in his heart. And, this reminds me of Psalm 103, “As a father has compassion for his children …” The English word compassion means “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” But I feel more connected to the meaning of its origin: the Latin word compati means “to suffer with.” The love of a father is not just about providing and protecting the child(ren), but also suffering with them when they are struggling and in pain. 

I wish I could have just five more minutes with my father to tell him what I’ve come to understand about him and about fatherhood. But, I am assured that he is in heaven with the Father, Creator, who has compassion for us all. And I am deeply comforted that our Father in heaven is God who suffers with us.  

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee