Like the drape that divides first class from coach, most sophomores in college walk through an imaginary curtain. This soft wall separates the strength and influence of their past training from the lure of their complete freedom from it. My research on this subject began in the fall of 1966 when I pushed my way through the veil.
I had grown up in a no-nonsense Christian home. My parents had drilled into me the importance of honesty, godliness, and clean living. I had experienced more protection from the storms of foolishness and rebellion than most of my friends. I had lived to this point on someone else’s discipline. Someone else’s conduct. Someone else’s faith. Now, it was show time.
With a handful of my college friends as willing accomplices, I began to let the moorings of my life slip. Lying about attending honor classes, cheating on tests, and driving to Ohio to drink 3.2 percent beer were only symptoms of the U-turn my spirit was making. The weekly calls to check in with my parents vanished into silence.
To this day, I do not know how my dad found out about his son’s rebellion. But like most dads’ can, his radar had picked up something on the screen, and he was troubled. The Friday after Thanksgiving, as our family was enjoying the day together, my dad asked me to come to his bedroom. The sobriety and resolve in his voice and on his face were undeniable. As a small boy, a request like this would have meant a certain spanking. But as an eighteen-year-old, I towered over my father. A spanking wasn’t in the cards.
In the corner of my parents’ room sat a small desk. My dad wrote checks on this desk and kept the family financials in its drawers. As I followed him into his room he walked straight to his desk and sat down. I felt awkward, standing in front of my dad, already shorter than me, now much shorter as he sat there in his chair.
“Robert,” he started. “I’ve heard that you’re living on the edge at school.” I did not speak, silently standing in front of my father. “You know,” he continued, “I’ve been doing some thinking. I spent an awful lot of time on the road as you were growing up. I should have spent more time with you than I did. I realize that now and am very sorry about it.”
I could not have predicted what was coming next, but it was a moment that indelibly burned its way into my heart, a moment that would never be forgotten.
“Son,” my dad finally said after another spell of pregnant silence. “If you’d like to come home after this semester, you can enroll in a local college. I’ll quit my job and we can catch up on some of that lost time together.”
My dad was the president of a worldwide ministry. His travels took him to strategic meetings with leaders and dignitaries around the globe. But sitting there, tenderly looking into the face of this rebellious boy, my dad’s love for me was willing to permanently interrupt his own success. I was stunned.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah records God’s pleading with his children. “I am your Father,” he seemed to be saying, “and you are my son. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.”
My father’s words that November afternoon began to melt my heart. How can I disappoint a man who loves me like this? I recall thinking as I shuffled down the stairs to my room. How can I voluntarily crush his soul?
In spite of God’s tender plea, Israel did not change. Tragically, their separation from their Heavenly Father cost them everything. I wasn’t so triumphant in resisting my dad’s love. His kindness and humility melted the ice in my heart. I will be eternally grateful.